The disjecta membra of the raid were now assembled, but the task of the British columns was, apparently, greatly facilitated. Instead of having to chase evasive and elusive commandos now in this direction and now in that, the leaders had but to pin De Wet down to the left bank of the Orange at Zand Drift and to leave him to gaze longingly at the further shore. Nothing could now save him but a sudden fall of the swollen river. Before De Wet’s arrival at Zand Drift Lyttelton had put troops in motion, some of them from considerable distances, to enclose the area, but of the columns detailed three only had come up. Hickman was on the spot, Crabbe from Hopetown was in touch with him, and Byng, who had been hurried up from Victoria West, was at hand. None of the other columns were in position, owing mainly to delays on the railway. Thus the only effective force for the capture of De Wet was the three columns with Hickman, who was out of communication with Lyttelton.
The troops had been disposed with the object of driving De Wet back into the Free State rather than of capturing him, and they were unable to concentrate themselves upon him. Norval’s Pont, from which the line of the Orange might, perhaps, have been blocked in the direction of Zand Drift, was unoccupied. On February 27 Hickman pushed De Wet away from the Drift. Two columns were behind the Boer leader, but in front of him was a weak and thinly extended force under Byng, which De Wet cut through without difficulty, and next morning reached Botha’s Drift. It was fordable, and after eighteen days’ absence he re-entered his own country. He had not succeeded in raiding very far into the Cape Colony, but he had baffled and outwitted the most strenuous military effort of the war.
Plumer, who had been ordered round from Orange River Station to Colesberg, arrived there too late. He was immediately sent on to continue the pursuit in the Free State in co-operation with a column under Bethune, which marched directly across the veld to Fauresmith. Bethune was soon compelled to fall out, but Plumer held on for five days more without, however, lessening the distance between him and his quarry. On March 11, after a trek of more than 800 miles, De Wet, having dismissed on his way up most of the commandos to their several districts, entered Senekal with Steyn, and returned to within a few miles of the Doornberg place of assembly which they had quitted forty-four days before.
The lessons to be derived from the history of the three De Wet hunts are mainly of a moral character, and have only an indirect bearing upon the principles which guide the conduct of military operations in general. No such episodes could ever occur in a European War. Yet the Power which holds Hindustan cannot afford to forget them. Who can say that in the not distant future, which all the signs of the times seem to show will be marked by turbulence and disorder in India, a De Wet may not come forth out of the thousands of Sikhs, Ghoorkas, Pathans and Rajputs who have learnt the Art of War in the Native Army? The arena of the struggle, with its long lines of communication, all its chief towns held by British troops and its vast plains inhabited by a disaffected population, would be strikingly similar to that on which the Boer War was fought.