CHAPTER 29. THE ADVANCE TO KOMATIPOORT.
On September 1st Lord Roberts showed his sense of the decisive nature of these recent operations by publishing the proclamation which had been issued as early as July 4th, by which the Transvaal became a portion of the British Empire. On the same day General Buller, who had ceased to advance to the east and retraced his steps as far as Helvetia, began his northerly movement in the direction of Lydenburg, which is nearly fifty miles to the north of the railway line. On that date his force made a march of fourteen miles, which brought them over the Crocodile River to Badfontein. Here, on September 2nd, Buller found that the indomitable Botha was still turning back upon him, for he was faced by so heavy a shell fire, coming from so formidable a position, that he had to be content to wait in front of it until some other column should outflank it. The days of unnecessary frontal attacks were for ever over, and his force, though ready for anything which might be asked of it, had gone through a good deal in the recent operations. Since August 21st they had been under fire almost every day, and their losses, though never great on any one occasion, amounted in the aggregate during that time to 365. They had crossed the Tugela, they had relieved Ladysmith, they had forced Laing's Nek, and now it was to them that the honour had fallen of following the enemy into this last fastness. Whatever criticism may be directed against some episodes in the Natal campaign, it must never be forgotten that to Buller and to his men have fallen some of the hardest tasks of the war, and that these tasks have always in the end been successfully carried out. The controversy about the unfortunate message to White, and the memory of the abandoned guns at Colenso, must not lead us to the injustice of ignoring all that is to be set to the credit account.
On September 3rd Lord Roberts, finding how strong a position faced Buller, despatched Ian Hamilton with a force to turn it upon the right. Brocklehurst's brigade of cavalry joined Hamilton in his advance. On the 4th he was within signalling distance of Buller, and on the right rear of the Boer position. The occupation of a mountain called Zwaggenhoek would establish Hamilton firmly, and the difficult task of seizing it at night was committed to Colonel Douglas and his fine regiment of Royal Scots. It was Spion Kop over again, but with a happier ending. At break of day the Boers discovered that their position had been rendered untenable and withdrew, leaving the road to Lydenburg clear to Buller. Hamilton and he occupied the town upon the 6th. The Boers had split into two parties, the larger one with the guns falling back upon Kruger's Post, and the others retiring to Pilgrim's Rest. Amid cloud-girt peaks and hardly passable ravines the two long-enduring armies still wrestled for the final mastery.