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WITH
THE BOER FORCES

BY

HOWARD C. HILLEGAS


AUTHOR OF "OOM PAUL'S PEOPLE," AND CORRESPONDENT OF
"THE NEW YORK WORLD"


WITH TWENTY-THREE ILLUSTRATIONS AND A PLAN


METHUEN & CO.
36 ESSEX STREET W.C.
LONDON
1900


[Illustration: COMMANDANT-GENERAL LOUIS BOTHA]




PREFACE


In the following pages I have endeavoured to present an accurate picture
of the Boers in war-time. My duties as a newspaper correspondent carried
me to the Boer side, and herein I depict all that I saw. Some parts of my
narrative may not be pleasing to the British reader; others may offend the
sensibilities of the Boer sympathisers. I have written truthfully, but
with a kindly spirit and with the intention of presenting an unbiased
account of the struggle as it was unfolded to the view from the Boer side.
I shall be criticised, no doubt, for extolling certain virtues of the
Boers, but it must be noticed that their shortcomings are not neglected in
these lines.

In referring to Boer deeds of bravery I do not mean to insinuate that all
British soldiers were cowards any more than I mean to imply that all Boers
were brave, but any man who has been with armies will acknowledge that
bravery is not the exclusive property of the peoples of one nation. The
Boers themselves had thousands of examples of the bravery of their
opponents, and it was not an extraordinary matter to hear burghers express
their admiration of deeds of valour by the soldiers of the Queen. The
burghers, it may be added, were not bitter enemies of the British soldiers,
and upon hundreds of occasions they displayed the most friendly feeling
toward members of the Imperial forces. The Boer respected the British
soldier's ability, but the same respect was not vouchsafed to the British
officer, and it was not unreasonable that a burgher should form such an
opinion of the leaders of his enemy, for the mistakes of many of the
British officers were so frequent and costly that the most unmilitary man
could easily discern them. On that account the Boers' respect for the
British soldier was not without its mixture of pity.

There are those who will assert that there was no goodness in the Boers and
that they conducted the war unfairly, but I shall make no attempt to deny
any of the statements on those subjects. My sympathies were with the Boers,
but they were not so strong that I should tell untruths in order to whiten
the Boer character. There were thieves among them - I had a horse and a pair
of field-glasses stolen from me on my first journey to the front - but that
does not prove that all the Boers were wicked. I spent many weeks with
them, in their laagers, commandos, and homes, and I have none but the
happiest recollections of my sojourn in the Boer country. The generals and
burghers, from the late Commandant-General Joubert to the veriest Takhaar,
were extremely courteous and agreeable to me, and I have nothing but praise
for their actions. In all my experiences with them I never saw one maltreat
a prisoner or a wounded man, but, on the contrary, I observed many of their
acts of kindness and mercy to their opponents.

I have sought to eliminate everything which might have had a bearing on
the causes of the war, and in that I think I have succeeded. In my former
book, dealing with the Boers in peaceful times, I gave my impressions of
the political affairs of the country, and a closer study of the subject
has not caused me to alter my opinions. Three years before the war began,
I wrote what has been almost verified since -

"The Boers will be able to resist and to prolong the campaign for
perhaps eight months or a year, but they will finally be obliterated
from among the nations of the earth. It will cost the British Empire
much treasure and many lives, but it will satisfy those who caused it,
the South African politicians and speculators."

The first part of the prediction has been realised, but at the present
time there is no indication that the Boer nation will be extinguished so
completely or so suddenly, unless the leaders of the burghers yield to
their enemy's forces before all their powers and means of resistance have
been exhausted. If they will continue to fight as men who struggle for the
continued existence of their country and government should fight, and as
they have declared they will go on with the war, then it will be three
times eight months or three times a year before peace comes to South
Africa. Presidents Kruger and Steyn have declared that they will continue
the struggle for three years, and longer if necessary. De Wet will never
yield as long as he has fifty burghers in his commando, and Botha will
fight until every British soldier has been driven from South African soil.
Hundreds of the burghers have made even firmer resolutions to continue the
war until their cause is crowned with victory. There may be some among
them who fought and are fighting because they despise Britons and British
rule, but the vast majority are on commando because they firmly believe
that Great Britain is attempting to take their country and their
government from them by the process of theft which we enlightened
Anglo-Saxons of America and England are wont to style "benevolent
assimilation." They feel that they have the right to govern their country
in accordance with their own ideas of justice and equality, and,
naturally, they will continue to fight until they are victorious, or might
asserts itself over their conception of right. If they have the power to
make Great Britain feel that their cause is just, as our forefathers in
America did a hundred years ago, then the Boers have vindicated themselves
and their actions in their own eyes and in the eyes of the world. If they
lack in the patriotism which men who fight for the life of their country
usually possess, then the Boers of South Africa will be exterminated from
among the nations of the world and no one will offer any sympathy to them.

We Anglo-Saxons of America and Great Britain have a habit of calling our
enemies by names which would arouse the fighting blood of the most
peaceable individual, and when there is a Venezuelan question to be
discussed we do not hesitate to practice this custom, born of our
blood-alliance, by making each other the subjects of the vituperative
attacks. During the Spanish-American war we made most uncomplimentary
remarks concerning our short-lived enemy, and more recently we have been
emphasising the vices of our _protégés_, the Filipinos, with a scornful
disregard of their virtues. The Boers, however, have had a greater burden
to bear. They have had cast at them the shafts of British vituperation and
the lyddite of American venom. In a few instances the lyddite was far more
harrowing than the shafts, and in the vast majority of instances both were
born of ignorance. There are unclean, uncouth, and unregenerate Boers, and
I doubt whether any one will stultify himself by declaring that there are
none such of Britons and Americans. I have been among the Boers in times
of peace and in times of war, and I have always failed to see that they
were in any degree lower than the men of like rank or occupation in
America or England. The farmers in Rustenburg probably never saw a dress
suit or a _décolleté_ gown, but there are innumerable regions in America
and Great Britain where similarly dense ignorance prevails. I have been in
scores of American and British homes which were not more spotlessly clean
than some of the houses on the veld in which it was my pleasure to find a
night's entertainment, and nowhere, except in my own home, have I ever
been treated with more courtesy than that which was extended to me, a
perfect stranger, in scores of daub and wattle cottages in the Free State
and the Transvaal. I will not declare that every Boer is a saint, or that
every one is a model of cleanliness or virtue, but I make bold to say that
the majority of the Boers are not a fraction less moral, cleanly, or
virtuous than the majority of Americans or Englishmen, albeit they may be
less progressive and less handsome in appearance than we imagine ourselves
to be.

As I have stated, the politics of the war has found no part in the
following pages, and an honest effort has been made to give an impartial
account of the proceedings as they unfolded themselves before the eyes of
an American. The struggle is one which was brought about by the
politicians, but it will probably be ended by the layman who wields a
sword, and who knows nothing of the intricacies of diplomacy. The Boers
desire to gain nothing but their countries' independence; the British have
naught to lose except thousands of valuable lives if they continue in
their determination to erase the two nations. Unless the Boers soon decide
to end the war voluntarily, the real struggle will only begin when the
Imperial forces enter the mountainous region in the north-eastern part of
the Transvaal, and then General Lucas Meyer's prophecy that the bones of
one hundred thousand British soldiers will lay bleaching on the South
African veld before the British are victorious may be more than realised.

One word more. The English public is generous, and will not forget that
the Boers are fighting in the noblest of all causes - the independence of
their country. If Englishmen will for a moment place themselves in the
position of the Boers, if they will imagine their own country overrun by
hordes of foreign soldiers, their own inferior forces gradually driven
back to the wilds of Wales and Scotland, they will be able to picture to
themselves the feelings of the men whom they are hunting to death. Would
Englishmen in these circumstances give up the struggle? They would not;
they would fight to the end.

HOWARD C. HILLEGAS.
NEW YORK CITY,
August 1, 1900.




CONTENTS


CHAPTER I.

THE WAY TO THE BOER COUNTRY

The Blockade at Delagoa Bay - Lorenzo Marques in war-time - Portuguese
tax-raising methods - The way to the Transvaal - Koomatipoort, the Boer
threshold - The low-veld or fever country - Old-time battlefields - The Boer
capital and its scenes - The city of peace and its inhabitants.


CHAPTER II.

FROM FARM TO BATTLEFIELD

The old-time lions and lion-hunters and the modern types - Lion-hunting
expeditions of the Boers - The conference between the hunters and the
lions - The great lion-hunt of 1899-1900 - Departure to the hunting-grounds.


CHAPTER III.

COMPOSITION OF THE ARMY

Burghers, not soldiers - Home-sickness in the laagers - Boys in
commandos - The Penkop Regiment - Great-grandfathers in battles - The Takhaar
burghers - Boers' unfitness for soldiering - Their uniforms - Comfort in the
laagers - Prayers and religious fervour in the army.


CHAPTER IV.

THE ARMY ORGANISATION

The election of officers - Influences which assert themselves - Civil
officials the leaders in war - The Krijgsraad and its verdicts - Lack of
discipline among the burghers - Generals calling for volunteers to go into
battle - Boers' scouting and intelligence departments.


CHAPTER V.

THE BOER MILITARY SYSTEM

The disparity between the forces - A national and natural system of
fighting - Every burgher a general - The Boers' mobility - The retreat of the
three generals from Cape Colony - Difference in Boer and British
equipment - Boer courage exemplified.


CHAPTER VI.

THE BOERS IN BATTLE

Fighting against forces numerically superior - The battle at
Sannaspost - The trek towards the enemy - The scenes along the route - The
night trek - Finding the enemy, and the disposition of the forces in the
spruit and on the hills - The dawn of day and the preparation for
battle - The Commandant-General fires the first shot - The battle in
detail - Friend and foe sing "Soldiers of the Queen."


CHAPTER VII.

THE GENERALS OF THE WAR

Farmer-generals who were without military experience - A few who studied
military matters - Leaders chosen by the Volksraad - Operating in familiar
territory - Joubert's part in the campaign - His failure in Natal - His death
and its influence - General Cronje, the Lion of Pochefstroom, and his
career - General Botha and his work as successor of Joubert - Generals
Meyer, De Wet, and De la Rey, with narratives concerning each.


CHAPTER VIII.

THE WAR PRESIDENTS

The Boers' real leader in peace and in war - Bismarck's opinion of
Kruger - The President's duties in Pretoria - His visits to the laagers and
the influence he exerted over the disheartened burghers - His oration over
Joubert's body - His opinion of the British, and of those whom he blamed
for the war - His departure from Pretoria - President Steyn and his work
during the war.


CHAPTER IX.

FOREIGNERS IN THE WAR

The soldier of fortune in every war - The fascination which attracts men to
fight - The Boers' view of foreigners - The influx of foreigners into the
Boer country in search of loot, commissions, fame, and experience - Few
foreigners were of great assistance - The oath of allegiance - Number of
foreigners in the Boer army - The various legions and their careers.


CHAPTER X.

BOER WOMEN IN THE WAR

Boer women's glorious heritage - Their part in the political arena before
the war - Urged the men to fight for their independence - Assisting their
embarrassed government in furnishing supplies to the army - Helping the
poor, the wounded, and the prisoners - Sending relatives back to the
ranks - Women taking part in battles - Asking the Government for permission
to fight.


CHAPTER XI.

INCIDENTS OF THE WAR

Amusing tales told and retold by the burghers - Boy-burghers at
Magersfontein capture Highlanders' rifles - The Takhaar at Colenso, who
belonged to "Rhodes' Uncivilised Boer Regiment" - Photographers in
battle - The heliographers at the Tugela amusing themselves - Joubert's
story of the Irishman who wanted to be sent to Pretoria - The value of
credentials in warfare as shown by an American burgher's escapade - The
amusing flight after the fall of Bloemfontein.


APPENDIX.

THE STRENGTH OF THE BOER ARMY




LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


COMMANDANT-GENERAL LOUIS BOTHA
(_Photograph by R. Steger, Pretoria._)


GENERAL LUCAS J. MEYER
(_Photograph by Leo Weinthal, Pretoria._)


BATTLEFIELD OF COLENSO, DECEMBER 15, 1899
(_Photograph by R. Steger, Pretoria._)


BOERS WATCHING THE FIGHT AT DUNDEE
(_Photograph by Reginald Sheppard, Pretoria._)


ELECTING A FIELD-CORNET
(_Photograph by the Author._)


KRIJGSRAAD, NEAR THABA N'CHU
(_Photograph by the Author._)


BOER COMMANDANTS READING MESSAGE FROM BRITISH OFFICERS AFTER THE BATTLE OF
DUNDEE
(_Photograph by Reginald Sheppard._)


GENERAL GROBLER
(_Photograph by the Author._)


SPION KOP, WHERE BOERS CHARGED UP THE HILLSIDE
(_Photograph by Reginald Sheppard._)


PLAN OF BATTLEFIELD OF SANNASPOST
(_Drawn by the Author under supervision of General Christian De Wet._)


VILLAGE AND MOUNTAIN OF THABA N'CHU
(_Photograph by the Author._)


THE AUTHOR, AND A BASUTO PONY WHICH ASSISTED IN THE FIGHT AT SANNASPOST
(_Photograph by T.F. Millard, New York._)


CALLING FOR VOLUNTEERS TO MAN CAPTURED CANNON AFTER SANNASPOST
(_Photograph by the Author._)


COMMANDANT-GENERAL CHRISTIAN H. DE WET
(_With Facsimile of his Signature._)


GENERAL PETER DE WET
(_Photograph by the Author._)


GENERAL JOHN DE LA REY
(_Photograph by the Author._)


PRESIDENT KRUGER ADDRESSING AMERICAN VOLUNTEERS
(_Photograph by R. Steger._)


BATTLEFIELD OF ELANDSLAAGTE
(_Photograph by Van Hoepen._)


COLONEL JOHN E. BLAKE, OF THE IRISH BRIGADE
(_Photograph by Leo Weinthal._)


MRS. GENERAL LUCAS J. MEYER
(_Photograph by Leo Weinthal._)


MRS. OTTO KRANTZ, A BOER AMAZON
(_Photograph by R. Steger._)


MRS. COMMANDANT-GENERAL LOUIS BOTHA
(_Photograph by Leo Weinthal, Pretoria._)


GENERAL HENDRIK SNYMAN


FIRST BRITISH PRISONERS OF WAR CAPTURED NEAR DUNDEE
(_Photograph by Reginald Sheppard._)




CHAPTER I

THE WAY TO THE BOER COUNTRY


Immediately after war was declared between Great Britain and the Boers of
the Transvaal and the Orange Free State, the two South African republics
became ostracised, in a great measure, from the rest of the civilised
world. The cables and the great ocean steamship lines, which connected
South Africa with Europe and America, were owned by British companies, and
naturally they were employed by the British Government for its own
purposes. Nothing which might in any way benefit the Boers was allowed to
pass over these lines and, so far as it was possible, the British
Government attempted to isolate the republics so that the outside world
could have no communication of any sort with them. With the exception of a
small strip of coast-land on the Indian ocean, the two republics were
completely surrounded by British territory, and consequently it was not a
difficult matter for the great Empire to curtail the liberties of the
Boers to as great an extent as it was pleasing to the men who conducted
the campaign. The small strip of coast-land, however, was the property of
a neutral nation, and, therefore, could not be used for British purposes
of stifling the Boer countries, but the nation which "rules the waves"
exhausted every means to make the Boers' air-hole as small as possible by
placing a number of warships outside the entrance of Delagoa Bay, and by
establishing a blockade of the port of Lorenzo Marques.

Lorenzo Marques, in itself, was valueless to the Boers, for it had always
been nothing more than a vampire feeding upon the Transvaal, but as an
outlet to the sea and as a haven for foreign ships bearing men, arms, and
encouragement it was invaluable. In the hands of the Boers Delagoa Bay
would have been worse than useless, for the warships could have taken
possession of it and sealed it tightly on the first day of the war, but as
a Portuguese possession it was the only friend that the Boers were able to
find during their long period of need. Without it, the Boers would have
been unable to hold any intercourse with foreign countries, no envoys
could have been despatched, no volunteers could have entered the country,
and they would have been ignorant of the opinion of the world - a factor in
the brave resistance against their enemy which was by no means
infinitesimal. Delagoa Bay was the Boers' one window through which they
could look at the world, and through which the world could watch the brave
struggle of the farmer-citizens of the veld-republics.

The Portuguese authorities at Delagoa Bay long ago established a
reputation for adroitness in extracting revenues whenever and wherever it
was possible to find a stranger within their gates, but the war afforded
them such excellent opportunities as they had never enjoyed before. Being
the gate of the Boer country was a humanitarian privilege, but it also was
a remunerative business, and never since Vasco de Gama discovered the port
were so many choice facilities afforded for increasing the revenue of the
colony. Nor was the Latin's mind wanting in concocting schemes for filling
the Portuguese coffers when the laws were lax on the subject, for it was
the simplest arrangement to frame a regulation suitable for every new
condition that arose. The Portuguese were willing to be the medium between
the Boers and the people of other parts of the earth, but they asked for
and received a large percentage of the profits.

When the mines of the Johannesburg gold district were closed down, and the
Portuguese heard that they would no longer receive a compulsory
contribution of four shillings from every native who crossed the border to
work in the mines, the officials felt uneasy on account of the great
decrease in the amount of public revenues, but it did not worry them for
any great length of time. They met the situation by imposing a tax of
eight shillings upon every one of the thousands of natives who returned
from the mines to their homes in Portuguese territory. About the same time
the Uitlanders from the Transvaal reached Lorenzo Marques, and, in order
to calm the Portuguese mind, every one of the thousands of men and women
who took part in that exodus was compelled to pay a transit tax, ranging
from eight shillings to a sovereign, according to the size of the tip
tendered to the official.

When the van of the foreign volunteers reached the port there was a new
situation to be dealt with, and again the principle of "When in doubt
impose a tax" was satisfactorily employed. Men who had just arrived in
steamers, and who had never seen Portuguese territory, were obliged to
secure a certificate, indicating that they had not been inhabitants of the
local jail during the preceding six months; a certificate from the
consular representative of their country, showing that they possessed good
characters; another from the Governor-General to show that they did not
purpose going into the Transvaal to carry arms; a fourth from the local
Transvaal consul to indicate that he held no objections to the traveller's
desire to enter the Boer country; and one or two other passports equally
weighty in their bearing on the subject were necessary before a person was
able to leave the town. Each one of these certificates was to be secured
only upon the payment of a certain number of thousand reis and at an
additional expenditure of time and nervous energy, for none of the
officials could speak a word of any language except Portuguese, and all
the applicants were men of other nationalities and tongues. The
expenditure in connection with the certificates was more than a sovereign
for every person, and as there were thousands of travellers into the Boer
countries while the war continued the revenues of the Government were
correspondingly great. To crown it all, the Portuguese imposed the same
tax upon all travellers who came into the country from the Transvaal with
the intention of sailing to other ports. The Government could not be
charged with favouritism in the matter of taxation, for every man, woman,
and child who stepped on Portuguese soil was similarly treated. There was
no charge for entering the country, but the jail yawned for him who
refused to pay when leaving it.

Not unlike the patriots in Cape Town and Durban, the hotel and shopkeepers
of Lorenzo Marques took advantage of the presence of many strangers and
made extraordinary efforts to secure the residue of the money which did
not fall into the coffers of the Government. At the Cardoza Hotel, the
only establishment worthy of the name, a tax of a sovereign was levied for
sleeping on a bare floor; drivers of street cabs scorned any amount less
than a golden sovereign for carrying one passenger to the consulates;
lemonades were two shillings each at the kiosks; and physicians charged
three pounds a call when travellers remained in the town several days and
contracted the deadly coast-fever. At the Custom House duties of ten
shillings were levied upon foreign flags, unless the officer was liberally
tipped, in which event it was not necessary to open the luggage. It was a
veritable harvest for every one who chose to take advantage of the
opportunities offered, and there were but few who did not make the
foreigners their victims.

The blockade by the British warships placed a premium upon dishonesty, and
of those who gained most by it the majority were British subjects. The
vessels which succeeded in passing the blockading warships were invariably
consigned to Englishmen, and without exception these were unpatriotic
enough to sell the supplies to agents employed by the Transvaal
Government. Just as Britons sold guns and ammunition to the Boers before
the war, these men of the same nation made exorbitant profits on supplies
which were necessary to the burgher army. Lorenzo Marques was filled with
men who were taking advantage of the state of affairs to grow wealthy by
means which were not legitimate, and the leaders in almost every
enterprise of that nature were British subjects, although there were not a
few Germans, Americans, and Frenchmen who succeeded in making the fortunes
they deserved for remaining in such a horrible pest-hole as Lorenzo
Marques.

The railroad from Lorenzo Marques to Ressana Garcia, at the Transvaal
border, was interesting only from the fact that it was more historical
than comfortable for travelling purposes. As the train passed through the
dry, dusty, and uninteresting country, which was even too poor and
unhealthy for the blacks, the mind speculated upon the proposition whether


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Online LibraryHoward C. HillegasWith the Boer Forces → online text (page 1 of 15)