Siege of Ladysmith

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Siege of Ladysmith
Part of Second Boer War
Ladysmith Town Hall 1900 - Project Gutenberg eText 15972.png
The town hall at Ladysmith, showing shell damage to the tower
Date2 November 1899 – 28 February 1900
Location
Ladysmith, Natal, South Africa

28°33.6′S29°46.8′E / 28.5600°S 29.7800°E / -28.5600; 29.7800 (Ladysmith) Coordinates: 28°33.6′S29°46.8′E / 28.5600°S 29.7800°E / -28.5600; 29.7800 (Ladysmith)
Result British victory
Belligerents
Flag of the United Kingdom (WFB 2000).svg  United Kingdom Flag of Transvaal.svg  Transvaal
Flag of the Orange Free State.svg  Orange Free State
Commanders and leaders
Flag of the United Kingdom (WFB 2000).svg George Stuart White Flag of Transvaal.svg Petrus Jacobus Joubert
Flag of Transvaal.svg Louis Botha
Flag of the Orange Free State.svg Christiaan De Wet
Strength
12,500 max 21,000 men
Casualties and losses
c. 850 killed and wounded
800 prisoners
52+ killed
Total casualties unknown

The Siege of Ladysmith was a protracted engagement in the Second Boer War, taking place between 2 November 1899 and 28 February 1900 at Ladysmith, Natal, a township founded in 1850 (population in 2011: 64,855).

Second Boer War War between two Boer Republics and the United Kingdom

The Second Boer War was fought between the British Empire and two Boer states, the South African Republic and the Orange Free State, over the Empire's influence in South Africa. It is also known variously as the Boer War, Anglo-Boer War, or South African War. Initial Boer attacks were successful, and although British reinforcements later reversed these, the war continued for years with Boer guerrilla warfare, until harsh British counter-measures brought the Boers to terms.

Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal Place in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Ladysmith is a city in the Uthukela District of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. It lies 230 kilometres (140 mi) north-west of Durban and 365 kilometres (227 mi) south of Johannesburg. Important industries in the area include food processing, textiles, and tyre production. Motor vehicle tyres are produced by "Sumitomo Rubber South Africa" in the nearby township of Steadville.

Colony of Natal British colony in south Africa (1843–1910)

The Colony of Natal was a British colony in south-eastern Africa. It was proclaimed a British colony on 4 May 1843 after the British government had annexed the Boer Republic of Natalia, and on 31 May 1910 combined with three other colonies to form the Union of South Africa, as one of its provinces. It is now the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa.

Contents

Background

As war with the Boer republics appeared likely in June 1899, the War Office in Britain dispatched a total of 15,000 troops to Natal, expecting that if war broke out they would be capable of defending the colony until reinforcements could be mobilized and sent to South Africa by steamship. Some of these troops were diverted while returning to Britain from India, others were sent from garrisons in the Mediterranean and elsewhere. Lieutenant General Sir George White was appointed to command this enlarged force. White was 64 years old and suffered from a leg injury incurred in a riding accident. Having served mainly in India, he had little previous experience in South Africa.

War Office department of the British Government responsible for the administration of the British Army

The War Office was a Department of the British Government responsible for the administration of the British Army between 1857 and 1964, when its functions were transferred to the Ministry of Defence. It was equivalent to the Admiralty, responsible for the Royal Navy, and the Air Ministry, which oversaw the Royal Air Force. The name "War Office" is also given to the former home of the department, the War Office building, located at the junction of Horse Guards Avenue and Whitehall in central London.

George White (British Army officer) British Army officer

Field Marshal Sir George Stuart White, was an officer of the British Army. He was stationed at Peshawar during the Indian Mutiny and then fought at the Battle of Charasiab in October 1879 and at the Battle of Kandahar in September 1880 during the Second Anglo-Afghan War. For his bravery during these two battles, he was awarded the Victoria Cross. He went on to command a brigade during the Third Anglo-Burmese War in 1886 and became commander of Quetta District in 1889 in which role he led operations in the Zhob Valley and in Balochistan. He was commander of the forces in Natal at the opening of the Second Boer War and fought at the Battle of Elandslaagte in October 1899. He commanded the garrison at the Siege of Ladysmith: although instructed by General Sir Redvers Buller to surrender the garrison he responded "I hold Ladysmith for the Queen" and held out for another four months before being relieved in February 1900. He finished his career as Governor of Gibraltar and then as Governor of the Royal Hospital Chelsea.

Outbreak of war

Contrary to the advice of several British officials such as Sir Alfred Milner, the High Commissioner for Southern Africa, the Boer governments were not over-awed by the despatch of British troops to Natal. Instead, they regarded it as evidence of Britain's determination to seize control of the Boer republics. The Transvaal government under President Paul Kruger considered launching an attack in September, but President Steyn of the Orange Free State, who would later become the spiritual heart of the Boer resistance, dissuaded them for several weeks while he tried to act as intermediary. With the complete breakdown in negotiations, both republics declared war and attacked on 12 October.

Alfred Milner, 1st Viscount Milner British statesman and colonial administrator

Alfred Milner, 1st Viscount Milner, was a British statesman and colonial administrator who played an influential leadership role in the formulation of foreign and domestic policy between the mid-1890s and early 1920s. From December 1916 to November 1918, he was one of the most important members of David Lloyd George's War Cabinet.

Paul Kruger Former President of the South African Republic

Stephanus Johannes Paulus "Paul" Kruger was one of the dominant political and military figures in 19th-century South Africa, and President of the South African Republic from 1883 to 1900. Nicknamed Oom Paul, he came to international prominence as the face of the Boer cause—that of the Transvaal and its neighbour the Orange Free State—against Britain during the Second Boer War of 1899–1902. He has been called a personification of Afrikanerdom, and remains a controversial and divisive figure; admirers venerate him as a tragic folk hero, and critics view him as the obstinate guardian of an unjust cause.

Martinus Theunis Steyn 6th President of the Orange Free State and South African judge.

MartinusTheunis Steyn was a South African lawyer, politician, and statesman. He was the sixth and last president of the independent republic the Orange Free State from 1896 to 1902.

A total of 21,000 Boers advanced into Natal from all sides. [1] White had been advised to deploy his force far back, well clear of the area of northern Natal known as the "Natal Triangle", a wedge of land lying between the two Boer republics. [2] Instead, White deployed his forces around the garrison town of Ladysmith, [3] with a detachment even further forward at Dundee. The entire British force could concentrate only after fighting two battles at Talana Hill and Elandslaagte. As the Boers surrounded Ladysmith, White ordered a sortie by his entire force to capture the Boer artillery. The result was the disastrous Battle of Ladysmith, in which the British were driven back into the town having lost 1,200 men killed, wounded, or captured.

Dundee, KwaZulu-Natal Place in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

The coal mining town of Dundee is situated in a valley of the Biggarsberg mountains in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. It is part of the Endumeni Municipality, Umzinyathi District. It is very rich in coal deposits. More populous than the town of Dundee itself is its adjacent township named Sibongile. This township is now being extended with many residing zones, e.g. Lindelani. Dundee was originally established by Peter Smith, with land contributed by his son in-law. Dundee was established in 1882 after the realisation that the valley was a natural way for travellers into the interior of Africa. Traders, hunters explorers, missionaries and soldiers all made their way through here.A large fort, Fort Jones, housed British troops in the area during the Anglo Zulu War of 1879. The discovery of coal in the area dates from early Voortrekker records of 1838 and later geological surveys in the 1860s. It is named after the hometown of a pioneering Scottish settler, Peter Smith. At first, Dundee was a farm, the property of Peter Smith, which he had bought from a Voortrekker settler, Mr Dekker. Three other men are also credited with the founding of Dundee; his son William Craighead Smith, son-in-law Dugald McPhail, and close family friend Charles Wilson.<Talana Museum>

Battle of Talana Hill battle

The Battle of Talana Hill, also known as the Battle of Glencoe, was the first major clash of the Second Boer War. A frontal attack by British infantry supported by artillery drove Boers from a hilltop position, but the British suffered heavy casualties in the process, including their commanding general Sir William Penn Symons.

Battle of Elandslaagte battle

The Battle of Elandslaagte was a battle of the Second Boer War, and one of the few clear-cut tactical victories won by the British during the conflict. However, the British force retreated afterwards, throwing away their advantage.

Siege

Sketch map of the positions in November 1899 Positions round Ladysmith - November 1899 - Project Gutenberg eText 16466.jpg
Sketch map of the positions in November 1899

The Boers then proceeded to surround Ladysmith and cut the railway link to Durban. Major General French and his Chief of Staff, Major Douglas Haig escaped on the last train to leave, which was riddled with bullets.

Durban city in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Durban is the third most populous city in South Africa—after Johannesburg and Cape Town—and the largest city in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal. Located on the east coast of South Africa, Durban is the busiest port in the country. It is also one of the major centres of tourism because of the city's warm subtropical climate and extensive beaches. Durban forms part of the eThekwini Metropolitan Municipality, which includes neighboring towns and has a population of about 3.44 million, making the combined municipality one of the biggest cities on the Indian Ocean coast of the African continent. It is also the second most important manufacturing hub in South Africa after Johannesburg.

John French, 1st Earl of Ypres Anglo-Irish officer in the British Army

Field Marshal John Denton Pinkstone French, 1st Earl of Ypres,, known as Sir John French from 1901 to 1916, and as The Viscount French between 1916 and 1922, was a senior British Army officer. Born in Kent to an Anglo-Irish family, he saw brief service as a midshipman in the Royal Navy, before becoming a cavalry officer. He achieved rapid promotion and distinguished himself on the Gordon Relief Expedition. French had a considerable reputation as a womaniser throughout his life, and his career nearly ended when he was cited in the divorce of a brother officer whilst in India in the early 1890s.

Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig British Field Marshal

Field Marshal Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig, was a Scottish senior officer of the British Army. During the First World War, he commanded the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) on the Western Front from late 1915 until the end of the war. He was commander during the Battle of the Somme, the Battle of Arras, the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele), the German Spring Offensive, and the final Hundred Days Offensive.

This town was then besieged for 118 days. White knew that large reinforcements were arriving, and could communicate with British units south of the Tugela River by searchlight and heliograph. He expected relief soon. Meanwhile, his troops carried out several raids and sorties to sabotage Boer artillery.

Tugela River river in South Africa

The Tugela River is the largest river in KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa. It is one of the most important rivers of the country.

Heliograph communication device

A heliograph is a wireless telegraph that signals by flashes of sunlight reflected by a mirror. The flashes are produced by momentarily pivoting the mirror, or by interrupting the beam with a shutter. The heliograph was a simple but effective instrument for instantaneous optical communication over long distances during the late 19th and early 20th century. Its main uses were military, survey and forest protection work. Heliographs were standard issue in the British and Australian armies until the 1960s, and were used by the Pakistani army as late as 1975.

Louis Botha commanded the Boer detachment which first raided Southern Natal, and then dug in north of the Tugela to hold off the relief force. On 15 December 1899, the first relief attempt was defeated at the Battle of Colenso. Temporarily unnerved, the relief force commander, General Redvers Henry Buller, suggested that White either break out or destroy his stores and ammunition and surrender. White could not break out because his horses and draught animals were weak from lack of grazing and forage, but also refused to surrender.

On Christmas Day 1899, the Boers fired into Ladysmith a carrier shell without fuze, which contained a Christmas pudding, two Union Flags and the message "compliments of the season". The shell is still kept in the museum at Ladysmith.

Battle of Wagon Hill (or Platrand)

Imperial Light Horse Memorial on Platrand Ladysmith (28deg35'28''S 29deg45'33''E / 28.59104degS 29.75909degE / -28.59104; 29.75909) -- at the location of the Battle of Wagon Hill in which 30 men from the regiment died and whose names are engraved on the monument. Platrand-Imperial Light Horse Memorial-001.jpg
Imperial Light Horse Memorial on Platrand Ladysmith ( 28°35′28″S29°45′33″E / 28.59104°S 29.75909°E / -28.59104; 29.75909 ) — at the location of the Battle of Wagon Hill in which 30 men from the regiment died and whose names are engraved on the monument.

The Boers around Ladysmith were also growing weak from lack of forage. With little action, many fighters took unauthorised leave or brought their families into the siege encampments. Eventually, with the Tugela in flood, preventing Buller from giving any support, [4] some younger leaders persuaded Joubert to order a storming attempt on the night of 5 January 1900, before another relief attempt could be made.

The British line south of Ladysmith ran along a ridge known as the Platrand. The occupying British troops had named its features Wagon Hill to the west and to the east Caesar's Camp (after features near Aldershot, well known to much of the British army[ citation needed ]). [5] Under Ian Hamilton, they had constructed a line of forts, sangars and entrenchments on the reverse slope of the Platrand, of which the Boers were unaware.[ citation needed ]

In the early hours of 6 January 1900, Boer storming parties under General C.J. de Villiers began climbing Wagon Hill and Caesar's Camp. They were spotted and engaged by British working parties who were emplacing some guns. The Boers captured the edge of both features, but could not advance further. British counter-attacks also failed. [5]

At noon, de Villiers made another attack on Wagon Hill. Some exhausted defenders panicked and fled, but Hamilton led reserves to the spot and recaptured some empty gun pits. Late in the afternoon, a terrific rainstorm broke, and the Boers withdrew under cover of it. [5]

The British suffered 175 killed and 249 wounded. 52 dead Boers were left in the British positions, but their total casualties were not recorded.

Later siege and relief

The Relief of Ladysmith. Painting by John Henry Frederick Bacon (1868-1914) The Relief of Ladysmith by John Henry Frederick Bacon.jpg
The Relief of Ladysmith. Painting by John Henry Frederick Bacon (1868–1914)
Rejoicing in St. Andrews, Canada upon receipt of the news of the relief of Ladysmith Rejoicing at St. Andrews, New Brunswick, on Water Street on Receipt of the News of the Relief of Ladysmith, South Africa.jpg
Rejoicing in St. Andrews, Canada upon receipt of the news of the relief of Ladysmith

While Buller made repeated attempts to fight his way across the Tugela, the defenders of Ladysmith suffered increasingly from shortage of food and other supplies, and from disease, mainly enteric fever or typhoid, which claimed among many others, the life of noted war correspondent G.W. Steevens. The Boers had long before captured Ladysmith's water supply, and the defenders could use only the muddy Klip River.

Towards the end of the siege, the garrison and townsfolk were living largely on their remaining draught oxen and horses (mainly in the form of "chevril", a meat paste named after the commercial beef extract "Bovril").

Eventually, Buller broke through the Boer positions on 27 February. Following their succession of reverses, his troops had developed effective tactics based on close cooperation between the infantry and artillery. After the protracted struggle, the morale of Botha's men at last broke and they and the besiegers retreated, covered by another huge thunderstorm. Buller did not pursue, and White's men were too weak to do so.

The first party of the relief column, under Major Hubert Gough and of which Winston Churchill was a part, rode in on the evening of 28 February. [6] White reportedly greeted them saying, "Thank God we kept the flag flying". [7]

Aftermath

Varieties of ammunition collected at Ladysmith Varieties of Ammunition collected at Ladysmith - Project Gutenberg etext 21280.jpg
Varieties of ammunition collected at Ladysmith

The relief was widely celebrated, [8] followed by much larger celebrations after the Siege of Mafeking. There were four Victoria Crosses awarded during the siege: John Norwood on 30 October 1899, at Wagon Hill on 6 January 1900, Herman Albrecht and Robert James Thomas Digby-Jones (who both died), and James Edward Ignatius Masterson.

Medical treatment during the siege

Early in the siege an agreement between George Stuart White and Piet Joubert led to the creation of the neutral Intombi Military Hospital some 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) outside Ladysmith. This was run by Major General (later Sir) David Bruce and his wife Mary. [9] During the siege, the number of beds in the hospital camp grew from the initial 100 to a total of 1900. A total of 10,673 admissions were received and treated at Intombi. [10] One train per day was allowed to carry wounded from Ladysmith to Intombi. [11]

Notable casualties during the siege

See also

Related Research Articles

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References

  1. Pakenham, p.106
  2. Pakenham, pp. 97, 107
  3. Durand, Henry Mortimer; White, George Stuart (1915). "III – Arrival in South Africa". The life of Field-Marshal Sir George White, V.C. Volume II. Edinburgh, London: W. Blackwood. pp. 17–27. Retrieved 1 December 2009.
  4. Symons, Julian (1963), "10 – Spion Kop", Buller's Campaign, London: The Cresset Press, p. 191
  5. 1 2 3 Spiers, Edward, ed. (2010), Letters from Ladysmith: Eyewitness Accounts from the South African War (illustrated ed.), Frontline Books, p.  77–84, ISBN   9781848325944
  6. Churchill, W.S. London to Ladysmith via Pretoria, London: Longmans, Green & Co. 1900, pp. 208–10
  7. "BOER TRAITS AND BRITISH TRAITS" (PDF). The New York Times. 6 March 1900. Retrieved 11 May 2009.
  8. "Small Riots In Cape Colony" (PDF). The New York Times. 5 March 1900. p. 2.
  9. Stirling's Talking Stones ISBN   1-870-542-48-7
  10. Watt, S. "Intombi Military Hospital and Cemetery". Military History Journal. Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging. 5 (6).
  11. "Intombi". LadysmithHistory.com. Retrieved 11 May 2009.
  12. Nevinson, Henry. Ladysmith – The Diary of a Siege. p. 106.

Bibliography