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South African Battlefields History Timeline

British Colonial Africa - Anglo Zulu war 1879

Battlefields tours of South Africa logo 2The Anglo-Zulu wars 1878/79 - In 1872 Mpande Senzangakona Zulu died, his son Cetshwayo became King of the Zulu's and invites Shepstone to crown him in the name of the English Queen, thereby securing an alliance with the British just in case he as problems with the Boers. With the recognition now safe he was not about to be dictated to by outsiders especially with the proposed confederation of South African states, and intends to retain his independence with his 60,000 Zulu warriors. One of his problems was the land east of Utrecht in the Blood river area occupied by the Boers, that was given to them by his father Mpande for their assistance in disposing of Dingaan in 1840. Shepstone supported the Kings claim to have his land returned but Henry Bartle Frere disagreed.
In 1876 the British who wanted to control Southern Africa held a conference in London to setup a confederation of African states but failed to get support, the Africans where not going to be dictated to.
In 1877 Shepstone annexed the Transvaal partly due to the Sekukuni Wars and Paul Kruger's government being bankrupt. The British believed that if the Africans could not be controlled there could be a mass uprising against the Europeans.
The following year in 1878 Shepstone backtracks and relinquishes his support of Cetshwayo's claim to the land that the Boers held in the Blood river area and joins Frere with his demands that if the Boers are forced to leave the King must compensate them. In June of that year a boundary commission was setup concluding that the land should be returned to the Zulu's without compensation, the news received in Pretoria started to cause some unrest within the Boer community.
In July 1878 - The Zulu Chief Sihayo's 2 wives had decided to abscond across the Buffalo's River into Natal with their lovers. Sihayo sends some warriors to take them back to Zululand for execution. The Governor of Natal Bulwer insists that the incident should not go unpunished.
On 11 December - Frere decided that the Zulu's should be checked before they are in a position to threaten the Europeans in Natal. A meeting was held with Cetshwayo's Zulu envoys on the Lower Tugela River and are given an Ultimatum by Frere. John Dunn (the White Zulu) later informs Cetshwayo of its content.

  • The perpetrators of the border-crossing incident are to be handed over within 20 days together with 2 fines of 600 head of cattle.
  • Summary executions to stop within 30 days.
  • The Zulu Military system to be disbanded
  • Zulu warriors free to marry
  • Missionaries to have free movement in Zululand
  • Zululand to have a British resident to supervise the order.

On the 18 December 1878 Cetshwayo sends a message to Frere that he will comply but requires more time due to the flooded rivers.
By the 4 January 1879 no further communications was received from the King, this was the excuse the British needed to invade Zululand.

11 Jan 1879 - The British crossed over the Buffalo's River at the mission station of Rorke's Drift with Glynn's # 3 column,
The First Invasion of Zululand by British Forces had started.

22 Jan - Battle of Isandhlwana - #2 column under Durnford returns from Middle Drift to assist Pullien, about 20,000 Zulu's attack the British force of 1,400 British. (1,000+400 native)

22-23 Jan - Rorke's Drift mission station - (known to the Zulu's as Kwa Jim's) 11 VC's - 137 soldiers, Welsh Border's, Lt John Rouse Marriott Chard RE, Bromhead's post of local Swedish missionary Otto Witt, under the command of Maj Spalding. At Fugitives Drift a handful of survivors cross the Buffalo River to reach safety, amongst them where Lt Coghill & Melville who died while trying to saving the Queens colours.

2 Feb - Fort Eshowe -- 6,000 Zulu's besiege #1 column under Col Pearson and cut off all supplies and communications.

12 March - Ntombe Drift -- #5 column under Capt Moriarty attacked by a superior Zulu force and successfully defended the position.

28 March - Hlobane -- #4 column under Col Wood with Buller defeated by the Zulu's. Wood retires to Kambula.

29 March - Kambula -- 25,000 Zulu's attacked Wood's fortified position and were successfully repelled after 4 hours. The fleeing Zulu's pursued by Buller's horsemen until dark, this battle was the turning point of the war.

2 April - Gingindhlovu -- Zulu's attack the Eshowe relief force.

3 April - British relief force reached Eshowe, all British soldiers evacuated from Zululand.

1 June - Start of the second invasion into Zululand - Prince Imperial -- Louis Napoleon (son of Napoleon III) killed during a skirmish, two British officer's accused of deserting him.

4 July 1879 - The Battle of Ulundi Early morning on the 4th July - the British mounted troops under Buller ride out from the hollow square to push the Zulu's into an attack almost falling into a Zulu ambushed in the process, the battalions ready with bayonets fixed formed 4 ranks, the leading 2 kneeling. As the cavalry cleared the front guns opened fire at 2,000 yards, as the ranged closed they changed to case shot joined by the sectioned volleys of the infantry and the staccato rattle of the hand cranked Gatlings.
The leading Zulu warriors came on fast only to be blown away; again and again they came on bodies tumbling over their comrades before them.
Within half an hour the impetus had gone out of the Zulu attack, the 17th Lancers and KDG where let loose at the fleeing Zulu's, Cetshwayo's army was now in full retreat - this was a rout. Although some soldiers had been wounded by the Zulu's no warrior got within 20 yards of the square.
Chelmsford had finally succeeded in bringing down the mighty Zulu Empire of the Black Napoleon Chaka Senzangakona Zulu; looks like Wolseley will have to look elsewhere for his fame.
Casualties - British lost 10 killed with 87 wounded, Zulu's - over 1000 dead in the immediate area with hundreds killed in pursuit or died from their wounds in the following days.

Anglo - Boer war 1899 - 1902

(A European war fought on African soil)

War Declared - October 1899

9 Oct - Kruger sends an ultimatum to Milner and gives 48 hrs notice, Chamberlain deliberately delays a response claiming that if war starts it is the Boers who are the aggressors

10 Oct - Ultimatum expires at 17h00

On the 11 October 1899 war is officially declared

Start of Second South African War

Also known as:

The Great Boer War, The Anglo Boer War, The South African War of independence

The Boer main thrust towards Natal (Ladysmith)

Boer primary objective: - remove British forces from the ZAR & Natal borders
Secondary objective: - move into suitable position in enemy territory to stop reinforcements from moving up the Durban coast.

Piet Joubert assemblies 11,400 Transvaalers and 6000 Free Staters to cross into Natal, his primary objective was to crush Dundee and onto Ladysmith.
Gen Kock in his top hat and tails moved south to Elandslaagte to cut off any reinforcements from reaching Dundee from Ladysmith, Gen Lukas Meyer makes a wide sweep into Utrecht and Vryheid area's to round up support and Gen "Old Maroela" Erasmus is to advance onto Dundee.

Natal: - Lt Gen Sir George White had 9,600 men at Ladysmith
Most of the British forces where still at sea



27 July - French occupies Middleburg

30-31 July - Battle of Brandwater Basin. Prinsloo with 4000 Burghers surrenders to Hunter, ammo burned,

14 Aug
First De Wet hunt, Hamilton fails to stop escape over Magaliesberg and Olifant Nek near Rustenburg
Battle of Elands River Post; Siege of Post one week after Roberts had abandoned them to their own fate, Baden Powell turns back to Mafekeng, Bob's tells Kitchener BP is a bad Gen.
Death of Smut's baby son, Koosie

End of the Boxer Rebellion in Peking

15 Aug - Middleburg forces meet up with Buller's forces from Ermelo with a total of 20,000 troops

27 - 31 Aug - First Battle of Bergendal (Delmanuthu)
A six-day battle with Botha's 5000 burghers and 74 ZARP (Polisie) against 20,000 troops and canon, the Boers took a pounding, Botha retreated towards Lydenburg.
This is accepted as being the last conventional battle of the war, although it was not committed to by a full army which was in retreat
Buller with 13000 troops met Roberts with 7000 troops, a total of 38 field pieces
The Brits had more men and equipment; the Boers had more skill but no equipment.
Botha in command of E/TVL

28 Aug - Both republics decide to send Kruger to Europe (1825 to 1904) to muster support for the Boers; Schalk Burger is now acting President of the ZAR.
Kruger moves from Machadodorp to Kruger Hof

30 Aug - Nooitgedacht; last of 2000 British prisoners released

1 Sept - ZAR annexed

6 Sept - Battle of Lydenburg; captured by Gen. Buller, Boers firing from Long Tom Pass, when retreating they tossed 13 wagons over the edge in defiance, and disappeared.

7 Sept - Battle of Barberton

8 - 11 Sept - Long Tom Pass

10 Sept - Proclamation giving Kruger 6 months leave of absence to proceed to Europe. His place was filled by S W Burger (vice president of ZAR) of Lydenburg.

11 Sept - Kruger crosses into Mozambique

12 Sept - Battle of Witpoort (Mapoch's Country)

25 Sept - Pole-Carew reaches Komatipoort

27 Sept - Concentration Camp policy officially sanctioned by Robert's

29 Sept - Battle of Rhenosterkop (near Poortjiesnek)

21 Oct - Kruger sails for France on board the Gelderland supplied by Queen Wilermenia

24 Oct - Buller Sails for England

25 Oct - Formal proclamation at Pretoria of annexation of Transvaal

6 Nov - Bothaville; De Wet defeated, Le Gallais killed, 114 Boer POW

23 Nov - British garrison at Dewetsdorp surrenders

29 Nov - Kitchener succeeds Roberts as C in C in South Africa.
Roberts succeeds Wolseley as C in C at home.

3 Dec - North of Magaliesberg De la Rey captures 126 supply wagons

7 Dec - Milner takes over responsibility for the camps

11 - 12 Dec - Battle of Lancaster Hill

13 Dec - Battle of Nooitgedacht signal station; Da la Rey and Smuts surprise Clement's who escapes, POW's captured but released as Boers could not keep them. Boers more concerned with supplies.

16 Dec - Kritzinger enter Cape Colony

18 Dec - Establishment of Burgher peace committees

21 Dec - Kitchener; Extension of Camp policy. To remove everything that could be of use to the Boers in the veldt, this policy will eventually lead to the mass burning of farms, stock etc plus the civil population being displaced.
Camps extended to 116 holding 250,000 Boers and Children,
Adopting a similar policy of Robert's in the Afghanistan wars. (Used in the American civil war)
Block Houses - paddocks some 8,000 built alone the main rail lines to protect supplies and cut off Boers who where conducting guerilla (Spanish term for small army) hit and run attacks. Blockhouses made from stone, tin and earthwork. These where connected to each other by barbed wire and built offset so as not to hit each by rifle fire. An estimated some 50,000 troops were used to defend these supply routes.

Gen De Wet in the OFS was one of the most successful in obtaining British supplies. In a letter sent to Cape Town he states
“He now has plenty of supplies for his men, can you please send up some re-mounts as we are a little short of suitable horses".

24 - 25 Dec - Battle of Groenkop De Wet surprises Maj Williams and his troops who were build Blockhouses.

26 Dec - Battle of Pan Station

29 Dec - Battle of Helvitia (near Belfast) the capture of the gun "Lady Roberts" 4.7" naval gun


Transatlantic Radio Transmission by Marconi

Bubonic Plague in Cape Town
200 Teachers arrive from England to teach in concentration camps

Concentration Camp Policy

Jan – Apr
Emily Hobhouse visits concentration camps, 27,000 woman and children died (81% children) and (13,000 Blacks) in (44 + 60 camps), scorched earth policy over 30 farms burnt down, partial or complete destruction of 40 Towns Out cry in Britain, Kitchener questioned.

The British were unable to cope with all the displaced (because of the farm burning). Most of the camp deaths where the result of total incompetence by the British rather than a deliberate policy of genocide. Deaths where the result of poor conditions and malnutrition, little or no fresh meat or vegetables, no milk for the children. Medical care was almost non-existent. Some of the camps where built on poor ground causing wet sleeping conditions. The concentration camp deaths where a contributory factor at the Vereeniging peace meeting.

The British Concentration Camps even today is still a very emotive subject amongst a large proportion of the Afrikaners. No one can ever condone the atrocities albeit POW or civilian who where exposed to these conditions. Although there are reports of ill treatment of prisoners by both protagonists, there is no excuse for the deaths of 22,000 woman and children during the second war of independence. Unfortunately, war has a double-edged sword; it can bring out the best in some and the worst in others.
There are however, reports of empathy and compassion by both sides towards the wounded on the battlefield and in POW camps.

The Concentration Camps in South Africa must be viewed equally from both the Afrikaner and British prospective in an attempt to obtain a balance as to the reasoning behind the policy.
A total of 116 Camps were established, 27,000 people died, the number of Black prisoners is not known
The Camp issue should be treated as a separate topic.

7 Jan
Battle of Belfast
Second Battle of Delmanutha
Second Battle of Pan Station
Battle of Machadodorp

22 Jan - Death of Queen Victoria

27 Jan - 26 March – French pushes on ETVL

31 Jan - Smuts captures Modderfontein, massacre of Africans
Isie Smuts sent to Pietermaritzburg

Feb - Kitcheners sends Louis Botha's wife (English) to plead for surrender.

10 - 28 Feb - Cape Colony; De wets invasion was a failure

28 Feb - Abortive Middleburg peace talks between Kitchener and Botha - Republics must surrender independence. Kitchener wanted war over so he can take up a new position in India as Viceroy
Milner insists that all rebels should be executed, talks aborted.

2 - 3 March – Battle of Lichtenburg; De la Rey attacks - his home town but is forced to retire.

16 Mar - Botha breaks off negotiations at Middleburg.
Kitchener is determined once and for all to clear the veldt of all living things.

10 Apr - Northern Free State; first drive begins

8 May - Milner sails for leave in England

10 May - Boer meeting at Immigratie near Ermelo

15 May - Boers meet at Vereeniging.

19 May - Boer and Brit meet in Pretoria

29 May - Boers return to Vereeniging

June - Smuts meets his wife at Standerton
Roberts issues proclamation that farms near a break in or after a hit and run to be destroyed

20 June- Boer resolution to continue war taken at Waterval in the Standerton district.

18 July - Cape Colony; first drive northwards

July - Battle of Bakensdorp (Dullstroom)

2 Aug - Smuts and his commando set of from the Vaal River to invade the Cape Colony

6 Aug - Battle of Mpisane (Pitsane) Von Stienacker between Bushbuck & Acornhoek

7 Aug - Kitchener's proclamation of the banishment for Boer Leaders captured armed after 15 September 1901

12 Aug - Kritzinger driven out of Cape Colony

3 Sept - Cape Colony; Smuts invasion via Kiba Drift

5 Sept - Battle of Groenkloof; Lotters commando captured by Scobell

7 Sept - Moordenaarspoort Smuts and his commando
Battle of Elands River Poort; Smuts with his commando cuts up 17th Lancers

17 Sept - Battle of Blood River Poort; Botha attacks Gough's force with mounted Boers, second and last attempt to invade Natal, in 10 minutes the British lost 16 officer's, 273 men and 3 guns.

26 Sept - Fort Itala and Fort Prospect; Natal - Botha attacks but fails to break through

30 Sept - Smuts in action at Moedwil

6 Oct - Botha escapes northwards

11 Oct - Execution of Commandant Lotter, Capture of Scheepers.

30 Oct - Battle of Bakenlaagte; Benson Killed

Oct - Camp deaths 3,156

Nov - Second Battle of Lydenburg

7 Nov - Ian Hamilton appointed Kitchener's Chief of Staff

Dec - Second Battle of Machadodorp

7 Dec - National scouts inaugurated in the Transvaal

16 Dec - Kritzinger captured

23 Dec - Kroonstad - Lindley Blockhouse line completed

25 Dec - Battle of Tweefontein; Yeomanry captured by De Wet

British Graves - Freestate
British Graves - Free State
Rorkes Drift
Rorkes Drift
Burgher Memorial - Ladysmith
Burgher Memorial - Ladysmith
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Battlefields Tours with the classical Victorian Military expeditions of the Anglo Zulu wars and Anglo Boer Battlefields in KwaZulu Natal, the old Eastern Transvaal, the Northern Cape of Mafekeng and Baden Powell, diamond fields of Kimberley with the Magersfontein Battlefield of the Highland Regiments and the Free State Capital of Bloemfontein.

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