When Lord Roberts left the shadow of Table Mountain the last word in Strategy and Tactics had been spoken, and the war gradually became a problem in Mechanics. His strategy was freely criticized at first, but it proved to be sound; and the only fault that could be found with his tactics was that like a skilful chess player he always endeavoured to defeat his opponent with the least possible loss on either side.
The organization of a European Army had been found inefficient for dealing with Boer guerilla. The Army Corps fell to pieces as soon as it landed in South Africa; and as time went on the Divisions, the Brigades, and even many of the regimental units were one by one liquidated and re-shuffled into columns.
Lord Kitchener, who had been General Manager to Lord Roberts, was admirably qualified to succeed him, and to deal with a situation which seemed to call for the exercise of a strong will and of the power of organization rather than for the display of purely professional qualities, in which he was somewhat deficient. It is doubtful whether he would have commanded a large army successfully on the field of battle, but no better man could have been chosen to control the vast area over which the British Forces were distributed.
[Footnote 49: Not the column with which he had come up to Pretoria with Lord Roberts, and which after his accident had been taken over by Hunter, but a newly-constituted column.]
[Footnote 50: Lord Roberts said that if he had been free to send Ian Hamilton into the Free State instead of to Rustenburg, De Wet must have been surrounded.]
[Footnote 51: After June, 1901, the classification of the South African Army in Divisions and Brigades disappeared from the Army List.]
The Recurrences of De Wet
[Sidenote: Map, p. 292.]
In October, 1900, De Wet, with 1,000 men, again crossed into the Transvaal at Schoeman’s Drift. His movement, which was preceded by constant raids on the railway throughout September, was not altogether voluntary, but was rather a withdrawal from columns pressing on him in the Free State. Barton, who with the Fusilier Brigade had been sent down by Lord Roberts to meet him, took up a position at Fredrikstad, where he was surrounded by De Wet and Liebenberg on October 24. The situation was now so serious that Lord Roberts ordered a brigade under Knox to come up to Barton’s assistance from the Free State, but it was not required, as the arrival of a column from the north broke the cordon, and De Wet returned to the Free State.