Page:EB1911 - Volume 27.djvu/222
War of 1899–1902]
Cape Colony to an alarming degree, while, as forerunners of the promised invasion, scattered bodies of Free Staters crossed the Orange River to swell the rebellion. From Bothaville De Wet made for Thaba Nchu, where the Bloemfontein garrison held a cordon of posts. These were traversed on the 16th of November and the raiders passed onto Bethulie capturing Dewetsdorp and 500 men en route. Pursued closely and finding the rivers in flood De Wet hid some of his men under Kritzinger near the Orange and himself doubled back, traversing again the line of posts east of Bloemfontein. Kritzinger, Hertzog and bodies of Cape rebels raided Cape Colony as soon as they were able to cros the Orange, and Hertzog penetrated so far that he exchanged shots on the Atlantic coast with a British warship. All that the British forces under Sir Charles Knox and others could do was to localize the raids and to prevent the spread of rebellion. Botha’s Successes.So far, however, energy and vigilance made them successful. Botha meanwhile held his own in the northern Transvaal, both against forces from Pretoria, Middelburg and Lydenburg, and against the Rhodesian Field Force under Sir F. Carrington, which had been sent up from Beira (by arrangement with the Portuguese) to southern Rhodesia. At the close of 1900 the commandos under the direct influence of Louis Botha attacked the railway posts on the Middelburg railway and captured Helvetia. De la Rey operated in the western Transvaal, and in concert with Beyers, whose presence in this region was not known to the British, he inflicted a sharp reverse on General R. A. P. Clements at Nooitgedacht in the Hekpoort valley on the 13th of December. Beyers then slipped away to the east, crossing the line between Johannesburg and Pretoria with impunity. Lord Kitchener called or more men, and on the 22nd of December the war office announced that 30,000 more mounted men would be dispatched to the seat of war.
With the opening of 1901 Lord Kitchener tried new schemes. He withdrew all his detached garrisons except in the most important centres, and set himself to make his railway communications perfectly secure. Concentration Policy.He determined to make the area of operations a waste, and instituted the concentration camps, into which he intended to bring the whole of the non-combatant inhabitants of the two republics. He dispatched French with a large force to clear the south-eastern districts of the Transvaal and for the rest maintained a force to watch De Wet, and organized a defence force in Cape Colony, while using the residue of his mounted men to sweep the country of stock, forage and inhabitants. Although there were no great disasters, the new policy was not prolific in success. The enemy invariably dispersed before superior forces, and the removal of the women and children from the farms did not have the effect of disheartening the burghers as had been anticipated — it rather mended their vitality by relieving them of responsibility for their families’ welfare. Nor were the Boer leaders destitute of comprehensive schemes. Botha arranged to penetrate Natal, De Wet to make a second attempt on the Colony, in connexion with Hertzog and Kritzinger. On the 10th of February De Wet, with five guns and 3000 men, carried out his promised invasion of Cape Colony. Passing the Bloemfontein–Thaba Nchu line a third time, he crossed the Orange to join Hertzog and rouse the Cape Dutch. But this invasion failed. By judicious use of the railway Kitchener concentrated sufficient troops in the colony to cope with the attempt, and, after being hunted for eighteen days, De Wet escaped back into the Orange River Colony with the loss of all his guns, munitions of war and half his force. In the northern Transvaal a force under Sir Bindon Blood cleared the country, but could not prevent Viljoen from escaping eastward to join Botha. Botha’s activity in the south-east caused Kitchener to despatch a large force under French thither. This swept the country up to the Swaziland border. But Botha escaped. On the 3rd of March, after various raids and adventures in company with Smuts and Kemp, De la Rey, the lion of the western Transvaal, essayed an attack upon Lichtenburg, in which he was heavily repulsed. Signs of weakness were now apparent, and as a result Louis Botha, acting with the authority of Schalk Burger, the representative of President Kruger, opened negotiations with Kitchener. A meeting took place at Middelburg, Transvaal, on the 28th of February. These negotiations, however, broke down mainly over the treatment to be awarded to Cape rebels.
The hostilities now entered upon a new phase. Blockhouse Policy.The establishment of a line of defensive posts between Bloemfontein and Ladybrand, though De Wet had three times traversed it, had given Kitchener an idea, and he resolved upon the scheme of fencing in areas by chains of blockhouses such as those already constructed for the protection of the railways. In the meantime, while these posts were under construction, the harrying of the commandos by mobile columns was continued. In March Babington, pursuing De la Rey after the latter’s Lichtenburg misadventure, captured three guns and six maxims near Ventersdorp. In April Plumer occupied Pietersburg, the last remaining seat of government open to the enemy. Rawlinson captured a laager and guns at Klerksdorp, and, though neither De Wet nor De la Rey had been brought to book, matters had so far improved in May that municipal government was given to Johannesburg, and a certain number of mines were allowed to recommence working. Kemp was defeated by Dixon at Vlakfontein, after a desperate encounter. June brought little of moment, though the Boers scored two minor successes, Kritzinger capturing the village of Jamestown in Cape Colony, and Müller reducing a force of Victorians at Wilmansrust, south of Middelburg. In July there were further evidences of weakness on the part of the Boers, and Botha applied for permission to communicate with Kruger. This was allowed, but, as Kruger advised a continuance of the struggle, the slow course of the war continued. In the meantime, the concentration camps were becoming filled to overflowing, and a steady stream of captures and surrenders were reducing the hostile power of the republics.
In August a proclamation was promulgated formally threatening the Boer leaders who should not surrender with permanent banishment from South Africa, but this proclamation had very little effect. Smuts, with a small force from the Magaliesberg, traversed Orange River Colony and stimulated the Cape rebels afresh. But September showed some slight improvement in the situation in Cape Colony, where French was in supreme command. On the 5th Scobell captured Lotter, who was subsequently executed for murder: though this was balanced a few days later by Smuts’s successful attack on the 17th Lancers at Tarkastad. In the south-eastern Transvaal Botha made a new effort to invade Natal, but, although he captured 300 men and three guns in an action on the 17th of September at Blood River Poort near Vryheid, his. plans were rendered abortive by his failure to reduce the posts of Mount Prospect and Fort Itala in Zululand, which he attacked on the 26th, and he only escaped with difficulty from the converging columns sent against him. Desultory fighting continued till the close of the year, the balance of success being with the British, though on the 30th of October Botha, returning from the south-east towards Pretoria, defeated Colonel Benson’s column at Bakenlaagte, Benson being killed. About the same time, the force in front of De la Rey and Kemp in the west being depleted to find the troops for larger operations, the Boers made a fierce surprise attack on Colonel Kekewich’s column at Moedville, in which Kekewich was wounded and his troops hard pressed for a time. De la Rey next attacked part of Methuen’s column near Zeerust, but was repulsed (Oct. 24). Affairs again took an unsatisfactory turn in Cape Colony, and on the 8th of October the whole colony was placed under martial law. In November an unsuccessful attempt was made by several columns to run De Wet to earth in the Lindley district, whither, after his second raid on Cape Colony, he had returned. But in December matters improved. The reverse at Bakenlaagte was repaired by a force under Bruce Hamilton. This swept the south-eastern Transvaal as French had done, and with no better effect, for Botha escaped. But the British commander thereupon began a constant succession of night marches and raids which practically blotted out the resistance in the eastern Transvaal. The corps of National Scouts (formed of burghers who had taken the oath of allegiance) was inaugurated and the Johannesburg stock exchange reopened. By the end of the year the blockhouse system was complete, but this phase of the war was destined to close badly as De Wet on Christmas Eve captured a large force of Yeomanry at Tweefontein, west of Harrismith.
With 1902 the last phase of this protracted struggle commenced. The blockhouse system was practically finished, and Kitchener determined upon a new means of harassing the enemy, who still had a total of about 25,000 men in the field. The “Drives.”But the blockhouses had already begun to serve the purpose for which they were designed. In the past the mobile columns, of which there were over sixty in the field, had always been bound to the railway for supply; now convoys could be pushed out to them along whatever blockhouse line they touched. In January Bruce Hamilton continued his successful night marches, and late in the month General Ben Viljoen was captured in the Leydenburg district. The only set-back was the descent which Beyers made upon Pietersburg, breaking into the concentration camp and carrying off a number of able-bodied refugees. Early in February Lord Kitchener commenced his first drive, and it was so successful that it was evident that the key to the situation had been found. First the country east of the line Bloemfontein–Vereeniging was swept four times over, then the method was employed in the Transvaal, east and west, and finally against the Cape rebels. There were a few small reverses, of which De la Rey’s successful rush upon Paris’s column and capture of Lord Methuen was the most important, but when some initial mistakes in the composition of the driving lines, which robbed the earlier drives of part of their effect, were made good, the system worked like a machine. The Boers were at last convinced of the futility of any attempt to prolong the struggle, and on the 23rd of March the representatives of the Boer governments came into Pretoria. Six weeks were spent in negotiation, and then a meeting of delegates, under the presidency of General Kemp, was held at Vereeniging.