At Waterval Drift, Kitchener’s Kopje, Sannah’s Post, and Mostert’s Hoek, De Wet showed himself to be a daring and successful partisan leader. He was instinctively drawn towards helpless or unwary detachments. He played his own hand without reference to his partner’s, and seemed to be incapable of co-operating in a general scheme of strategy. Perhaps he had not much confidence in those who directed the campaign of defence. He did not act in accordance with the instructions he had received from the Krijgsraad; but who could find fault with a leader who was ever sending in batches of prisoners of war? Many critics say that he was wanting in the true military instinct and spirit, and that he lost the greatest opportunity in his career when he allowed himself to be attracted away from the British lines of communication by the feeble, peregrinating columns. He says that his reason, or it may be his excuse, for not raiding vigorously towards the south, instead of sitting down before Wepener, was the fear lest the Transvaalers should think that the Free Staters had abandoned them to their fate. If his action is open to criticism when judged by the generally accepted principles of warfare, it should be remembered that these are framed from experience only, and are subject to accommodation. By all the rules of the game, the Boers must have been beaten in six months: yet when, after the occupation of Bloemfontein, the cause seemed to be hopeless, the De Wet revival prolonged the contest for two years and more. It is almost certain that, but for De Wet, the war would have been brought to a close in 1900. One man only, and he was Napoleon, added a greater sum to the British National Debt.
The fortune which proverbially attends the bold never deserted him. To the Boer forces at large he was what the pirate adventurers and buccaneers of the Elizabethan period, and the privateersmen of the eighteenth century, were to the National Navy. He sailed where he would under letters of marque from the Presidents. He is the most interesting and the most original personage of the South African War: and when its history is mellowed by time, and its epic is written by some Walter Scott or Homer of the future, De Wet will be the central figure, and his exploits will be sung.
Five years later, having thrown aside his sword, he became a controller of ploughshares as Minister of Agriculture in the Government of the Orange River Colony, and the father-in-law of a British officer who had fought against him.
[Footnote 39: At the Krijgsraad at Kroonstad Delarey maintained that the commandos were too large and must be subdivided.]
[Footnote 40: The scouting of the British Army in South Africa has been compared to a housemaid searching for an escape of gas with a lighted candle.]
[Footnote 41: A The gun of U Battery, which had broken away at the Drift, was recovered.]
[Footnote 42: In the official handbook on Combined Training issued after the war, it was expressly laid down that “officers, must take upon themselves, whenever it may be necessary, the responsibility of departing from or varying the orders they may have received.” This responsibility had been laid by Napoleon upon his officers nearly a century before. Seep. 251.]