Following the Equator

Chapter LXVII.

First catch your Boer, then kick him.
Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar.

Mark Twain

THOSE latter days were days of bitter worry and trouble for the harassed Reformers.

From Mrs. Hammond we learn that on the 31st (the day after Johannesburg heard of the invasion), “The Reform Committee repudiates Dr. Jameson’s inroad.”

It also publishes its intention to adhere to the Manifesto.

It also earnestly desires that the inhabitants shall refrain from overt acts against the Boer government.

It also “distributes arms” at the Court House, and furnishes horses “to the newly-enrolled volunteers.”

It also brings a Transvaal flag into the committee-room, and the entire body swear allegiance to it “with uncovered heads and upraised arms.”

Also “one thousand Lee-Metford rifles have been given out”—to rebels.

Also, in a speech, Reformer Lionel Phillips informs the public that the Reform Committee Delegation has “been received with courtesy by the Government Commission,” and “been assured that their proposals shall be earnestly considered.” That “while the Reform Committee regretted Jameson’s precipitate action, they would stand by him.”

Also the populace are in a state of “wild enthusiasm,” and “can scarcely be restrained; they want to go out to meet Jameson and bring him in with triumphal outcry.”

Also the British High Commissioner has issued a damnifying proclamation against Jameson and all British abettors of his game. It arrives January 1st.

It is a difficult position for the Reformers, and full of hindrances and perplexities. Their duty is hard, but plain:

1. They have to repudiate the inroad, and stand by the inroader.

2. They have to swear allegiance to the Boer government, and distribute cavalry horses to the rebels.

3. They have to forbid overt acts against the Boer government, and distribute arms to its enemies.

4. They have to avoid collision with the British government, but still stand by Jameson and their new oath of allegiance to the Boer government, taken, uncovered, in presence of its flag.

They did such of these things as they could; they tried to do them all; in fact, did do them all, but only in turn, not simultaneously. In the nature of things they could not be made to simultane.

In preparing for armed revolution and in talking revolution, were the Reformers “bluffing,” or were they in earnest? If they were in earnest, they were taking great risks—as has been already pointed out. A gentleman of high position told me in Johannesburg that he had in his possession a printed document proclaiming a new government and naming its president—one of the Reform leaders. He said that this proclamation had been ready for issue, but was suppressed when the raid collapsed. Perhaps I misunderstood him. Indeed, I must have misunderstood him, for I have not seen mention of this large incident in print anywhere.

Besides, I hope I am mistaken; for, if I am, then there is argument that the Reformers were privately not serious, but were only trying to scare the Boer government into granting the desired reforms.

The Boer government was scared, and it had a right to be. For if Mr. Rhodes’s plan was to provoke a collision that would compel the interference of England, that was a serious matter. If it could be shown that that was also the Reformers’ plan and purpose, it would prove that they had marked out a feasible project, at any rate, although it was one which could hardly fail to cost them ruinously before England should arrive. But it seems clear that they had no such plan nor desire. If, when the worst should come to the worst, they meant to overthrow the government, they also meant to inherit the assets themselves, no doubt.

This scheme could hardly have succeeded. With an army of Boers at their gates and 50,000 riotous blacks in their midst, the odds against success would have been too heavy—even if the whole town had been armed. With only 2,500 rifles in the place, they stood really no chance.

To me, the military problems of the situation are of more interest than the political ones, because by disposition I have always been especially fond of war. No, I mean fond of discussing war; and fond of giving military advice. If I had been with Jameson the morning after he started, I should have advised him to turn back. That was Monday; it was then that he received his first warning from a Boer source not to violate the friendly soil of the Transvaal. It showed that his invasion was known. If I had been with him on Tuesday morning and afternoon, when he received further warnings, I should have repeated my advice. If I had been with him the next morning—New Year’s—when he received notice that “a few hundred” Boers were waiting for him a few miles ahead, I should not have advised, but commanded him to go back. And if I had been with him two or three hours later—a thing not conceivable to me—I should have retired him by force; for at that time he learned that the few hundred had now grown to 800; and that meant that the growing would go on growing.

For, by authority of Mr. Garrett, one knows that Jameson’s 600 were only 530 at most, when you count out his native drivers, etc.; and that the 530 consisted largely of “green” youths, “raw young fellows,” not trained and war-worn British soldiers; and I would have told Jameson that those lads would not be able to shoot effectively from horseback in the scamper and racket of battle, and that there would not be anything for them to shoot at, anyway, but rocks; for the Boers would be behind the rocks, not out in the open. I would have told him that 300 Boer sharpshooters behind rocks would be an overmatch for his 500 raw young fellows on horseback.

If pluck were the only thing essential to battle-winning, the English would lose no battles. But discretion, as well as pluck, is required when one fights Boers and Red Indians. In South Africa the Briton has always insisted upon standing bravely up, unsheltered, before the hidden Boer, and taking the results: Jameson’s men would follow the custom. Jameson would not have listened to me—he would have been intent upon repeating history, according to precedent. Americans are not acquainted with the British-Boer war of 1881; but its history is interesting, and could have been instructive to Jameson if he had been receptive. I will cull some details of it from trustworthy sources mainly from “Russell’s Natal.” Mr. Russell is not a Boer, but a Briton. He is inspector of schools, and his history is a text-book whose purpose is the instruction of the Natal English youth.

After the seizure of the Transvaal and the suppression of the Boer government by England in 1877, the Boers fretted for three years, and made several appeals to England for a restoration of their liberties, but without result. Then they gathered themselves together in a great mass-meeting at Krugersdorp, talked their troubles over, and resolved to fight for their deliverance from the British yoke. (Krugersdorp—the place where the Boers interrupted the Jameson raid.) The little handful of farmers rose against the strongest empire in the world. They proclaimed martial law and the re-establishment of their Republic. They organized their forces and sent them forward to intercept the British battalions. This, although Sir Garnet Wolseley had but lately made proclamation that “so long as the sun shone in the heavens,” the Transvaal would be and remain English territory. And also in spite of the fact that the commander of the 94th regiment—already on the march to suppress this rebellion—had been heard to say that “the Boers would turn tail at the first beat of the big drum.”1

Four days after the flag-raising, the Boer force which had been sent forward to forbid the invasion of the English troops met them at Bronkhorst Spruit—246 men of the 94th regiment, in command of a colonel, the big drum beating, the band playing—and the first battle was fought. It lasted ten minutes. Result:

British loss, more than 150 officers and men, out of the 246. Surrender of the remnant.

Boer loss—if any—not stated.

They are fine marksmen, the Boers. From the cradle up, they live on horseback and hunt wild animals with the rifle. They have a passion for liberty and the Bible, and care for nothing else.

“General Sir George Colley, Lieutenant-Governor and Commander-in-Chief in Natal, felt it his duty to proceed at once to the relief of the loyalists and soldiers beleaguered in the different towns of the Transvaal.” He moved out with 1,000 men and some artillery. He found the Boers encamped in a strong and sheltered position on high ground at Laing’s Nek—every Boer behind a rock. Early in the morning of the 28th January, 1881, he moved to the attack “with the 58th regiment, commanded by Colonel Deane, a mounted squadron of 70 men, the 60th Rifles, the Naval Brigade with three rocket tubes, and the Artillery with six guns.” He shelled the Boers for twenty minutes, then the assault was delivered, the 58th marching up the slope in solid column. The battle was soon finished, with this result, according to Russell—

British loss in killed and wounded, 174.

Boer loss, “trifling.”

Colonel Deane was killed, and apparently every officer above the grade of lieutenant was killed or wounded, for the 58th retreated to its camp in command of a lieutenant. (“Africa as It Is.”)

That ended the second battle.

On the 7th of February General Colley discovered that the Boers were flanking his position. The next morning he left his camp at Mount Pleasant and marched out and crossed the Ingogo river with 270 men, started up the Ingogo heights, and there fought a battle which lasted from noon till nightfall. He then retreated, leaving his wounded with his military chaplain, and in recrossing the now swollen river lost some of his men by drowning. That was the third Boer victory. Result, according to Mr. Russell—

British loss 150 out of 270 engaged.

Boer loss, 8 killed, 9 wounded—17.

There was a season of quiet, now, but at the end of about three weeks Sir George Colley conceived the idea of climbing, with an infantry and artillery force, the steep and rugged mountain of Amajuba in the night—a bitter hard task, but he accomplished it. On the way he left about 200 men to guard a strategic point, and took about 400 up the mountain with him. When the sun rose in the morning, there was an unpleasant surprise for the Boers; yonder were the English troops visible on top of the mountain two or three miles away, and now their own position was at the mercy of the English artillery. The Boer chief resolved to retreat—up that mountain. He asked for volunteers, and got them.

The storming party crossed the swale and began to creep up the steeps, “and from behind rocks and bushes they shot at the soldiers on the skyline as if they were stalking deer,” says Mr. Russell. There was “continuous musketry fire, steady and fatal on the one side, wild and ineffectual on the other.” The Boers reached the top, and began to put in their ruinous work. Presently the British “broke and fled for their lives down the rugged steep.” The Boers had won the battle. Result in killed and wounded, including among the killed the British General:

British loss, 226, out of 400 engaged.

Boer loss, 1 killed, 5 wounded.

That ended the war. England listened to reason, and recognized the Boer Republic—a government which has never been in any really awful danger since, until Jameson started after it with his 500 “raw young fellows.” To recapitulate:

The Boer farmers and British soldiers fought 4 battles, and the Boers won them all. Result of the 4, in killed and wounded:

British loss, 700 men.

Boer loss, so far as known, 23 men.

It is interesting, now, to note how loyally Jameson and his several trained British military officers tried to make their battles conform to precedent. Mr. Garrett’s account of the Raid is much the best one I have met with, and my impressions of the Raid are drawn from that.

When Jameson learned that near Krugersdorp he would find 800 Boers waiting to dispute his passage, he was not in the least disturbed. He was feeling as he had felt two or three days before, when he had opened his campaign with a historic remark to the same purport as the one with which the commander of the 94th had opened the Boer-British war of fourteen years before. That Commander’s remark was, that the Boers “would turn tail at the first beat of the big drum.” Jameson’s was, that with his “raw young fellows” he could kick the (persons) of the Boers “all round the Transvaal.” He was keeping close to historic precedent.

Jameson arrived in the presence of the Boers. They—according to precedent—were not visible. It was a country of ridges, depressions, rocks, ditches, moraines of mining-tailings—not even as favorable for cavalry work as Laing’s Nek had been in the former disastrous days. Jameson shot at the ridges and rocks with his artillery, just as General Colley had done at the Nek; and did them no damage and persuaded no Boer to show himself. Then about a hundred of his men formed up to charge the ridge-according to the 58th’s precedent at the Nek; but as they dashed forward they opened out in a long line, which was a considerable improvement on the 58th’s tactics; when they had gotten to within 200 yards of the ridge the concealed Boers opened out on them and emptied 20 saddles. The unwounded dismounted and fired at the rocks over the backs of their horses; but the return-fire was too hot, and they mounted again, “and galloped back or crawled away into a clump of reeds for cover, where they were shortly afterward taken prisoners as they lay among the reeds. Some thirty prisoners were so taken, and during the night which followed the Boers carried away another thirty killed and wounded—the wounded to Krugersdorp hospital.” Sixty per cent. of the assaulted force disposed of—according to Mr. Garrett’s estimate.

It was according to Amajuba precedent, where the British loss was 226 out of about 400 engaged.

Also, in Jameson’s camp, that night, “there lay about 30 wounded or otherwise disabled” men. Also during the night “some 30 or 40 young fellows got separated from the command and straggled through into Johannesburg.” Altogether a possible 150 men gone, out of his 530. His lads had fought valorously, but had not been able to get near enough to a Boer to kick him around the Transvaal.

At dawn the next morning the column of something short of 400 whites resumed its march. Jameson’s grit was stubbornly good; indeed, it was always that. He still had hopes. There was a long and tedious zigzagging march through broken ground, with constant harassment from the Boers; and at last the column “walked into a sort of trap,” and the Boers “closed in upon it.” “Men and horses dropped on all sides. In the column the feeling grew that unless it could burst through the Boer lines at this point it was done for. The Maxims were fired until they grew too hot, and, water failing for the cool jacket, five of them jammed and went out of action. The 7-pounder was fired until only half an hour’s ammunition was left to fire with. One last rush was made, and failed, and then the Staats Artillery came up on the left flank, and the game was up.”

Jameson hoisted a white flag and surrendered.

There is a story, which may not be true, about an ignorant Boer farmer there who thought that this white flag was the national flag of England. He had been at Bronkhorst, and Laing’s Nek, and Ingogo and Amajuba, and supposed that the English did not run up their flag excepting at the end of a fight.

The following is (as I understand it) Mr. Garrett’s estimate of Jameson’s total loss in killed and wounded for the two days:

“When they gave in they were minus some 20 per cent. of combatants. There were 76 casualties. There were 30 men hurt or sick in the wagons. There were 27 killed on the spot or mortally wounded.”

Total, 133, out of the original 530. It is just 25 per cent.2 This is a large improvement upon the precedents established at Bronkhorst, Laing’s Nek, Ingogo, and Amajuba, and seems to indicate that Boer marksmanship is not so good now as it was in those days. But there is one detail in which the Raid-episode exactly repeats history. By surrender at Bronkhorst, the whole British force disappeared from the theater of war; this was the case with Jameson’s force.

In the Boer loss, also, historical precedent is followed with sufficient fidelity. In the 4 battles named above, the Boer loss, so far as known, was an average of 6 men per battle, to the British average loss of 175. In Jameson’s battles, as per Boer official report, the Boer loss in killed was 4. Two of these were killed by the Boers themselves, by accident, the other by Jameson’s army—one of them intentionally, the other by a pathetic mischance. “A young Boer named Jacobz was moving forward to give a drink to one of the wounded troopers (Jameson’s) after the first charge, when another wounded man, mistaking his intention; shot him.” There were three or four wounded Boers in the Krugersdorp hospital, and apparently no others have been reported. Mr. Garrett, “on a balance of probabilities, fully accepts the official version, and thanks Heaven the killed was not larger.”

As a military man, I wish to point out what seems to me to be military errors in the conduct of the campaign which we have just been considering. I have seen active service in the field, and it was in the actualities of war that I acquired my training and my right to speak. I served two weeks in the beginning of our Civil War, and during all that time commanded a battery of infantry composed of twelve men. General Grant knew the history of my campaign, for I told it him. I also told him the principle upon which I had conducted it; which was, to tire the enemy. I tired out and disqualified many battalions, yet never had a casualty myself nor lost a man. General Grant was not given to paying compliments, yet he said frankly that if I had conducted the whole war much bloodshed would have been spared, and that what the army might have lost through the inspiriting results of collision in the field would have been amply made up by the liberalizing influences of travel. Further endorsement does not seem to me to be necessary.

Let us now examine history, and see what it teaches. In the 4 battles fought in 1881 and the two fought by Jameson, the British loss in killed, wounded, and prisoners, was substantially 1,300 men; the Boer loss, as far as is ascertainable, was about 30 men. These figures show that there was a defect somewhere. It was not in the absence of courage. I think it lay in the absence of discretion. The Briton should have done one thing or the other: discarded British methods and fought the Boer with Boer methods, or augmented his own force until—using British methods—it should be large enough to equalize results with the Boer.

To retain the British method requires certain things, determinable by arithmetic. If, for argument’s sake, we allow that the aggregate of 1,716 British soldiers engaged in the 4 early battles was opposed by the same aggregate of Boers, we have this result: the British loss of 700 and the Boer loss of 23 argues that in order to equalize results in future battles you must make the British force thirty times as strong as the Boer force. Mr. Garrett shows that the Boer force immediately opposed to Jameson was 2,000, and that there were 6,000 more on hand by the evening of the second day. Arithmetic shows that in order to make himself the equal of the 8,000 Boers, Jameson should have had 240,000 men, whereas he merely had 530 boys. From a military point of view, backed by the facts of history, I conceive that Jameson’s military judgment was at fault.

Another thing.—Jameson was encumbered by artillery, ammunition, and rifles. The facts of the battle show that he should have had none of those things along. They were heavy, they were in his way, they impeded his march. There was nothing to shoot at but rocks—he knew quite well that there would be nothing to shoot at but rocks—and he knew that artillery and rifles have no effect upon rocks. He was badly overloaded with unessentials. He had 8 Maxims—a Maxim is a kind of Gatling, I believe, and shoots about 500 bullets per minute; he had one 12 1/2-pounder cannon and two 7-pounders; also, 145,000 rounds of ammunition. He worked the Maxims so hard upon the rocks that five of them became disabled—five of the Maxims, not the rocks. It is believed that upwards of 100,000 rounds of ammunition of the various kinds were fired during the 21 hours that the battles lasted. One man killed. He must have been much mutilated. It was a pity to bring those futile Maxims along. Jameson should have furnished himself with a battery of Pudd’nhead Wilson maxims instead. They are much more deadly than those others, and they are easily carried, because they have no weight.

Mr. Garrett—not very carefully concealing a smile—excuses the presence of the Maxims by saying that they were of very substantial use because their sputtering disordered the aim of the Boers, and in that way saved lives.

Three cannon, eight Maxims, and five hundred rifles yielded a result which emphasized a fact which had already been established—that the British system of standing out in the open to fight Boers who are behind rocks is not wise, not excusable, and ought to be abandoned for something more efficacious. For the purpose of war is to kill, not merely to waste ammunition.

If I could get the management of one of those campaigns, I would know what to do, for I have studied the Boer. He values the Bible above every other thing. The most delicious edible in South Africa is “biltong.” You will have seen it mentioned in Olive Schreiner’s books. It is what our plainsmen call “jerked beef.” It is the Boer’s main standby. He has a passion for it, and he is right.

If I had the command of the campaign I would go with rifles only, no cumbersome Maxims and cannon to spoil good rocks with. I would move surreptitiously by night to a point about a quarter of a mile from the Boer camp, and there I would build up a pyramid of biltong and Bibles fifty feet high, and then conceal my men all about. In the morning the Boers would send out spies, and then the rest would come with a rush. I would surround them, and they would have to fight my men on equal terms, in the open. There wouldn’t be any Amajuba results.3

1.    “South Africa As It Is,” by F. Reginald Statham, page 82. London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1897.    [back]

2.    However, I judge that the total was really 150; for the number of wounded carried to Krugersdorp hospital was 53; not 30, as Mr. Garrett reports it. The lady whose guest I was in Krugersdorp gave me the figures. She was head nurse from the beginning of hostilities (Jan. 1) until the professional nurses arrived, Jan. 8th. Of the 53, “Three or four were Boers”; I quote her words.    [back]

3.     Just as I am finishing this book an unfortunate dispute has sprung up between Dr. Jameson and his officers, on the one hand, and Colonel Rhodes on the other, concerning the wording of a note which Colonel Rhodes sent from Johannesburg by a cyclist to Jameson just before hostilities began on the memorable New Year’s Day. Some of the fragments of this note were found on the battlefield after the fight, and these have been pieced together; the dispute is as to what words the lacking fragments contained. Jameson says the note promised him a reinforcement of 300 men from Johannesburg. Colonel Rhodes denies this, and says he merely promised to send out “some” men “to meet you.”

It seems a pity that these friends should fall out over so little a thing. If the 300 had been sent, what good would it have done? In 21 hours of industrious fighting, Jameson’s 530 men, with 8 Maxims, 3 cannon, and 145,000 rounds of ammunition, killed an aggregate of 1 Boer. These statistics show that a reinforcement of 300 Johannesburgers, armed merely with muskets, would have killed, at the outside, only a little over a half of another Boer. This would not have saved the day. It would not even have seriously affected the general result. The figures show clearly, and with mathematical violence, that the only way to save Jameson, or even give him a fair and equal chance with the enemy, was for Johannesburg to send him 240 Maxims, 90 cannon, 600 carloads of ammunition, and 240,000 men. Johannesburg was not in a position to do this. Johannesburg has been called very hard names for not reinforcing Jameson. But in every instance this has been done by two classes of persons—people who do not read history, and people, like Jameson, who do not understand what it means, after they have read it.    [back]

Following the Equator - Contents    |     Chapter LXVIII.

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