THE ANGLO ZULU WAR OF 1879
ROBERT GERRARD FRGS
THE BATTLE OF ISANDLWANA
ISandlwana is situated at the western end of a huge plain, stretching eastwards for thirteen miles before coming to rest at the foot of the iSiphezu and Nakandklaas range of mountains.
One must try to visualise the British encampment.
Hundreds of little white bell tents spread across the eastern slopes of ISandlwana for 800 yards, in straight lines, covering an area of half a square mile.
To the immediate south of the mountain is a narrow neck or saddle, and to the south of the saddle, a small koppie (hill), that would become known as Blacks Koppie. In the saddle are 4,500 oxen, 220 wagons and carts, and about 50 horses, donkeys and mules.
To the south, running up the right-hand side of the plain for about 10 miles is a mountain range consisting of the Malakatha Mountains to the immediate south and further south-east, the Mountains of Blue Blood, or Hlazakazi. 13 miles to the south-east of ISandlwana is Mangeni Falls.
To the north, the Nquthu Ridge, which runs up the left-hand side of the plain for four miles. An open plain of eight to ten miles of undulating, eroded grassland extends between the Nquthu Ridge and mountains to the south, which are higher than the highest point of ISandlwana.
Two miles east of ISandlwana is a small koppie that becomes known as the Conical Hill. 12 miles due east of ISandlwana is a mountain range that runs from north to south right across the eastern end of the plain.
The British nicknamed ISandlwana the Sphinx because in 1801 the 24th of Foot, together with several other British regiments, had fought and defeated Napoleon in Egypt, in a battle that took place quite close to the Sphinx. A number of these soldiers likened ISandlwana to the Sphinx and wrote home, expressing eerie and ill-feelings about the place. Matters were made worse because the Sphinx had become a feature incorporated into the cap badge of the 24th of Foot. Many servicemen who have visited this battlefield have expressed similar eerie feelings.
When Cetshwayo briefed his indunas, he told them he did not want to fight the British, but they had invaded his kingdom and it was his intention to push them back across the Buffalo River. He told them the British were dressed in red, which would play a part in the number of British soldiers to get off the battlefield. Remembering the horrors of Blood River, he told them not to fight the British when they were enlaagered or entrenched. Cetshwayo told them not to fight on the ukufiphala kwelanga, the day on which the sun and moon are together, making the sun invisible. This was considered a holiday. They did not bury their dead or marry on this auspicious day. But if they had to fight they would. Finally he told them that under no circumstances would they cross the Buffalo River into Natal, stressing it was not he who wanted to fight the British, but the British who had invaded his kingdom.
Throughout the war the British were to be astounded by the speed and distance the Zulu army would move. 40-45 miles a day, for five or six days at a time was not unusual.
Early on the morning of the 21st two large reconnaissance patrols, under the command of Major Dartnell and Lieutenant Lonsdale, departed from the camp with 1,670 men and struck out for the area of Mangeni Falls, 13 miles to the south-east of the camp.
The following day, the day of the battle, Lord Chelmsford, lured by reports of Zulus to the south-east, split his force in the camp yet again. And, with 1,000 men set off to join Dartnell.
He had left in the camp 1,774 men: 770 Imperial soldiers made up of six companies of the 24th, and 80 Royal Artillery, and 175 Natal Carbineers and Police. The remaining 350 were the Natal Native Contingent.
At 12.00 the British were assembled in six company positions. Three facing north, three facing north-east, with two 7-pound guns on the knuckle of the line, with no defense positions to the south or west, when they were assaulted by King Cetshwayos army of 24-25,000 warriors.
Using the tactics of the horns of the buffalo, taught to them by King Shaka 60 years before, they encircled the British camp, the left and right horns penetrating the undefended southern and western sides of the camp.
Then the head and chest assaulted from the north, off the Nquthu Ridge, the British northern and north-eastern firing line.
By 1.30pm the main battle was over leaving 1,329 British dead. The Queens Colour, the honour of the 24th, had been carried from the battlefield and lost in the Buffalo River. The Zulu army had achieved a victory over the British army unparalleled in Africa, and the Invasionary Force was in tatters.
Scattered across the eastern slopes of the ISandlwana Mountain and through the saddle to the west are cairns, mass British graves, which tell the story themselves.
This is not a story that can be visualised on paper. The area is vast and staggeringly beautiful. The story is about the arrogance of Chelmsford; the one-armed Durnford, who makes a stand with the Carbineers, Police and Native Troops. The story of Young-Husband and his final stand. Its of Melvill and Coghill trying to save the Colour. The Zulu Commander, 67 year old nTshingwayo, and Mkhosana Ndlaka, whose bravery created the Zulu victory, and finally, Qumbu Magqubu Ntombela.
You will live every moment of this story when you listen to Rob Gerrard FRGS.
Rob Gerrard FRGS, the resident historian at ISandlwana Lodge, relates the events of all the battles of the Anglo Zulu War with passion and knowledge as if he had been there. Battles themselves have limited interest, but he brings the characters involved on both sides to life and relating information found in trunks and archives, his audience is spell-bound.
Next Month The Battle of Rorkes Drift
Copyright © Robert J. Gerrard 2003
For permission to use all, or any part, of text, maps or pictures, contact Robert J. Gerrard at firstname.lastname@example.org.