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A Handbook of the Boer War eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 357 pages of information about A Handbook of the Boer War.
to police the country adjacent to the Harrismith railway with the greater part of his available force, and to send one division round by way of East London to join the central advance under Gatacre.  Warren’s Division therefore left Ladysmith on March 6.  White, to whom Lord Roberts had intended to give a command in the Free State, was compelled by ill health to return to England.  The order to “remain strictly on the defensive” was afterwards not unreasonably quoted by Buller in justification of two months of inaction, which, however, Lord Roberts ascribed to other causes, as he had agreed to subsequent proposals made by Buller for offensive action.

The Boers on the Biggarsberg at first numbered about 15,000, but by the end of March many commandos had been attracted away by Lord Roberts’ advance to more strenuous fields.  Some time passed without any definite action having been agreed upon between Lord Roberts and Buller.  The latter objected to almost every proposal made by the former, and sometimes even on reconsideration criticized his own proposals.  He was allowed to recall the Vth Division, which after a brief absence rejoined his command; but even with it he protested against an advance on Van Reenen’s Pass, which he had himself proposed and which he was instructed to make at the beginning of April, because Lord Roberts would consent to the employment of one division only in it.  Lord Roberts did not insist on the movement, as Buller now said that it would endanger not only his own force, but also Natal; and finding that Buller had far more troops than he could usefully employ, ordered him to send the Xth Division under Hunter round to Kimberley.  Even after its departure Buller outnumbered the enemy by more than five to one.

He was still haunted by the troubles of the Tugela, and was unable to nerve himself for the risks that every leader must run.  The Boers bewildered him.  He could plan no scheme without a conviction that somehow their “knavish tricks” would frustrate it, and his inactivity made him more prone than ever to brood over possible mischances.  He remained in Ladysmith because it was the only course open to him after he had by a process of elimination considered and rejected all the alternatives.  Each of them had its disadvantages and its dangers, therefore it were better to stay where he was.  During a critical period the Natal Army was of as little use to Lord Roberts as were the Spanish contingents to Wellington in the Peninsula; and its laggard action retarded the progress of the war.  Lord Roberts laid his plans for the advance on the assumption that it would be in operation on his right flank when he reached Pretoria, and if L. Botha had found it pressing on him when he was playing at peace-making in June, instead of engaged in equally fruitless negotiations with his brother 180 miles away at Laing’s Nek, it is improbable that he would have continued the struggle.

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