The African campaigns of a notable Victorian soldier
There can be few students of the British Empire of the 19th century who are unfamiliar with the career of Evelyn Wood. In a time of outstanding military men, Wood was a national celebrity, for he fought with distinction in a number of conflicts in the Victorian Age from the Crimean War to the Indian Mutiny—where he won his Victoria Cross—and the Boer War and war in the Sudan at the turn of the century. Nevertheless, Wood arguably achieved his greatest fame during the 1870s when the British Army was engaged in sub-Saharan Africa in the wars against the Ashanti, Gaika (Kaffir) and Zulu tribal peoples. The Anglo-Zulu War is particularly fascinating to many aficionados of the history of the British Army and Evelyn Wood’s actions on Hlobane Mountain and at the battle at Kambula are covered in detail in this book. The action at Kambula is particularly noteworthy, in contrast to the debacle at Isandlwana, as a demonstration of the successful defence of a fortified British camp, in the face of overwhelming Zulu numerical superiority, when that action was commanded by a talented and determined officer. Wood wrote a substantial autobiography (his first-hand accounts of these engagements are essential) and was also the subject of a contemporary biography which, of course, covered his entire life including later periods when his career became administrative. This special Leonaur edition, concentrating on Evelyn Wood’s western and southern African campaigns has drawn its content from both these sources and is designed to present an entirely focused view of the man in active service command, at the height of his powers, in a single volume. The text is enhanced by illustrations, photographs and maps which did not accompany the original published material.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
The direction of the Zulu advance was, speaking generally, from south-east, but when they came in sight they stretched over the horizon from north-east to south-west, covering all approaches from the Inhlobane to Bemba’s Kop. When still 3 miles distant, 5000 men moved round to our left and attacked the side held by the 90th Light Infantry, prior to the remainder of the Zulu Army coming into action. This fortunate circumstance was due to Colonel Buller’s skilful tactical handling of the mounted men, whom he took out and dismounted half a mile from the Zulus.
The Umbonambi regiment suffered a galling fire for some time, and then, losing patience, rushed forward to attack, when the horsemen, remounting, retired 400 yards, and, repeating their tactics, eventually brought on a determined attack from the Zulu right flank. The Umbonambi followed up the horsemen until they were within 300 yards of the laager, when their further advance was checked by the accurate firing of the 90th Light Infantry, greatly assisted by the enfilading fire poured in from the northern face of the redoubt. I saw a fine tall chief running on well in front of his men, until, hit in the leg, he fell to the ground. Two men endeavoured to help him back as he limped on one foot. One was immediately shot, but was replaced by another, and eventually all three were killed.
We now sent the artillery horses back into the laager, keeping the guns in the open, on the ridge between the redoubt and the main laager. I had instructed the officer commanding to serve his guns till the last moment, and then, if necessary, leaving them in the open, take his men back to the laager, which was within 188 yards.
The attack on our left had so slackened as to give me no further anxiety, when at 2.15 p.m. heavy masses attacked our right front and right rear, having passed under cover up the deep ravine, on the edge of which the cattle laager stood.
Some 40 Zulus, using Martini-Henry rifles which they had taken at Isandwhlana, occupied ground between the edge of the ravine and the rear of the laager, from the fire of which they were partly covered by the refuse from the horse lines which had been there deposited, for, with the extraordinary fertility of South Africa, induced by copious rains and burning midday sun, a patch of mealies 4 feet high afforded cover to men lying down, and it was from thence that our serious losses occurred somewhat later. The Zulu fire induced me to withdraw a company of the 13th, posted at the right rear of the cattle laager, although the front was held by another half company for some time longer.
I could see from where I stood on the ridge of land just outside the fort, leaning against the barricade, which reached down to the cattle laager, that there were large bodies in the ravine, the Ngobamakosi in front, and 30 men (leaders) showed over the edge, endeavouring to encourage the regiment to leave the shelter, and charge. I, in consequence, sent Captain Maude to order out two companies of the 90th, under Major Hackett, with instructions to double over the slope down to the ravine with fixed bayonets, and to fall back at once when they had driven the Zulus below the crest.
A 13th man coming away late from the cattle laager, not having heard the order to retire, was shot by the Zulus lying in the refuse heap and followed by four from the cattle laager. I was running out to pick him up, when Captain Maude exclaimed, “Really it isn’t your place to pick up single men,” and went out himself, followed by Lieutenants Lysons and Smith, 90th Light Infantry; they were bringing the man in, who was shot in the leg, when, as they were raising the stretcher. Smith was shot through the arm. I was firing at the time at a leader of the Ngobamakosi, who, with a red flag, was urging his comrades to come up out of the ravine and assault the laager.
Private Fowler, one of my personal escort, who was lying in the ditch of the fort, had asked me, “Would you kindly take a shot at that chief, sir? it’s a quarter of an hour I am shooting him, and cannot hit him at all.” He handed me his Swinburne-Henry carbine, and looking at the sight, which was at 250 yards, I threw the rifle into my shoulder, and as I pressed it into the hollow, the barrel being very hot, I pulled the trigger before I was ready—indeed, as I was bringing up the muzzle from the Zulu’s feet. Hit in the pit of the stomach, he fell over backwards: another leader at once took his place, cheering his comrades on.