The Battle of Blood River (Afrikaans : Slag van Bloedrivier; Zulu : iMpi yaseNcome) is the name given for the battle fought between 470 Voortrekkers ("Pioneers"), led by Andries Pretorius, and an estimated "10,000 to 15,000" Zulu on the bank of the Ncome River on 16 December 1838, in what is today KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Casualties amounted to over 3,000 of King Dingane's soldiers dead, including two Zulu princes competing with Prince Mpande for the Zulu throne. Three Pioneer commando members were lightly wounded, including Pretorius.
Zulu or isiZulu is a Bantu language spoken in Southern Africa. It is the language of the Zulu people, with about 10 million native speakers, who primarily inhabit the province of KwaZulu-Natal of South Africa. Zulu is the most widely spoken home language in South Africa, and it is understood by over 50% of its population. It became one of South Africa's 11 official languages in 1994.
Andries Wilhelmus Jacobus Pretorius was a leader of the Boers who was instrumental in the creation of the South African Republic, as well as the earlier but short-lived Natalia Republic, in present-day South Africa. The large city of Pretoria, executive capital of South Africa, is named after him.
The Kingdom of Zulu, sometimes referred to as the Zulu Empire or the Kingdom of Zululand, was a monarchy in Southern Africa that extended along the coast of the Indian Ocean from the Tugela River in the south to Pongola River in the north.
The year 1838 was the most difficult period for the Voortrekkers since they left the Cape Colony, till the end of the Great Trek. They were plagued by many disasters and much bloodshed before they found freedom and a safe homeland in their Republic of Natalia. This could only be achieved by crushing the power of the Zulu King, Dingane, at the greatest battle ever fought in South Africa, namely the Battle of Blood River, which took place on Sunday 16 December 1838.
In the sequel to the Battle of Blood River in January 1840, Prince Mpande finally defeated King Dingane in the Battle of Maqongqe and was subsequently crowned as new king of the Zulu by his alliance partner Andries Pretorius. After these two battles, Dingane's prime minister and commander in both the Battle of Maqongqe and the Battle of Blood River, General Ndlela, was strangled to death by Dingane for high treason. General Ndlela had been the personal protector of Prince Mpande, who after the Battles of Blood River and Maqongqe, became king and founder of the Zulu.
Mpande (1798–1872) was monarch of the Zulu Kingdom from 1840 to 1872, making him the longest reigning Zulu king. He was a half-brother of Sigujana, Shaka and Dingane, who preceded him as kings of the Zulu. He came to power after overthrowing Dingane in 1840.
Ndlela kaSompisi was a key general to Zulu Kings Shaka and Dingane. He rose to prominence as a highly effective warrior under Shaka. Dingane appointed him as his inDuna, or chief advisor. He was also the principal commander of Dingane's armies. However, Ndlela's failure to defeat the Boers under Andries Pretorius and a rebellion against Dingane led to his execution.
The trekkers—called Voortrekkers after 1880—had to defend themselves after the betrayal murder of chief Trekker leader Piet Retief and his entire entourage, and ten days later the Weenen massacre where "not a soul was spared."
The Piet Retief Delegation massacre occurred when Voortrekkers under Piet Retief migrated into Natal in 1837 and negotiated a land treaty in February 1838 with the Zulu King Dingane. Upon realizing the ramifications of the imposed contract, Dingane doublecrossed the Voortrekkers, killing the delegation of 100 including their leader Piet Retief on 6 February 1838. The land treaty was later found in Piet Retief's possession. It gave the Voortrekkers the land between the Tugela River and Port St. Johns. This event eventually led to the Battle of Blood River and the eventual defeat of Dingane.
The Weenen Massacre was the massacre of Voortrekkers by the Zulu on 17 February 1838. The massacres occurred at Doringkop, Bloukrans River, Moordspruit, Rensburgspruit and other sites around the present day town of Weenen in South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province.
Dingane had agreed that, if Retief could recover approximately 700 head of cattle stolen from the Zulus by the Tlokwa, he would let them have land upon which to establish farms.
The term Batlôkwa refers to several Kgatla communities that reside in Botswana, Lesotho and South Africa. It is comprised by the followers of Tlôkwa kings and the members of clans identified as Tlôkwa, or individuals who identify themselves as of Tlôkwa descent. Most of the Batlôkwa clans trace their royal lineages to Kgwadi son of King Tabane, who was the father and founder of the Batlokwa nation. The Tlôkwa considers the Tlokwe-cat as their original totem which has since become extinct due to over-hunting for its fur, which was used by clan chiefs.
On 6 February 1838, two days after the signing of a negotiated land settlement deal between Retief and Dingane at UmGungundlovu, written by Jan Gerritze Bantjes which included Trekker access to Port Natal in which Britain had imperial interests, Dingane invited Retief and his party into his royal residence for a beer-drinking farewell. The accompanying request for the surrender of Trekker muskets at the entrance was taken as normal protocol when appearing before the king. While the Trekkers were being entertained by Dingane's dancing warriors/soldiers, Dingane suddenly accused the visiting party of witchcraft and ordered his men: "Bulalani abathakathi" (Kill the sorcerers...).Dingane's soldiers then proceeded to impale all Retief's men, lastly clubbing to death Retief, while leaving the Natal treaty in his handbag intact.
Jan Gerritze Bantjes was a Voortrekker and was also the Secretary General of the Voortrekkers. He was the author of the treaty between the Zulu king Dingane kaSenzangakhona and the Voortrekkers under Andries Pretorius.
The United Kingdom (UK), officially the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and sometimes referred to as Britain, is a sovereign country located off the north-western coast of the European mainland. The United Kingdom includes the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland, and many smaller islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that shares a land border with another sovereign state, the Republic of Ireland. Apart from this land border, the United Kingdom is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with the North Sea to the east, the English Channel to the south and the Celtic Sea to the south-west, giving it the 12th-longest coastline in the world. The Irish Sea lies between Great Britain and Ireland. With an area of 242,500 square kilometres (93,600 sq mi), the United Kingdom is the 78th-largest sovereign state in the world. It is also the 22nd-most populous country, with an estimated 66.0 million inhabitants in 2017.
Immediately after the UmGungundlovu massacre, Dingane sent out his impis (regiments) to attack several Trekker encampments at night time, killing an estimated 500 men, women, children, and servants, most notably at Blaukraans.
Help arrived from farmers in the Cape Colony, and the Trekkers in Natal subsequently requested the pro-independence Andries Pretorius to leave the Cape Colony, in order to defend the Voortrekkers who had settled in Natal.
After the Battle of Blood River, the Dingane-Retief treaty was found on Retief's bodily remains,providing a driving force for an overt alliance against Dingane between Prince Mpande and Pretorius.
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On 26 November 1838, Andries Pretorius was appointed as general of a wagon commando directed against Dingane at UmGungundlovu. By December 1838, Prince Mpande and 17,000 followers had already fled from Dingane, who was seeking to assassinate Mpande.In support of Prince Mpande as Dingane's replacement, Pretorius' strategy was to target Dingane only. To allow Prince Mpande to oust King Dingane through military might, Pretorius had first to weaken Dingane's personal military power base in UmGungundlovu. Dingane's royal residence at UmGungundlovu was naturally protected against attack by hilly and rocky terrain all around, as well as an access route via Italeni passing through a narrow gorge called a defile.
Earlier on 9 April 1838, a Trekker horse commando without ox wagons, thereafter called the "Flight Commando", had unsuccessfully attempted to penetrate the UmGungundlovu defence at nearby Italeni, resulting in the loss of several Trekker lives. Trekker leader Hendrik Potgieter had abandoned all hope of engaging Dingane in UmGungundlovu after losing the battle of Italeni, and subsequently had migrated with his group out of Natal. To approach UmGungundlovu via the Italeni defile with ox wagons would force the wagons into an open column, instead of an enclosed laager as successfully employed defensively at Veglaer on 12 August 1838.
The military commander during Dingane's attack on Veglaer was Ndlela kaSompisi. The highly experienced general Ndlela had served under Shaka, and was also prime minister and chief advisor under Dingane. Ndlela with his 10,000 troops had retreated from Veglaer, after three days and nights of fruitless attempts to penetrate the enclosed Trekker wagon laager.
General Ndlela personally protected Prince Mpande from Dingane's repeated assassination plans. King Dingane desired to have his half brother Mpande, the only prince with children, eliminated as a threat to his throne.Prince Mpande was married to Msukilethe, a daughter of general Ndlela. General Ndlela, like Pretorius the promotor of Prince Mpande, was responsible for Dingane's UmGungundlovu defence during the Trekkers' second attack attempt under Pretorius in December 1838. Given general Ndlela's previous defence and attack experience at Italeni and Veglaer during April 1838 and August 1838 respectively, Ndlela's tactical options were limited. Proven UmGungundlovu defence tactics were to attack Trekker commandos in the rocky and hilly terrain on the narrowing access route at Italeni, thereby neutralising the advantages mounted riflemen had over spear-carrying foot soldiers. Ndlela had to let Pretorius come close to UmGungundlovu at Italeni and lure the Trekkers into attack. Ndlela was not to attack the Trekkers when they were in a defensive wagon laager position, especially not during the day. The problem for Pretorius was that he had somehow to find a way to make Dingane's soldiers attack him in a defensive laager position at a place of his choice, far away from UmGungundlovu and Italeni.
On 6 December 1838, 10 days before the Battle of Blood River, Pretorius and his commando including Alexander Biggar as translator had a meeting with friendly Zulu chiefs at Danskraal, so named for the Zulu dancing that took place in the Zulu kraal that the Trekker commando visited. With the intelligence received at Danskraal, Pretorius became confident enough to propose a vow, which demanded the celebration, by the commando and their posterity, of the coming victory over Dingane. The covenant included that a church would be built in honour of God, should the commando be successful and reach UmGungundlovu alive in order to diminish the power of Dingane. Building a church in Trekker emigrant context was symbol for establishing a settled state.
After the meeting with friendly Zulu chiefs at Danskraal, Pretorius let the commando relax and do their washing for a few days at Wasbank till 9 December 1838. From Wasbank they slowly and daily moved closer to the site of the Battle of Blood River, practising laager defence tactics every evening for a week long. Then, by halting his advance towards UmGungundlovu on 15 December 1838, 40 km before reaching the defile at Italeni, Pretorius had eliminated the Italeni terrain trap.
On 14 December 1838, after the Trekker wagons crossed the Buffalo River, 50 kilometres (31 mi) away from their target UmGungundlovu via the risky Italeni access route, an advance scouting party including Pretorius brought news of large Zulu forces arriving nearby. While Cilliers wanted to ride out and attack, Pretorius declined the opportunity to engage Dingane's soldiers far away from their base and Italeni. Instead Pretorius built a fortified laager on terrain of his own choosing, in the hope that general Ndlela would attack it as at Veglaer.
As the site for the overnight wagon camp, Pretorius chose a defensible area next to a hippo pool in the Ncome River that provided excellent rear protection. The open area to the front provided no cover for an attacking force, and a deep dry river bed protected one of the wagon laager flanks. As usual, the ox wagons were drawn into a protective enclosure or laager. Movable wooden barriers that could be opened quickly were fastened between each wagon to prevent intruders, and two smoothbore artillery pieces were positioned.Andries Pretorius had brought a 6-pound naval carronade with him from the Cape, mounted on a gun carriage improvised from a wagon axle, and named Grietjie. The other ordnance piece is unknown in the original, but the reproduction depicts a 4-pound smoothbore cannon by then obsolete in most European armies. Both were used to fire grapeshot.
Mist settled over the wagon site that evening. According to Afrikaner traditions, the Zulu were afraid to attack in the night because of superstitions about the lamps which the Boers hung on sjamboks [whip-stocks] around the laager.Whether or not there is any truth in this, historian S.P. Mackenzie has speculated that the Zulu held back until what they perceived as the necessary numbers had arrived.
During the night of 15 December, six Zulu regiments, an estimated 20,000 Zulu soldiers led by Dambuza (Nzobo), crossed the Ncome River and started massing around the encampment, while the elite forces of senior general Ndlela did not cross the river. Ndlela thereby split Dingane's army in two.
On 16 December, dawn broke on a clear day, revealing that "all of Zululand sat there", according to one Trekker eyewitness.But General Ndlela and his crack troops, the Black and White Shields, remained on the other side of the river, observing Dambuza's men at the laager from a safe position across the hippo pool. According to the South African Department of Art and Culture:
In ceremonies that lasted about three days, izinyanga zempi, specialist war doctors, prepared izinteleze medicines which made warriors invincible in the face of their opponents.
This could explain why Dambuza's forces were sitting on the ground close to the wagon laager when the Trekkers opened fire during the day.
Only Dambuza's regiments repeatedly stormed the laager unsuccessfully. The attackers were hindered by a change introduced during Shaka's rule that replaced most of the longer throwing spears with short stabbing spears.In close combat the stabbing spear provided obvious advantages over its longer cousin. A Zulu eyewitness said that their first charge was mown down like grass by the single-shot Boer muskets.
As Bantjes wrote in his journal:
Sunday, December 16 was like being newly born for us - the sky was clear, the weather fine and bright. We hardly saw the twilight of the break of day or the guards, who were still at their posts and could just make out the distant Zulus approaching. All the patrols were called back into the laager by firing alarm signals from the cannons. The enemy came forward at full speed and suddenly they had encircled the area around the laager. As it got lighter, so we could see them approaching over their predecessors who had already been shot back. Their rapid approach (though terrifying to witness due to their great numbers) was an impressive sight. The Zulus came in regiments, each captain with his men behind (as the patrols had seen them coming the day before) until they had surrounded us. I could not count them, but I was told that a captive Zulu gave the number at thirty-six regiments, each regiment calculated to be "nine hundred to a thousand men" strong.
The battle now began and the cannons unleashed from each gate, such that the battle was fierce and noisy, even the discharging of small arms fire from our marksmen on all sides was like thunder. After more than two hours of fierce battle, the Commander in Chief gave orders that the gates be opened and mounted men sent to fight the enemy in fast attacks, as the enemy near constantly stormed the laager time and again, and he feared the ammunition would soon run out.
With the power of their firearms and with their ox wagons in a laager formation and some excellent tactics, the Boers fought off the Zulu. Buckshot was used to maximise casualties. Mackenzie claims that 200 indigenous servants looked after the horses and cattle and helped load muskets, but no definite proof or witness of servants helping to reload is available.Writing in the popular Afrikaans magazine, Die Huisgenoot , a Dr. D.J. Kotze said that this group consisted of 59 "non-white" helpers and three English settlers with their black "followers".
After two hours and four waves of attack, with the intermittent lulls providing crucial reloading and resting opportunities for the Trekkers, Pretorius ordered a group of horsemen to leave the encampment and engage the Zulu in order to disintegrate their formations. The Zulu withstood the charge for some time, but rapid losses led them to scatter.The Trekkers pursued their fleeing enemies and hunted them down for three hours. Cilliers noted later that "we left the Kafirs lying on the ground as thick almost as pumpkins upon the field that has borne a plentiful crop." Bantjes recorded that about 3,000 dead Zulu had been counted, and three Trekkers were wounded. During the chase, Pretorius was wounded in his left hand by an assegaai (Zulu spear). Of the 3,000 dead Zulu soldiers, two were princes, leaving Ndlela's favourite Prince Mpande as frontrunner in the subsequent battle for the Zulu crown.
Four days after the Battle of Blood River, the Trekker commando arrived at King Dingane's great kraal UmGungundlovu (near present-day Eshowe), only to find it deserted and ablaze. The bones of Retief and his men were found and buried, where a memorial stands today. Afterwards the clash was commemorated as having occurred at Blood River (Bloedrivier). 16 December is a public holiday in South Africa;before 1994 it was known as "the Day of the Vow", "the Day of the Covenant" and "Dingaan's Day"; but today it is "the Day of Reconciliation".
The conflict between Dingane and the Trekkers continued for one more year after the Battle of Blood River. The idea of a decisive victory may have been planted in Pretorius' mind by a Zulu prisoner, who said that most of Dingane's warriors had either been killed or had fled. The same prisoner led some of the Trekker party into a trap at the White Umfolozi River, eleven days after the battle at Ncome River.This time the Zulu were victorious. Only when Dingane's brother, Mpande, openly joined the Trekker side with his sizeable army, was Dingane finally defeated in January 1840.
Following the Battle of Maqongqe in January 1840, the forces of Mpande did not wait for Pretorius' cavalry to arrive, and they attacked the remaining regiments of Dingane, who were again under the command of General Ndlela. Ndlela strayed from normal fighting tactics against Mpande, sending in his regiments to fight one at a time, instead of together in ox horn formation. Maquongqe Dingane had to flee Natal completely, but before he did so, he had Ndlela slowly strangled by cow hide for high treason,on the grounds that he had fought for Mpande, with the same disastrous result for Dingane as at Ncome-Blood River. Dambusa, Dingane's other general, had already been executed by Mpande and Pretorius when he fell into their hands before the battle.
Pretorius approved and attended the crowning of Zulu King Mpande in Pietermaritzburg. They agreed on the Tugela River as the border between Zululand and the Republic of Natalia.
Popular Afrikaner interpretations of the Battle of Blood River (bolstered by sympathetic English historians such as George Theal) played a central role in fostering Afrikaner nationalism [ citation needed ]. They believe that the battle demonstrated God's intervention and hence their divine right to exist as an independent people. This is stated in the official guidebook of the Voortrekker Monument (unveiled during the centenary celebrations of the Great Trek on 16 December 1949) that Afrikaners were a nation of heroes exemplifies the conclusions drawn from such events. From the day of the vow, Afrikaners consider the site and the commemoration of the day as sacred.
Historian S.P. Mackenziedoubts the reported number of Zulu deaths. He compares Zulu casualties at Ncome to battles at Italeni, Isandlwana, and Rorke's Drift. Mackenzie acknowledges that the casualty count was not impossible. Yet, in a similar victory on 15 October 1836 by Trekkers under Hendrik Potgieter over some 9,000 Matabele, the latter suffered only 350 casualties. In 1879, 600 British soldiers with breech-loading rifles causing 2,000 Zulu casualties, perhaps 1,000 killed over three hours before being overrun.
A church, called "the Church of the Vow", was built in the Natal town of Pietermaritzburg in 1841, where Pretorius settled on the farm "Welverdient" (English: "Well-earned"), a gift from the Trekkers.
A monument was erected on the site of the battle in 1947, consisting of an ox wagon executed in granite by the sculptor Coert Steynberg. In 1971 a laager of 64 ox wagons cast in bronze (by Unifront Foundry in Edenvale — Fanie de Klerk and Jack Cowlard) was erected, and unveiled on 16 December 1972.
The Ncome monument on the east side of the river commemorates the fallen Zulu warriors. While the Blood River Memorial is associated with Afrikaner nationalism, the Ncome monument was intended as a symbol of reconciliation -- but has become connected with Zulu nationalism.
At the 16 December 1998 inauguration of the most recent version of the monument, the Zulu politician and then Minister of Home Affairs, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, apologized to the Afrikaner nation for the death of Piet Retief and the subsequent suffering. At the same time Buthelezi also noted the suffering of the Zulu under British Colonial and Afrikaner rule during apartheid. He stressed that South Africans needed to consider the day as "a new covenant which binds us to the shared commitment of building a new country."
Today two complexes mark the battle site: the Ncome Monument and Museum Complex east of the Ncome River, and the Blood River Monument and Museum Complex to the west.
South Africa's ex-president, Jacob Zuma, attended the official inauguration of the Ndlela monument in Eshowe, Kwazulu-Natal.
The Great Trek was an eastward migration of Dutch-speaking settlers who travelled by wagon trains from the Cape Colony into the interior of modern South Africa from 1836 onwards, seeking to live beyond the Cape's British colonial administration. The Great Trek resulted from the culmination of tensions between rural descendants of the Cape's original European settlers, known collectively as Boers, and the British Empire. It was also reflective of an increasingly common trend among individual Boer communities to pursue an isolationist and semi-nomadic lifestyle away from the developing administrative complexities in Cape Town. Boers who participated in the Great Trek identified themselves as voortrekkers, meaning "pioneers", "pathfinders" in Dutch and Afrikaans.
The Boer Republics were independent, self-governed republics in the last half of the nineteenth century, created by the Dutch-speaking inhabitants of the Cape Colony and their descendants, variously named Trekboers, Boers and Voortrekkers in mainly the middle, northern and north eastern and eastern parts of what is now the country of South Africa. Two of the Boer Republics achieved international recognition and complete independence: the South African Republic and the Orange Free State. The republics did not provide separation of church and state, and initially only the Dutch Reformed Church, then also other churches in the Calvinist Protestant tradition, were allowed. The republics came to an end after the Second Boer War which resulted in the British annexation and later incorporation into the Union of South Africa.
Dingane kaSenzangakhona Zulu —commonly referred to as Dingane or Dingaan—was a Zulu chief who became king of the Zulu Kingdom in 1828. He set up his royal capital uMgungundlovu, and one of numerous military encampments or kraals, in the Emakhosini valley just south of the White Umfolozi River on the slope of Lion Hill (Singonyama).
The Voortrekker Monument is located just south of Pretoria in South Africa. This massive granite structure is prominently located on a hilltop, and was raised to commemorate the Voortrekkers who left the Cape Colony between 1835 and 1854.
Andries Hendrik Potgieter, known as Hendrik Potgieter was a Voortrekker leader and the last known Champion of the Potgieter family. He served as the first head of state of Potchefstroom from 1840 and 1845 and also as the first head of state of Zoutpansberg from 1845 to 1852.
The Natalia Republic was a short-lived Boer republic straddling the coast of Southern Africa and the Drakensberg range, established in 1839 by Voortrekkers shortly after the Battle of Blood River. The area was ceded by the Zulu king Dingane to Piet Retief and his party in 1838 and stretched from the Tugela River to present day Port St. Johns. It was previously named Natália by Portuguese sailors. The republic also covered the northern parts of what is now the Free State, represented by a landdrost at Winburg. The republic was annexed by Britain in 1843 to form the Colony of Natal. After the British annexation of the Natalia Republic, most local Voortrekkers trekked north into Transorangia, later known as the Orange Free State, and the Transvaal.
The Battle of Italeni was a battle that took place atin what is now KwaZulu Natal province, South Africa, between the Voortrekkers and the Zulus during the period of the Great Trek.
Petrus Lafras Uys (1797–1838) was a Voortrekker leader during the Great Trek.
The Day of the Vow was a religious public holiday in South Africa. It is an important holiday for Afrikaners, originating from the Battle of Blood River on 16 December 1838.
Richard Philip "Dick" King (1811-1871) was an English trader and colonist at Port Natal, a British trading station in the region now known as KwaZulu-Natal. He is best known for a historic horseback ride in 1842, where he completed a journey of 960 kilometres (600 mi) in 10 days, to request help for the besieged British garrison at Port Natal.
The Biggar family, Alexander Harvey Biggar and his two sons Robert and George, were pioneer traders at Port Natal, in what was to become the Colony of Natal. Subsequent to the massacre of Retief's delegation, they became involved in the exchange of attacks between Zulus and settlers. Although contributing to the overthrow of Dingane, all three lost their lives in the conflicts of 1838. Alexander's grandson John Dunn became a well-known Natal pioneer in his own right.
uMgungundlovu was the royal capital of the Zulu King Dingane (1828–1840) and one of several military complexes (amakhanda) which he maintained. He established his royal kraal in 1829 in the eMakhosini valley against Lion hill (Singonyama), just south of the White Umfolozi River.
Theresa Viglione was an Italian and South African woman famous for saving the lives of many Voortrekkers in 1838 when she warned a group of them of an impending attack initiated by Zulu king Dingane. She is immortalized on a frieze in a Voortrekker monument in Pretoria, South Africa
The Battle of Maqongqo was fought on 29 January 1840 during a civil war between Zulu factions. The Zulu king Dingane was challenged for the throne by his brother Mpande, in alliance with Boer settlers led by Andries Pretorius. Mpande and his supporters were victorious. Shortly thereafter Dingane was murdered and Mpande became king of the Zulus.
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