CHAPTER 34. THE WINTER CAMPAIGN (APRIL TO SEPTEMBER, 1901).
Save these two incidents, the fight at Reitz and the capture of a portion of Steyn's government at the same place, the winter's campaign furnished little which was of importance, though a great deal of very hard and very useful work was done by the various columns under the direction of the governors of the four military districts. In the south General Bruce Hamilton made two sweeps, one from the railway line to the western frontier, and the second from the south and east in the direction of Petrusburg. The result of the two operations was about 300 prisoners. At the same time Monro and Hickman re-cleared the already twice-cleared districts of Rouxville and Smithfield. The country in the east of the Colony was verging now upon the state which Grant described in the Shenandoah Valley: 'A crow,' said he, 'must carry his own rations when he flies across it.'
In the middle district General Charles Knox, with the columns of Pine-Coffin, Thorneycroft, Pilcher, and Henry, were engaged in the same sort of work with the same sort of results.
The most vigorous operations fell to the lot of General Elliot, who worked over the northern and north-eastern district, which still contained a large number of fighting burghers. In May and June Elliot moved across to Vrede and afterwards down the eastern frontier of the Colony, joining hands at last with Rundle at Harrismith. He then worked his way back to Kroonstad through Reitz and Lindley. It was on this journey that Sladen's Mounted Infantry had the sharp experience which has been already narrated. Western's column, working independently, co-operated with Elliot in this clearing of the north-east. In August there were very large captures by Broadwood's force, which had attained considerable mobility, ninety miles being covered by it on one occasion in two days.
Of General Rundle there is little to be said, as he was kept busy in exploring the rough country in his own district - the same district which had been the scene of the operations against Prinsloo and the Fouriesburg surrender. Into this district Kritzinger and his men trekked after they were driven from the Colony in July, and many small skirmishes and snipings among the mountains showed that the Boer resistance was still alive.
July and August were occupied in the Orange River Colony by energetic operations of Spens' and Rimington's columns in the midland districts, and by a considerable drive to the north-eastern corner, which was shared by three columns under Elliot and two under Plumer, with one under Henry and several smaller bodies. A considerable number of prisoners and a large amount of stock were the result of the movement, but it was very evident that there was a waste of energy in the employment of such forces for such an end. The time appeared to be approaching when a strong force of military police stationed permanently in each district might prove a more efficient instrument. One interesting development of this phase of the war was the enrolment of a burgher police among the Boers who had surrendered. These men - well paid, well mounted, and well armed - were an efficient addition to the British forces. The movement spread until before the end of the war there were several thousand burghers under such well-known officers as Celliers, Villonel, and young Cronje, fighting against their own guerilla countrymen. Who, in 1899, could have prophesied such a phenomenon as that!
Lord Kitchener's proclamation issued upon August 9th marked one more turn in the screw upon the part of the British authorities. By it the burghers were warned that those who had not laid down their arms by September 15th would in the case of the leaders be banished, and in the case of the burghers be compelled to support their families in the refugee camps. As many of the fighting burghers were men of no substance, the latter threat did not affect them much, but the other, though it had little result at the time, may be useful for the exclusion of firebrands during the period of reconstruction. Some increase was noticeable in the number of surrenders after the proclamation, but on the whole it had not the result which was expected, and its expediency is very open to question. This date may be said to mark the conclusion of the winter campaign and the opening of a new phase in the struggle.