20 Oct 2013

The Battle of Ulundi

The Battle of Ulundi

On the 4th July 1879 at 6.45 A.M., the force crossed the river, leaving the camp garrisoned by the 1st/24th Regiment, a company of Engineers, and casualties (about 900 Europeans, 250 natives, with one Gatling gun). 

Lieutenant Colonel Buller, with the light cavalry of the Flying Column, crossed in advance, and occupied the high ground in front without opposition the main body following, marched up the broken ground out of the valley, and formed a hollow square, the ammunition carts, etc., in the centre, and the guns in position ready to come into action without delay. The Flying Column formed the front half, and the 2nd Division the rear half of the square front, flanks, and rear covered by the cavalry. In this formation the troops advanced to the spot selected by Colonel Buller, which was about 700 yards beyond the Nodwengo kraal, and about the same distance from a stream that crossed the road halfway to Ulundi high ground, commanding the adjacent country, and with little cover beyond long grass, near it. 

The guns were posted,in the angles and in the centre of each face of the square, and each face had a company of infantry in reserve. 

Large numbers of Zulus were now seen coming from the hills on the left and left front, and other masses on the right, partly concealed by the mist from the river, passed the Nodwengo kraal to surround the square. 

The cavalry on the right and left became engaged at 8.45 A.M., and, slowly retiring as the enemy advanced, passed into the square, which immediately opened fire. 

The Zulu advance was made with great determination, but their movements appeared to be without order. Some individuals managed to reach within thirty or forty yards of the rear face, where there was some cover, but the main advance on all sides was checked at some distance by the heavy artillery fire and steady volleys of the infantry. These were so effective that within half an hour the enemy wavered and gave way, when the cavalry dashed out to complete their discomfiture. Passing out by the rear face of the square, Colonel Drury Lowe (who had been already wounded) led the 17th Lancers in the direction of the Nodwengo kraal, dispersing the enemy and killing those that could not reach the shelter of the kraal or the bush below then wheeling to the right, he charged through the enemy, who were endeavouring to reach the mountains beyond.

In this manner the whole of the level ground was cleared. Lieutenant Colonel Buller’s command also took up the pursuit, doing much execution until the enemy mounted the slopes of the hills and were beyond their reach. But even then a place of safety was not gained, for some guns were moved out from the square, and got the range of the enemy retreating over the hills. The brunt of this day’s work fell on the cavalry. Even in the pursuit the greater part of the Zulus turned and fought for their lives. Overtaken by a Lancer, a Zulu would stop just before the fatal thrust was delivered, and, dodging like lightning, evade the lance, sometimes seizing it and holding on till the Lancer was relieved by a comrade. 

The Irregular Horse, Mounted Infantry, and Native Horse (Captain T. Shcpstone’s Basutu and the Natal Native Horse under Captain Cochrane), thoroughly searched the ground, disposing of the enemy who had taken refuge in dongas, bush, and long grass. 600 Zulus are said to have fallen before the cavalry alone 15O of them being credited to the Lancers. 

Thus was fought the battle of Ulundi. It was impossible for the ill armed enemy to pass the belt of fire that encircled the square, even had they not been shaken by the accurate artillery fire whilst yet at a distance. 

The ease with which the attack was repelled may be gathered from the fact that the average number of rounds fired by the infantry actually in the ranks was less than six and a half rounds per man (6‘4 rounds). 

The troops certainly were very steady, and the firing generally volley firing by sections was as a rule under perfect command. 

We have heard of an officer calmly smoking his pipe whilst in command of his company during the engagement. 

As soon as the wounded had been attended to, the force advanced to the banks of the stream near Ulundi, whilst the cavalry swept the country beyond. Ulundi was fired at 11.40 A.M., and the adjacent kraals shortly afterwards. At 2 P.M., the return march to the camp commenced. Every military kraal in the valley that had not previously been destroyed was in flames and not a sign of the Zulu army was to be perceived. 

The British force engaged consisted of 4062 Europeans and 1103 natives, with 12 guns and 2 Gatlings. The loss killed, 2 officers (Captain Wyatt Edgell, 17th Lancers, and the Hon. W. Drummond, in charge of the Intelligence Department), 13 non-commissioned officers and men, and 3 natives wounded, 19 officers, 59 non-commissioned officers and men, and 7 natives. 

The Zulu force is estimated variously; some put it at 12,000, some at 20,000. Being scattered over a large extent of country, and some of the regiments engaged having already suffered heavily, it is not easy to arrive at a reliable conclusion. It is probable that the correct number lay between 15,000 and 20,000. 

As regards the Zulu loss, Lord Chelmsford says, It is impossible to estimate with any correctness the loss of the enemy, owing to the extent of country over which they attacked and retreated; but it could not have been less, I consider, than 1000 killed. (Despatch, 4th July). Using the same reasoning on the 6th, Lord Chelmsford says: But judging by the reports of those engaged, it cannot be placed at a less number than 1500 killed.

Orders of Battle

British Commander-in-chief

Lieutenant Genral Lord Chelmsford

2nd Division South African Field Force Major General E. Newdigate
1st (The King's) Dragoon Guards
17th (Duke of Cambridge's Own) Lancers
N Battery, 6th Brigade, RA 6 x 9 pounder guns
N Battery, 5th Brigade, RA 2 x 7 pounder guns
2nd/21st Regiment of Foot (Royal Scotts Fusiliers)
58th (Rutlandshire) Regiment of Foot 
94th Regiment of Foot
Shepstone's Native Horse No. 3 Troop
Natal Horse (Bettington's Horse)
2nd Battalion Natal Native Contingent
Army Medical Department

Flying Column Brigdier General H.E. Wood
No. 11 Battery, 7th Brigade, RA 4 x 7 pounder guns
No. 11 Battery, 7th Brigade, RA 2 x Gatling guns
Detachment Royal Engineers
1st/13th Regiment of Foot (1st Somersetshire) Prince Albert's Light Infantry
80th (Staffordshire Volunteers) Regiment of Foot
90th (Perthshire Volunteers Light Infantry) Regiment of Foot
Mounted Infantry
Frontier Light Horse
Natal Light Horse
Natal Native Horse
Raaf's Transvaal Rangers
Wood's Irregulars
Natal Native Pioneer Corps
Detachment Army Hospital Corps

Garrison holding the camp at the White Mfolozi Colonel W. Bellairs 
1 x Company Royal Engineers
5 x Companies 1st/24th (2nd Warwickshire) Regiment of Foot

Zulu Commander-in-chief

Prince Ziwedu KaMpande 
Ntshingwayo kaMahole 
Mnyamana kaNgqengelele 
Prince Dabulamanzi kaMapande 


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