CHAPTER 21. STRATEGIC EFFECTS OF LORD ROBERTS'S MARCH.
Aided by the accurate fire of the 79th R.F.A., the colonials succeeded, after a long day of desultory fighting, in driving the enemy from his position. Leaving a garrison in Dordrecht Brabant followed up his victory and pushed forward with two thousand men and eight guns (six of them light 7-pounders) to occupy Jamestown, which was done without resistance. On March 10th the colonial force approached Aliwal, the frontier town, and so rapid was the advance of Major Henderson with Brabant's Horse that the bridge at Aliwal was seized before the enemy could blow it up. At the other side of the bridge there was a strong stand made by the enemy, who had several Krupp guns in position; but the light horse, in spite of a loss of some twenty-five men killed and wounded, held on to the heights which command the river. A week or ten days were spent in pacifying the large north-eastern portion of Cape Colony, to which Aliwal acts as a centre. Barkly East, Herschel, Lady Grey, and other villages were visited by small detachments of the colonial horsemen, who pushed forward also into the south-eastern portion of the Free State, passing through Rouxville, and so along the Basutoland border as far as Wepener. The rebellion in the Colony was now absolutely dead in the north-east, while in the north-west in the Prieska and Carnarvon districts it was only kept alive by the fact that the distances were so great and the rebel forces so scattered that it was very difficult for our flying columns to reach them. Lord Kitchener had returned from Paardeberg to attend to this danger upon our line of communications, and by his exertions all chance of its becoming serious soon passed. With a considerable force of Yeomanry and Cavalry he passed swiftly over the country, stamping out the smouldering embers.
So much for the movements into the Free State of Clements, of Gatacre, and of Brabant. It only remains to trace the not very eventful history of the Natal campaign after the relief of Ladysmith.
General Buller made no attempt to harass the retreat of the Boers, although in two days no fewer than two thousand wagons were counted upon the roads to Newcastle and Dundee. The guns had been removed by train, the railway being afterwards destroyed. Across the north of Natal lies the chain of the Biggarsberg mountains, and to this the Transvaal Boers had retired, while the Freestaters had hurried through the passes of the Drakensberg in time to make the fruitless opposition to Roberts's march upon their capital. No accurate information had come in as to the strength of the Transvaalers, the estimates ranging from five to ten thousand, but it was known that their position was formidable and their guns mounted in such a way as to command the Dundee and Newcastle roads.
General Lyttelton's Division had camped as far out as Elandslaagte with Burn Murdoch's cavalry, while Dundonald's brigade covered the space between Burn Murdoch's western outposts and the Drakensberg passes. Few Boers were seen, hut it was known that the passes were held in some strength. Meanwhile the line was being restored in the rear, and on March 9th the gallant White was enabled to take train for Durban, though it was not until ten days later that the Colenso bridge was restored. The Ladysmith garrison had been sent down to Colenso to recruit their health. There they were formed into a new division, the 4th, the brigades being given to Howard and Knox, and the command to Lyttelton, who had returned his former division, the second, to Clery. The 5th and 6th brigades were also formed into one division, the 10th, which was placed under the capable command of Hunter, who had confirmed in the south the reputation which he had won in the north of Africa. In the first week of April Hunter's Division was sent down to Durban and transferred to the western side, where they were moved up to Kimberley, whence they advanced northwards. The man on the horse has had in this war an immense advantage over the man on foot, but there have been times when the man on the ship has restored the balance. Captain Mahan might find some fresh texts in the transference of Hunter's Division, or in the subsequent expedition to Beira.
On April 10th the Boers descended from their mountains and woke up our sleepy army corps by a brisk artillery fire. Our own guns silenced it, and the troops instantly relapsed into their slumber. There was no movement for a fortnight afterwards upon either side, save that of Sir Charles Warren, who left the army in order to take up the governorship of British Bechuanaland, a district which was still in a disturbed state, and in which his presence had a peculiar significance, since he had rescued portions of it from Boer domination in the early days of the Transvaal Republic. Hildyard took over the command of the 5th Division. In this state of inertia the Natal force remained until Lord Roberts, after a six weeks' halt in Bloemfontein, necessitated by the insecurity of his railway communication and his want of every sort of military supply, more especially horses for his cavalry and boots for his infantry, was at last able on May 2nd to start upon his famous march to Pretoria. Before accompanying him, however, upon this victorious progress, it is necessary to devote a chapter to the series of incidents and operations which had taken place to the east and south-east of Bloemfontein during this period of compulsory inactivity.