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DateOriginal Topic
21st March 2005Hlobane
By Andrew Bush
Just read an article that the only reason Buller attacked Hlobane was for the loot ie cattie as they were valued at 2 pounds per head. Not for any military or strategic significance. Bit of a blunder???????
21st March 2005Paul Cubbin
Without reading the article its difficult to make any judgement on its accuracy....oh, go on then, its a load of bristly testicles.

Wood's (and thus Buller's) standing orders in the wake of Isandlwana were to make as much nuisance of himself as possible and to raid north Zululand, destroying as many nearby military kraals as prudently possible. Having said that, the one unit of allied Boers to accompany British troops in the AZW, Piet Uys's boys, were present with this column and certainly they would have been thinking more about beef than battle.
One of the main aims (of all columns) was to nick as much cattle as possible. This served two purposes. Firstly it crippled Zulu communities and starved them of their main source of wealth, prestige and a staple food (mostly dairy but also beef). Secondly it helped to recoup some of the huge financial outlay when cattle was sold back in Natal. It is too often forgotten that warfare is, and has always been, as much about finance as principles.
The Hlobane attack was a cock-up if not a massive disaster and Wood was fortunate that the victory at Khambula next day largely offset it. Certainly, taking mounted men to assault an unscouted hilltop whilst splitting your command is questionable wisdom, but stranger tactics have paid off before. It was extremely bad luck that a returning impi just happened along at exactly the wrong moment as it was not expected for another day or two. Also, cliff paths that appeared negotiable on horseback (from a distance) turned out to be anything but. Like I said, unscouted, but also unlucky.
Blunder? Yes, but only in the manner of its execution I think, not the idea itself.
21st March 2005Melvin Hunt
I think Hlobane is a much neglected battle. It is certainly worthy of more discusion than it usually receives. I'm wondering if this is, in part, due to the fact that it is more remote and difficult to access than Isandlwana and RD?
Could I suggest that you read Blood On The Painted Mountain by Ron Lock?
The Impi was not "returning". It was on route to attack Khambula. It was not "extremely bad luck" but bad scouting and intelligence by the British. Now where have we heard that before?
22nd March 2005Andrew Bush
The book I am reading states the reason for the action was to releive the siege on Eshowe.Which I find difficult to believe ,when considering the distance.

I am of the view that the reason was for the loot.As a trooper would receive one share of the proceeds.NCO 2 shares Captain or subaltern 3 shares etc. And the loot was cattle.hence the poor scouting just like Isandlwana. It was suppose to be a smash and grab raid and back down again.
22nd March 2005Peter Ewart
Wood's column was hardly unfamiliar with Hlobane. Had they not been on top of the very place at the moment of the central column's defeat at Isandlwana? And also had the chance to marvel at the impressive drill of a Zulu impi?

Of course, that's a far cry from knowing the place like the back of one's hand!

22nd March 2005Paul Cubbin
Peter - really? I had no idea they had already been up Hlobane. It is a pretty poor show then that they made such a pig's ear of going up again. I assume they chose a different route 2nd time around to avoid defenders?
22nd March 2005John Young

Chelmsford ordered Wood to make a demonstration in in his area of operations in the hope of drawing off some of Zulu force besieging Pearson's forces at Eshowe, thus enabling Chelmsford to reach Eshowe with the relief column.

John Y.
22nd March 2005Melvin Hunt
I don't think that any of Woods column had visited the top of Hlobane prior to the battle. The abaQulusi warriors had been observed carrying out drill manoeuvres but they were seen from Zunguin Nek not Hlobane. Indeed, Devils Pass had only been observed from a distance and no problems were anticipated in using it as a descent route. Any cursory closer inspection would have exposed the difficulties they later encountered due to the steep boulder strewn ground.
Some of Woods Irregulars were killed during the escape from Hlobane because of their reluctance to abandon captured cattle.
22nd March 2005Peter Ewart
Quite right Melvin. You beat me to my own correction. The high position from which many of Wood's men observed the parading abaQulusi was on the Zunguin (presumably one of the ridges on the eastern part closest to Hlobane rather than Zunguin Nek itself, which it seems some of the column had pressed on from and reached the position from where they could look down onto the plain west or north-west of Hlobane, almost beteeen the two mountains.

I tend to think of Zunguin as part of Hlobane itself, which of course is not technically correct as they are separate mountains but as Z/Nek played its part in the battle of Hlobane later on, I think of it all as one range. I realise there had been no inspection of the plateau on Hlobane before 28 March - even the boulders on the plateau itself would surely have been a shock to them.

I haven't been on top of Hlobane, only as far as Campbell & LLoyd's graves, but have seen the Ityenka Nek where the remnants of Border Horse were pushed over the edge, and it is an amazing piece of topography.

When one considers the flak Chelmsford brought on himself because of Isandlwana and the comparisons that were - and are - drawn between him and Wood, the latter has largely escaped the criticism which ought to have come down on him for the farce of Hlobane, and the suggestions that he suffered a breakdown that day and that he strangely "disappeared" for many hours are interesting & deserve a lot more discussion than they get - providing the discussion sticks to the facts. Certainly I think the juxtaposition of the two battles of 28th and 29th and the news of the second more or less submerging the first are a much more justifiable target than the accusation that R/Drift was overblown to take attention from Isandlwana. On the other hand, Khambula was a genuine watershed and R/Drift wasn't.

The moment when Wood & his party, having finally descended the Zunguin on the 22nd January and sat themselves around their campfire under Hlobane mountain that night, suddenly heard the guns at Isandlwana in the still of the evening was surely one of the more "interesting" moments of the campaign.

22nd March 2005Keith Smith

You are quite correct in your view that Hlobane is perhaps the most neglected major action of the Zulu War. A useful analysis is to be found in the very scholarly article by Huw Jones “Hlobane: A New Perspective”, in Natalia, No. 27, 1997.
22nd March 2005Paul Cubbin
Something that has always struck me as odd is the way in which burial parties were organised to inter the newly dead actually DURING the battle of Hlobane. Surely this was unusual practise?
23rd March 2005Neil Raaff
I've heard a theory that the colonial casualties at Hlobane were reported as lower than they in fact were (particularly with the FLH).

Any comments?


24th March 2005Melvin Hunt
It certainly was unusual (unheard of?) to organise a burial party under fire and the crazy incident at Hlobane cost even more lives.