20 Oct 2013

The Battle of Rorke’s Drift

The Battle of Rorke’s Drift

The garrison of the Rorkes Drift post consisted of B Company 2nd Battalion 24th Regiment of Foot (Lieutenant Bromhead), and (with officers and casuals) was of a total strength of 139. It was encamped on the Natal side of the Buffalo, where there was a mission station, one building of which was used as a hospital and one as a commissariat store. The crossing of the river was effected by what are called ponts boats used as a kind of flying bridge and there were drifts, or fords, in the vicinity. Major Spalding, Deputy Assistant Adjutant General, and Lieutenant Chard, Royal Engineers, were stationed here. The former rode off to Helpmakaar at 2 AM., 22nd January, to bring up Captain Rainforth’s company, 1st Battalion 24th Regiment of Foot, to protect the pont, leaving Lieutenant Chard in command of the post. 

About 3.15 A.M., Lieutenant Chard was at the ponts, when two men came riding from Zululand at a gallop, and shouted to be taken across the river. They were Lieutenant Adendorff, Natal Native Contingent, and a carbineer, who brought tidings of the disaster at Isandlwana and the advance of the Zulus towards Rorke’s Drift. Lieutenant Adendorff remained to assist in the defence of the post, and the carbineer rode on to take the news to Helpmakaar. 

Lieutenant Chard at once gave orders to secure the stores at the ponts, and rode up to the commissariat store, when he found a note had been received from the 3rd Column, saying the enemy were advancing, and directing them to strengthen and hold the post at all cost. Lieutenant Bromhead was actively at work preparing for defence, ably assisted by Mr. Dalton, of the Commissariat Department, loopholing the buildings and connecting them by walls of mealie bags and two wagons that were there. Lieutenant Chard then rode down to the pont, and brought up the guard and stores. 

An officer, with about a hundred of Durnford’s Horse, now arrived, and asked for orders. He was instructed to throw out men to watch the drifts and ponts, to check the enemy's advance, and fall back on the post when forced to retires These men had, however, been in the saddle since daylight, and had gone through a heavy engagement they were quite exhausted (besides being dispirited by the loss of their beloved leader), and after remaining a short time, retired to Helpmakaar. A detachment of Natal Native Contingent also left the post. 

Lieutenant Chard now commenced an inner work a retrenchment of biscuit boxes. This was two boxes high when, about 4.30 P.M., 500 or 600 of the enemy came in sight, and advanced at a run against the south wall. They were met with a well sustained fire, but, in spite of their loss, approached to within about fifty yards. 

Here they were checked by the cross fire from the attacked front and the store house. Some got under cover and kept up a heavy fire, but the greater number, without stopping, moved to the left, round the hospital, and made a rush at the wall of mealie bags. After a short but desperate struggle the enemy were driven back with heavy loss into the bush around the post. The main body of the enemy coming up, lined the ledge of rock, caves, etc., overlooking the work, at a distance of about 400 yards to the south, and from whence a constant fire was kept up, and they also occupied in great force the garden, hollow road, and bush. 

The bush not having been cleared away enabled the enemy to advance under cover close to the wall, and a series of desperate assaults were made, extending from the hospital along the wall as far as the bush reached each assault was brilliantly met and repulsed with the bayonet, Corporal Scheiss, Natal Native Contingent, . distinguishing himself greatly. The fire from the rocks took the work completely in reverse, and was so heavy that about 6 P.M. the garrison was obliged to retire behind the entrenchment of biscuit boxes. 

During this period the enemy had been storming the hospital, and at last succeeded in setting fire to the roof The garrison defended it most gallantly, bringing out all the sick that could be moved Privates Williams, Hook, R. Jones, and W. Jones, 2nd Battalion 24th Regiment of Foot, being the last men to leave, and holding the doorway with the bayonet when their ammunition was expended. The want of communication and the burning of the house rendered it impossible to save all the sick. 

It was now found necessary to make another entrenchment, which was done with two heaps of mealie bags, Assistant Commissary Dunne working hard at this, though much exposed. As darkness came on the little garrison was completely surrounded, but gallantly repulsed several serious assaults it was, however eventually forced to retire to the inner entrenchment, which it held throughout the night. The attack continued vigorously till midnight, the men firing on the assailants with the greatest coolness, aided by the light afforded by the burning hospital. A desultory fire was kept up by the enemy throughout the night, but this ceased about 4 A.M. on the 23rd, and at daybreak the enemy was out of sight. Lieutenant Chard at once set about patrolling round the post, collecting the Zulu arms, and strengthening the defences. 

About 7 A.M., a large body of the enemy appeared on the hills to the south-west, and Lieutenant Chard sent off a note to Helpmakaar asking for assistance. About 8 A.M., No. 3 Column appeared in sight, the enemy falling back on its approach. Thus ended a most gallant defence, reflecting the utmost credit on all concerned. The loss of the garrison was 15 non-commissioned officers and men killed, and 12 wounded of whom two died almost immediately. The attacking force was estimated at 3000 men, of whom upwards of 350 were killed. 

Orders of Battle

British Commander-in-chief

No. 3 Column (detachment) Lt J.RM. Chard RE
B Company 2/24th (2nd Warwickshire) Regiment of Foot, Lt G. Bromhead
2nd/3rd East Kent (The Buffs) Regiment of Foot 
1/24th (2nd Warwickshire) Regiment of Foot
90th (Perthshire Volunteers Light Infantry) Regiment of Foot
Royal Artillery 
Royal Engineers
Commissariat Department 
Army Medical Department 
Chaplain's Department 
Natal native Police 
Natal Native Contingent 

Zulu Commander-in-chief

Prince Dabulamanzi kaMapande


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