The Anglo- Zulu War part 2
“I regret to report a very disastrous engagement which took place on the morning of the 22nd of January between the armies of the Zulu King Cetshowayo and our own number 3 column consisting of 5 companies of the first battalion of the 24th regiment of foot and one company of the second battalion a total of nearly 1500 men, officers and other ranks. The Zulus in overwhelming numbers launched a highly disciplined attack on the slopes of the mountain of Isandlwana and despite of gallant resistance…”
Excerpt from a communique from Lord Chelmsford to the secretary of state of war about the defeat at Isandlwana on the 23rd of January 1879.
The Zulu King Cetshowayo had dealt a crushing defeat to the invading British forces, but he was now starting to be viewed as the aggressor by the British public after his half brother, Prince Dabulamanzi kaMpande, had attacked the British supply station and field hospital at Rorke’s Drift. The battle at Rorke’s Drift went down in history as a feat of endurance, where the defenders held their barricades for ten hours and expended around 19900 rounds of ammunition. Despite having no strategic value for the Zulu, Rorke’s Drift had now become a symbol and morale boost for the British forces engaged in the conflict, with 11 Victoria crosses being handed out to 150 defenders of the station.
Chelmsford’s invasion of Zululand was a complete disaster. The no.3 column had been badly mauled, losing many men at Isandlwana, along with Durnford’s no.2 column which had almost been wiped out. The no.1 column skirmished with a Zulu force at Inyezane on the morning of 22nd and then dug in at Eshowe after receiving news of Isandlwana on the 23rd. By the 2nd of February Eshowe was besieged by a Zulu force, with only the no.4 column remaining effective. They were soon informed that they were effectively on their own, receiving a communique from Chelmsford. Colonel Evelyn Wood decided to call off his offensive on Hlobane after receiving his new orders and chose to dig in on Kambula Hill in a wagon Laager.
February passed quietly, but for the exception of several small skirmishes and raids along the British positions and Zulu territory. Chelmsford had received news that reinforcements were being dispatched but public opinion in Britain was split. The popularity of the government was at an all time low and even some bishops now championed the Zulu cause and demanded peace with the Zulu. The situation for Chelmsford and Bartle-Frere was critical, and it was only the action at Rorke’s Drift that saved them from complete disaster. Things were not looking promising for Cetshowayo either; he had two British columns in his kingdom, the one besieged at Eshowe and tying down thousands of his warriors, the other based at Kambula able to freely operate and skirmish with his men and spreading dissent amongst his people, compelling hundreds to defect. With losses sustained at Isandlwana, Rorke’s Drift and the many other skirmishes his army was being slowly whittled down.
The British forces were now trying to resupply the village of Luneberg in the disputed territories north of Zululand, and since the defeat of Isandlwana the 120 settlers had laagered the settlement and been attacked by another group of Zulu warriors disobeying their king’s commands. The British army had sent four companies of the 80th regiment of foot soldiers under Major Charles Tucker to garrison the village and by late February 1879 supplies were being sent from Lydenburg. The supply train was hampered by heavy rain just 8 miles from Luneberg, and it’s escort left the wagons by the swollen Itombe river, where the convoy was looted by Zulu irregulars led by the Swazi pretender Mbilini waMswati. waMswati was then driven off by Hamu and his men and as soon as they departed the looting resumed. Captain Morriarty had been dispatched to retrieve the supplies but could not get the wagons across the river. For five days they waited for the rains and full river to subside, but Moriarty’s men did not arrange the wagons in a proper Laager and the Zulu had been watching them for 5 days, waiting for an opportunity. It didn’t help that the force and the wagons were divided by the river and at 3:30 on the 12th of March a force of 700 Zulus attacked. They had managed to creep to within 50 yards of the wagons undetected, and assaulted the camp firing a volley at the disorganised and stunned British troops before using their Asegai. Captain Moriarty was killed shouting “Fire away boys, death or glory…I am done.” as he was shot and stabbed in the back. The British survivors tried to swim across the river with Moriarty’s second in command, Lieutenant Harward, and the rest of the men on the other bank providing cover fire. Upon seeing the Zulu ford the river, Harward ordered the retreat and fled, abandoning his men to the advancing Zulu. The remainder of the 100 or so British troops, now led by Sergeant Anthony Booth, withdrew in a fighting retreat for 5 miles. The Zulus had killed around 62 to 80 of the defenders with the loss of 30 warriors and hauled off rifles, food and around 90000 rounds of ammunition. They had also destroyed the rest of the supplies by the time Tucker had arrived with reinforcements. The Zulus now reasoned that if they could hit the supply convoys it would force the No.4 column to withdraw from Zululand and leave the No.1 column alone at Eshowe. Despite this, it was decided to force the No.4 column out of Kalumba. Chelmsford had decided to relieve the siege of Eshowe and needed a distraction from No.4 column in order to do this.
Colonel Wood, having received reinforcement in the form of the Transvaal Rangers and the 80th regiment, came up with a plan to assault Hlobane and draw the Zulu forces towards his laager on Kambula. This plan was to work in conjecture with Chelmsford leading a relief column to Eshowe to rescue no.1 column. It also had another objective, only known to Wood; to provide an escort for 900 Zulu refugees who were defecting from Cesthowayo and were led by the king’s own half brother uHamu. From the 13th of March Wood’s men carried out escort duties for the Zulu refugees and on the 27th they moved towards Hlobane. On the 28th they attacked, assaulting the mountain in a pincer movement. The assault did not go to plan…as the mounted units rode up the track they were ambushed several times, and Wood himself ended up leading the regard up a single track. His orders were constantly disobeyed by the Irregular mounted units, and on top of all this he was being hampered by thunderstorms.
By the time Wood was riding on the southern flank of Hlobane he had spotted the main Zulu Impi only 3 miles away and closing in fast, when they had not anticipated to see this for another three days. Yet again the British intelligence had been a complete shambles and they had underestimated the Zulu. Wood dispatched messages to his officers in his artillery and his vanguard of mounted troops to regroup and retreat but to use the artillery at the neck of the Plateau to provide cover and slow the Zulu advance. The artillery commanded by Major Russel, however, had already spotted the impi an hour earlier and dispatched messages to the Vanguard under Buller who recognised his predicament as he had planned to regroup with Russell, but with Wood’s orders arriving the artillery had withdrawn from on nek to another location six miles away, leaving Buller alone to fight his way through the Devil’s Pass, which was treacherous at best and caused casualties in itself. To make matters worse the abaQulusi Zulu who had been ambushing the British troops all day were now emboldened by the arriving reinforcements and pressed their assaults. Buller’s troop suffered many casualties including losing a large number of horses, but the British force made it back to Kambula and dug in behind their entrenchments to draw the Zulu army in. The irregulars in the border horse unit had been completely annihilated by the Zulu as they were cut off during the retreat.
Despite the British setback at Hlobane, events worked according to Wood’s plan. The Zulu Impi attacked Kambula the next day and was routed by Wood’s entrenched forces, who inflicted heavy casualties on the Zulu by creating a kill zone with the artillery and line infantry in front of the laager next to the cattle kraal. A group of Zulu were amassing in a ravine, ready to flank the engaged line infantry and artillery but the British light infantry rushed to the top of the ravine and opened fire on the helpless Zulu warriors trapped below. By 5pm the Zulu withdrew from the field, pursued by Buller and the mounted troops who now started using discarded Zulu weapons along with their carbines to kill the fleeing warriors “like a tiger drunk on blood”, as Buller would later recount.
The pursuit ended around 6:30pm near Hlobane. Meanwhile the British infantry started committing more war crimes against any injured Zulu they found. Over 2000 Zulu warriors fell at Kambula and with that defeat all hopes of victory had evaporated from the Zulu army. Cetsawyo knew this, and to make matters worse for the Zulu, Eshowe had been relieved by Chelmsford on the 1st of April. Cetsowayo had lost another thousand warriors but Chelmsford withdrew back into Natal with the no.1 column and the relief column.The no.4 column was also withdrawn back to Natal after having achieved victory at Kambula. Chelmsford was now planning a second invasion of Zululand as a means to salvage what remained of his reputation after his botched first invasion. The news that there was a replacement en route to assume command meant that Chelmsford had to act fast, and Cetshowayo was now pressing for a diplomatic solution to the conflict.