Botha, preceded by a few days by Steyn, left the Delagoa Bay line on September 17, and succeeded in scraping past Buller without serious excoriation, but he was compelled to send the greater part of his force under B. Viljoen by a circuitous route through the unhealthy lower veld.
The enemy was now to all appearances chased to the ends of the earth, but throughout October and November roving bodies worried the railway and detained a considerable British force upon it.
Commandos that could not be accounted for by the British Intelligence Staff seemed to spring out of the ground. Trains were de-railed, raids and counter-raids north and south were the order of the day. Lydenburg was prowled upon. Botha and Viljoen, stirred by Steyn, hovered in the north, and Viljoen went south to co-ordinate the several activities. On November 19 he effected a temporary success at Balmoral, capturing a small post and cutting the railway, but it served him little and he soon retired.
Of the force engaged in the Komati Poort advance, the Guards’ Brigade, which the hopeful situation would soon, it was thought, allow to be sent home, as well as French’s cavalry and other troops, had been withdrawn; and a column under Paget which was operating west of Pretoria had to be called up to expel Viljoen from a position which he afterwards took up twenty miles north of the railway at Rhenosterkop. The affair was the only serious action during October and November.
French did not advance beyond Barberton. Early in October he was ordered to clear the country lying between the Natal and the Delagoa Bay railways. At first opposed by Smuts and subsequently impeded by bad weather, transport difficulties, and constant sniping, his movement resembled a retreat rather than a voluntary advance, and it was so regarded by the commandos. When he reached Heidelberg on October 26, he had lost half his oxen and a third of his wagons.
After the conclusion of the Komati Poort operations Buller returned to England. No general officer serving in South Africa was regarded by the non-commissioned officers and men under his command with greater affection and admiration. The Natal Army was held together in spite of disasters and failures by the personality of its leader. He had made not a few mistakes, but they never lost him the confidence of his troops, who, when he left their camp at Lydenburg, said farewell to him with an extraordinary demonstration of genuine regret.
At the end of November the command of the British Forces in South Africa was taken over by Lord Kitchener from Lord Roberts, who sailed for England in the belief that the war was practically over. He had completed the task which he had set himself when he landed at Capetown ten months before. At that time hardly even a scout had quitted British territory; now almost every mile of railway and every considerable town of the two republics, except Pietersburg, was in the possession of the British Army; the Boer Governments had been expelled; Natal was free; organized resistance had ceased; the remnants of a baffled and bewildered enemy were prowling aimlessly in small bodies. All the precedents indicated a speedy termination of the War.