of Ulundi, Friday,
4th July 1879
by John Young,
Chairman, Anglo-Zulu War Research Society.
All images copyright John Young
was aware that he must defeat the AmaZulu before his successor,
Sir Garnet Wolseley assumed command in the field, and from the intelligence
gleaned from a reconnaissance conducted by Brevet Lieutentant-Colonel
Redvers Buller, V.C., on the 3rd of July, 1879, he knew he had to
strike now, in an attempt to stifle his critics.
At about 6a.m.
on 4th July, Buller led his mounted forces; composed of Mounted
Infantry drawn from the ranks of the British Army, and his South
African irregular volunteers, across the White Mfolozi River by
the lower drift and took up position on the bluff that commanded
the upper drift.
was bitterness in the laagered camp that remained on the south
bank of the Mfolozi. A battalion must remain in the camp to
provide adequate protection should anything go wrong. The duty
rosters dealt a cruel blow; the task of protecting the laager
fell to the reconstructed 1st Battalion, 24th Regiment of Foot,
the men who most wanted the chance to avenge the massacre at
Isandlwana would be denied the chance.
Henry Evelyn Wood's "Flying Column" crossed first, followed
by Major-General Edward Newdigate's IInd Division. The unopposed
crossing was completed by just after 7a.m. The troops laboured through
dense undergrowth before reaching the open country of the Mahlabathini
Plain. Buller's mounted force scouted ahead in the direction of
kwaNodwengu. Whilst Wood's command halted and began forming the
front of the square, Newdigate's men completed the formation. Lord
Chelmsford had formed a "living laager" from his infantrymen;
twelve artillery pieces and two Gatling Guns added to the firepower.
Within the hollow square, or to be more accurate the hollow rectangle,
were a company of Royal Engineers; reserve infantry companies; a
field hospital; ammunition wagons; a battalion of Natal Native Contingent
and a contingent of "Wood's Irregulars". Outside of the
formation, to the front and on both flanks rode Buller's horsemen.
Forming the rearguard were two squadrons of the 17th Lancers and
a troop of Natal Native Horse.
of the square was somewhat cumbersome at first but Lord Chelmsford
marshalled the formation into a semblance of order. The band of
13th Light Infantry struck up martial airs and the colours of the
regiment were uncased now the advance could begin. The formation
moved across the Mahlabathini Plain. As the rearguard passed the
kraal of kwaBulawayo the Natal Native Horse put it to the torch.
The square moved on, passing the kraal of kwaNodwengu. The huts
there almost suffered the same fate as kwaBulawayo, but as the dense
smoke rolled along the ground, Chelmsford realised this proved a
useful screen for the enemy and quickly ordered them to be extinguished.
horsemen retraced their steps from the previous day's reconnaissance.
The Zulus held back, skirting their movement. Anxious to engage
with the enemy Buller sent a small detachment of Baker's Horse forward
to provoke the Zulus into attacking. Galled by the gesture, the
Zulus rushed the party and attempted to cut them off, but the men
managed to extricate themselves without loss.
Chelmsford brought the square to a halt; the regular cavalry
from the rearguard withdrew into the formation. At the opposite
sides of the square the front right and the rear left, the Natal
Native Horse, commanded by Lieutenant William Cochrane, 32nd
Light Infantry, a survivor of Isandlwana and Captain Theophilus
Shepstone respectively, chided the AmaZulu warriors, endeavouring
to provoke an attack. Slowly they withdrew into the comparative
safety of the square.
The Zulu forces
surrounded the square and the artillery pieces came into action
at about 8.45a.m. The infantry were ranked four deep, the front
two ranks kneeling, and the rear two standing, in the "Prepare
to Receive Cavalry" position. As the Zulu closed every face
of the square became engaged. The artillery pounded the oncoming
warriors, whilst the Gatlings clawed into the Zulu ranks. Wood urged
his men; "Steady my lads, close up, fire low, and not so fast!"
The Zulu responded with inaccurate rifle fire and very few casualties
the square who had witnessed Zulu attacks in previous actions felt
that the assault lacked the ardour, the ferocity of previous engagements.
There was a determined rush from the direction of kwaNodwengu of
some 2,000 to 3,000 warriors on the corner of the square held by
the 21st (The Royal Scots Fusiliers) and the 58th (The Rutlandshire)
Regiments. Chelmsford saw the emergency and implored his men, "Cannot
you fire faster?" The infantry duly obliged, their concentrated
fire destroying the Zulu rush.
Drury Curzon Drury Lowe had been recalled from Half Pay to assume
the command of the 17th Lancers, after the commanding officer
had been wounded in a training exercise just prior to embarkation
for the seat of war. A spent round struck Drury Lowe and unhorsed
him, he made a brief self-examination and satisfied he had not
sustained any serious wound he remounted. Drury Lowe had served
with his regiment in the Crimea, but had not ridden in The Charge
of the Light Brigade, although his brother had. No minor wound
would rob him of the chance of participating in a cavalry charge
at the head of the "Death or Glory Boys".
The Zulu attacks
were by now faltering all round. They fell back, disorganised by
the effect of the British firepower. Chelmsford chose this moment
to unleash his regular cavalry, he ordered, "Go at them, Lowe,
but don't pursue too far!" Drury Lowe led his squadrons out
of the rear face of the square, formed, and charged the fleeing
warriors. From the front of the square issued Buller's horsemen
and a troop of 1st (The King's) Dragoon Guards. A ruthless, relentless
and pitiless pursuit commenced with no quarter being sought by the
Zulu and certainly none being offered by the British. There were
score to settle, Isandlwana was to be avenged. Clemency was thrown
to the wind as the Natal Native Horse and African infantry of the
Natal Native Contingent and Wood's Irregulars set about butchering
the Zulu wounded to a man. The huts that dotted the plain were put
to the torch. Cannon pounded the retreating Zulus, before the gunners
turned their attention to shelling Ulundi (onDini), King Cetshwayo's
10a.m. Chelmsford ordered Buller to burn Ulundi. A race commenced
to see who would be first enter Ulundi, Captain Lord William Beresford,
9th Lancers, won it. The Zulu 'capital' was set aflame, the fires
of its destruction would burn for days. As for King Cetshwayo, he
had left Ulundi on the 3rd of July, and had been sheltering a nearby
village when he heard of the defeat of his army, he too fled, a
fugitive in his own kingdom.
The last pitched
battle of the Anglo-Zulu War had been fought.