WITH THE BOER FORCES
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
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 proteges, 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 decollete 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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 the Swiss judges who decided the litigation concerning the road would have spent ten years in making a decision if they had been compelled to conduct their deliberation within sight of the railway. The land adjoining the railroad was level, well timbered and well watered, and the vast tracts of fine grass give the impression that it might be an excellent country for farming, but it was in the belt known as the fever district, and white men avoided it as they would a cholera-infested city. Shortly before the train arrived at the English river several lofty white-stone pyramids on either side of the railway were passed, and the Transvaal was reached. A long iron bridge spanning the river was crossed, and the train reached the first station in the Boer country, Koomatipoort.
Courteous Boer officials entered the train and requested the passengers to disembark with all their luggage, for the purpose of custom-examination. No gratuities were accepted there, as at Lorenzo Marques, and nothing escaped the vigilance of the bearded inspectors. Trunks and luggage were carefully scrutinised, letters read line by line and word for word; revolvers and ammunition promptly confiscated if not declared; and even the clothing of the passengers was faithfully examined. Passports were closely investigated, and, when all appeared to be thoroughly satisfactory, a white cross was chalked on the boots of the passengers, and they were free to proceed farther inland. The field-cornet of the district was one of the few Boers at the station, and he performed the duties of his office by introducing himself to certain passengers whom he believed to be foreign volunteers, and offering them gratuitous railway tickets to Pretoria. No effort was made to conceal the fact that the volunteers were welcome in the country, and nothing was left undone to make the foreigners realise that their presence was appreciated.
After Koomatipoort was passed the train crept slowly into the mountainous district, where huge peaks pierced the clouds and gigantic boulders overhung the tracks. Narrow defiles stretched away in all directions and the sounds of cataracts in the Crocodile River flowing alongside the iron path drowned the roar of the train. Flowering, vari-coloured plants, huge cacti, and thick tropical vegetation lined the banks of the river, and occasionally the thatched roof of a negro's hut peered out over the undergrowth, to indicate that a few human beings chose that wild region for their abode. Hour after hour the train crept along narrow ledges up the mountains' sides, then dashed down declines and out upon small level plains which, with their surrounding and towering eminences, had the appearance of vast green bowls. In that impregnable region lay the small town of Machadodorp, which, later, became the capital of the Transvaal. A few houses of corrugated iron, a pretty railway-station, and much scenery, serves as a worthy description of the town at the junction of the purposed railway to the gold-fields of Lydenberg.
After a journey of twelve hours through the fever country the train reached the western limit of that belt and rested for the night in a small, green, cup-shaped valley bearing the descriptive name of Waterval Onder—"under the waterfall." The weary passengers found more corrugated iron buildings and the best hotel in South Africa. The host, Monsieur Mathis, a French Boer, and his excellent establishment came as a breath of fresh air to a stifling traveller on the desert, and long will they live in the memories of the thousands of persons who journeyed over the railroad during the war. After the monotonous fare of an east-coast steamer and the mythical meals of a Lorenzo Marques hotel, the roast venison, the fresh milk and eggs of Mathis were as welcome as the odour of the roses that filled the valley.
The beginning of the second day's journey was characterised by a ride up and along the sides of a magnificent gorge through which the waters of the Crocodile River rushed from the lofty plateau of the high veld to the wildernesses of the fever country and filled that miniature South African Switzerland with myriads of rainbows. A long, curved, and inclined tunnel near the top of the mountain led to the undulating plains of the Transvaal—a marvellously rapid transition from a region filled with nature's wildest panoramas to one that contained not even a tree or rock or cliff to relieve the monotony of the landscape. On the one side of this natural boundary line was an immense territory every square mile of which contained mountain passes which a handful of Boers could hold against an invading army; on the other side there was hardly a rock behind which a burgher rifleman could conceal himself. Here herds of cattle and flocks of sheep, instead of wild beasts, sped away from the roar of the train; here there was the daub and wattle cottage of the farmer instead of the thatched hut of the native savage.
Small towns of corrugated iron and mud-brick homes and shops appeared at long intervals on the veld; grass-fires displayed the presence of the Boer farmer with his herds, and the long ox-teams slowly rolling over the plain signified that not all the peaceful pursuits of a small people at war with a great nation had been abandoned. The coal-mines at Belfast, with their towering stacks and clouds of smoke, gave the first evidence of the country's wondrous underground wealth, and then farther on in the journey came the small city of Middleburg with its slate-coloured corrugated iron roofs in marked contrast to the green veld grass surrounding it. There appeared armed and bandoliered Boers, prepared to join their countrymen in the field, with wounded friends and sad-faced women to bid farewell to them. While the train lay waiting at the station small commandos of burghers came dashing through the dusty streets, bustled their horses into trucks at the rear end of the passenger train, and in a few moments they were mingling with the foreign volunteers in the coaches. Grey-haired Boers gravely bade adieu to their wives and children, lovers embraced their weeping sweethearts, and the train moved on toward Pretoria and the battlefields where these men were to risk their lives for the life of their country.
Historic ground, where Briton and Boer had fought before, came in view. Bronkhorst Spruit, where a British commander led more than one hundred of his men to death in 1880, lay to the left of the road in a little wooded ravine. Farther on toward Pretoria appeared rocky kopjes, where afterwards the Boers, retreating from the capital city, gathered their disheartened forces, and resisted the advance of the enemy. Eerste Fabriken was a hamlet hardly large enough to make an impression upon the memory, but it marked a battlefield where the burghers fought desperately. Children were then gathering peaches from the trees, whose roots drank the blood of heroes months afterwards. Several miles farther on were the hills on the outskirts of Pretoria, where, in the war of 1881, the Boer laagers sent forth men to encompass the city and to prevent the British besieged in it from escaping. It was ground hallowed in Boer history since the early voortrekkers crossed the ridges of the Magaliesberg and sought protection from the savage hordes of Moselekatse in the fertile valley of the Aapjes River.
Pretoria in war-time was most peaceful. In the days before the commencement of hostilities it was a city of peace as contrasted with the metropolis, Johannesburg, and its warring citizens, but when cannon were roaring on the frontier, Pretoria itself seemed to escape even the echoes. After the first commandos had departed the city streets were deserted, and only women and children gathered at the bulletin boards to learn the fate of the burgher armies. The stoeps of houses and cottages were deserted of the bearded yeomanry, and the halls of the Government buildings resounded only with the tread of those who were not old or strong enough to bear arms. The long ox-waggons which in former times were so common in the streets were not so frequently to be seen, but whenever one of them rolled toward the market square, it was a Boer woman who cracked the raw-hide whip over the heads of the oxen. Pretoria was the same quaint city as of old, but it lacked the men who were its most distinguishing feature. The black-garbed Volksraad members, the officials, and the old retired farmers, who were wont to discuss politics on the stoeps of the capitol and the Transvaal Hotel were absent. Inquiries concerning them could be addressed only to women and children, and the replies invariably were: "They are on commando," or, "They were killed in battle."
The scenes of activity in the city were few in number, and they were chiefly in connection with the arrival of foreign volunteers and the transit of burgher commandos on the way to the field. The Grand Hotel and the Transvaal Hotel, the latter of which was conducted by the Government for the temporary entertainment of the volunteers, were constantly filled with throngs of foreigners, comprising soldiers of fortune, Red Cross delegations, visitors, correspondents, and contractors, and almost every language except that of the Boers could be heard in the corridors. Occasionally a Boer burgher on leave of absence from the front appeared at the hotels for a respite from army rations, or to attend the funeral of a comrade in arms, but the foreigners were always predominant. Across the street, in the War Department, there were busy scenes when the volunteers applied for their equipments, and frequently there were stormy actions when the European tastes of the men were offended by the equipment offered by the Department officials. Men who desired swords and artistic paraphernalia for themselves and their horses felt slighted when the scant but serviceable equipment of a Boer burgher was offered to them, but sulking could not remedy the matter, and usually they were content to accept whatever was given to them. Former officers in European armies, noblemen and even professional men were constantly arriving in the city, and all seemed to be of the same opinion that commissions in the Boer army could be had for the asking. Some of these had their minds disabused with good grace, and went to the field as common burghers; others sulked for several weeks, but finally joined a commando, and a few returned to their homes without having heard the report of a gun. For those who chose to remain behind and enjoy the peacefulness of Pretoria, there was always enough of novelty and excitement among the foreigners to compensate partly for missing the events in the field.
The army contractors make their presence felt in all countries which are engaged in war, and Pretoria was filled with them. They were in the railway trains running to and from Lorenzo Marques; in the hotel corridors, in all the Government departments, and everywhere in the city. A few of the naturalised Boers, who were most denunciatory of the British before the war and urged their fellow-countrymen to resort to arms, succeeded in evading the call to the field and were most energetic in supplying bread and supplies to the Government. Nor was their patriotism dimmed by many reverses of the army, and they selfishly demanded that the war should be continued indefinitely. Europeans and Americans who partook of the protection of the Government in times of peace, were transformed by war into grasping, insinuating contractors who revelled in the country's misfortune. Englishmen, unworthy of the name, enriched themselves by furnishing sinews of war to their country's enemy, and in order to secure greater wealth sought to prolong the war by cheering disheartened Boers and expressing faith in their final success. The chambers of the Government building were filled with men who had horses, waggons, flour, forage and clothing to offer at exorbitant prices, and in thousands of instances the embarrassed Government was obliged to pay whatever sums were demanded. Hand-in-hand with the contractors were the speculators who were taking advantage of the absence of the leading officials to secure valuable concessions, mining claims, and even gold mines. Before the war, when hordes of speculators and concession-seekers thronged the city, the scene was pathetic enough, but when all shrewd Raad members were at the front and unable to guard their country's interests the picture was dark and pitiful.
Pretoria seemed to have but one mood during the war. It was never deeply despondent nor gay. There was a sort of funereal atmosphere throughout the city, whether its residents were rejoicing over a Spion Kop or suffering from the dejection of a Paardeberg. It was the same grim throng of old men, women, and children who watched the processions of prisoners of war and attended the funerals at the quaint little Dutch church in the centre of the city. The finest victories of the army never changed the appearance of the city nor the mood of its inhabitants. There were no parades nor shouting when a victory was announced, and there was the same stoical indifference when the news of a bitter defeat was received. A victory was celebrated in the Dutch church by the singing of psalms, and a defeat by the offering of prayers for the success of the army.
The thousands of British subjects who were allowed to remain in the Transvaal, being of a less phlegmatic race, were not so calm when a victory of their nation's army was announced, and when the news of Cronje's surrender reached them they celebrated the event with almost as much gusto as if they had not been in the enemy's country. A fancy dress ball was held in Johannesburg in honour of the event, and a champagne dinner was given within a few yards of the Government buildings in Pretoria, but a few days later all the celebrants were transported across the border by order of the Government.
One of the pathetic features of Pretoria was the Boers' expression of faith in foreign mediation or intervention. At the outset of hostilities it seemed unreasonable that any European nation or America would risk a war with Great Britain for the purpose of assisting the Boers, yet there was hardly one burgher who did not cling steadfastly to the opinion that the war would be ended in such a manner. The idea had evidently been rooted in their mind that Russia would take advantage of Great Britain's entanglement in South Africa to occupy Herat and Northern India, and when a newspaper item to that effect appeared it was gravely presumed to indicate the beginning of the end. Some over-zealous Irishmen assured the Boers that, in the event of a South African war, their fellow-countrymen in the United States would invade Canada and involve Great Britain in an imbroglio over the Atlantic in order to save British America. For a few weeks the chimera buoyed up the Boers, but when nothing more than an occasional newspaper rumour was heard concerning it the rising in Ashanti was then looked upon as being the hoped-for boon. The departure of the three delegates to Europe and America was an encouraging sign to them, and it was firmly believed that they would be able to induce France, Russia, or America to offer mediation or intervention. The two Boer newspapers, the Pretoria Volksstem and the Johannesburg Standard and Diggers' News, dwelt at length upon every favourable token of foreign assistance, however trifling, and attempted to strengthen hopes which at hardly any time seemed capable of realisation. It was not until after the war had been in progress for more than six months that the Boers saw the futility of placing faith in foreign aid, and afterwards they fought like stronger men.
The consuls who represented the foreign Governments at Pretoria, and through whom the Boers made representations for peace, were an exceptionally able body of men, and their duties were as varied as they were arduous. The French and German consuls were busied with the care of the vast mining interests of their countrymen, besides the partial guardianship of the hundreds of French and German volunteers in the Boer army. They were called upon to entertain noblemen as well as bankrupts; to bandage wounds and to bury the dead; to find lost relatives and to care for widows and orphans. In times of peace the duties of a consul in Pretoria were not light, but during hostilities they were tenfold heavier. To the American consul, Adelbert S. Hay, and his associate, John G. Coolidge, fell more work than to all the others combined. Besides caring for the American interests in the country, Consul Hay was charged with the guardianship of the six thousand British prisoners of war in the city as well as with the care of the financial interests of British citizens. Every one of the thousands of letters to and from the prisoners was examined in the American Consulate so that they might carry with them no breach of neutrality; almost twenty thousand pounds, as well as tons of luxuries, were distributed by him to the prisoners; while the letters and cablegrams concerning the health and whereabouts of soldiers which reached him every week were far in excess of the number of communications which arrived at the Consulate in a year of peaceful times. Consul Hay was in good favour with the Boer Government notwithstanding his earnest efforts to perform his duties with regard to the British prisoners and interests, and of the many consuls who have represented the United States in South Africa none performed his duties more intelligently or with more credit to his country.
One of the most interesting and important events in Pretoria before the British occupation of the city was the meeting of the Volksraads on May 7th. It was a gathering of the warriors who survived the war which they themselves had brought about seven months before, and, although the enemy to whom they had thrown down the gauntlet was at their gates, they were as resolute and determined as on that October day when they voted to pit the Boer farmer against the British lion. The seats of many of those who took part in that memorable meeting were filled with palms and evergreens to mark the patriots' deaths, but the vierkleur and the cause remained to spur the living. Generals, commandants, and burghers, no longer in the grimy costumes of the battlefield, but in the black garb of the legislator, filled the circles of chairs; bandoliered burghers, consuls and military attaches in spectacular uniform, business men, and women with tear-stained cheeks filled the auditorium; while on the official benches were the heads of departments and the Executive Council, State Secretary Reitz and General Schalk Burger. The Chairman of the Raad, General Lucas Meyer, fresh from the battlefield, attracted the attention of the throng by announcing the arrival of the President. Spectators, Raad members, officials, all rose to their feet, and Paul Kruger, the Lion of Rustenberg, the Afrikander captain, entered the Chamber and occupied a seat of honour.
Grave affairs occupied the attention of the country and there were many pressing matters to be adjusted, was the burden of the meeting, but the most important work was the defence of the country, and all the members were as a unit that their proper places were to be found with the burghers in the field. There was no talk of ending the war, or of surrender; the President leading in the proposition to continue hostilities until a conclusion successful to the Boer cause was attained. "Shall we lose courage?" he demanded. "Never! Never!! Never!!!" and then added reverently: "May the people and the officers, animated and inspired by a Higher Power, realising their duty, not only to those brave ones who have already sacrificed their lives for their Fatherland, but also to posterity that expects a free country, continue and persevere in this war to the end." With these words of their aged chieftain engraved on their hearts to strengthen their resolution the members of the Volksraads doffed the garb of legislators and returned to their commandos to inspire them with new zeal and determination.
After that memorable meeting of the Volksraads Pretoria again assumed the appearance of a city of peace, but the rapid approach of the forces of the enemy soon transformed it into a scene of desperation and panic. Men with drawn faces dashed through the city to assist their hard-pressed countrymen in the field; tearful women with children on their arms filled the churches with their moans and prayers; deserters fleeing homeward exaggerated fresh disasters and increased the tension of the populace—tears and terror prevailed almost everywhere. Railway stations were filled with throngs intent on escaping from the coming disaster, commandos of breathless and blood-stained burghers entered the city, and soon the voice of the conquerors' cannon reverberated among the hills and valleys of the capital. Above the noise and din of the threatened city rose the calm assurance of Paul Kruger: "Have good cheer, God will be with our people in the end."
FROM FARM TO BATTLEFIELD
In the olden days, before men with strange languages and customs entered their country and disturbed the serenity of their life, the Boers were accustomed to make annual trips to the north in search of game, and to exterminate the lions which periodically attacked their flocks and herds. It was customary for relatives to form parties, and these trekked with their long ox-waggons far into the northern Transvaal, and oftentimes into the wilderness beyond the Zambesi. Women and children accompanied the expeditions and remained behind in the ox-waggons while the men rode away into the bush to search for buck, giraffe, and lion. Hardy men and women these were who braved the dangers of wild beasts and the terrors of the fever country, yet these treks to the north were as certain annual functions as the Nachtmaals in the churches. Men who went into the wild bush to hunt for the lions, which had been their only unconquerable enemy for years, learned to know no fear, and with their wives and children formed as hardy a race as virgin soil ever produced. With these pioneers it was not a matter of great pride to have shot a lion, but it was considered a disgrace to have missed one. To husband their sparse supplies of ammunition was their chief object, and to waste a shot by missing the target was to become the subject of good-natured derision and ridicule. Fathers, sons, and grandsons entered the bush together, and when there was a lion or other wild beast to be stalked the amateur hunter was initiated into the mysteries of backwoodsmanship by his experienced elders. Consequently the Boers became a nation of proficient lion-hunters, and efficiently ridded their country of the pest which continually threatened their safety, the safety of their families and that of their possessions of live-stock.
In later years, when the foreigner who bought his farms and searched for the wealth hidden on them became so numerous that the Boer appeared to be an unwelcome guest in his own house, the old-time lion-hunter had foundation for believing that a new enemy had suddenly arisen. The Boer attempted to placate the new enemy by means which failed. Afterward a bold but unsuccessful inroad was made into the country for the purpose of relieving him of the necessity of ruling it. Thereupon the old-time lion-fighting spirit arose within the Boer, and he began to prepare for future hunting expeditions. He stocked his arsenals with the best guns and ammunition the world produced, and he secured instructors to teach him the most modern and approved methods of fighting the new-style lion. He erected forts and stockades in which he might take refuge in the event that the lions should prove too strong and numerous, and he made laws and regulations so that there might be no delay when the proper moment arrived for attacking the enemy. While these matters were being perfected further efforts were made to conciliate the enemy, but they proved futile, and it became evident that the farmer and the lion of 1899 were as implacable enemies as the farmer and lion of 1850. The lion of 1899 believed his cause to be as just as did the lion of half a century before, while the farmer felt that the lion, having been created by Nature, had a just claim upon Nature and her works for support, but desired that sustenance should be sought from other parts of Nature's stores. He insisted, moreover, if the lion wished to remain on the plantation that he should not question the farmer's ownership nor assume that the lion was an animal of a higher and finer grade than the farmer.
A meeting between the representatives of the lions and the farmers led to no better understanding; in fact when, several days afterward, all the farmers gathered at the historic Paardekraal monument, they were unanimously of the opinion that the lion should be driven out of the country, or at least subdued to such an extent that peace might come and remain. Not since the days of 1877, when, at the same spot, each Boer, holding a stone above his head, vowed to shed his last drop of blood in defence of his country, was the community of farmers so indignant and excited. The aged President himself, fresh from the conference with the lions, urged his countrymen to prevent a conflict but to fight valiantly for their independence and rights if the necessity arose. Piet Joubert, who bore marks of a former conflict with the enemy, wept as he narrated the efforts which had been made to pacify the lions, and finally expressed the belief that every farmer in the country would yield his life's blood rather than surrender the rights for which their fathers had bled and died. When other leaders had spoken, the picturesque custom of renewing the oath of fealty to the country's flag was observed, as it had been every fifth year since the days of Majuba Hill. Ten thousand farmers uncovered their heads, raised their eyes toward the sky and repeated the Boer oath:—
"In the presence of God Almighty, who searcheth the hearts of men, from our homes in the Transvaal we have journeyed to meet again, Free burghers, we ask His mercy and trust in His grace and bind ourselves and our children in a solemn oath to be faithful to one another and to stand by one another in repelling our enemy with our last drop of life-blood. So truly help us, God Almighty."
Ten thousand voices then joined in singing the national anthem and a psalm, and the memorable meeting at this fount of patriotism was closed with a prayer and a benediction.
After this meeting it was uncertain for some months which should attack first; both were preparing as rapidly as possible for the conflict, and the advantage seemed to lie with the one who would strike first. The leaders of the lions seemed to have forgotten that they had lion-hunters as their opponents, and the farmers neglected to take into account the fact that the lion tribe was exceedingly numerous and spread over the whole earth. When the leading farmers met in conclave at Pretoria and heard the demands of the lions they laughed at them, sent an ultimatum in reply, and started for the frontier to join those of their countrymen who had gone there days before to watch that no body of lions should make another surreptitious attack upon their country. Another community of farmers living to the south, who had also been harassed by the lions for many years and felt that their future safety lay in the subjugation of the lion tribe, joined their neighbours in arms and went forth with them to the greatest lion-hunt that South Africa has ever had.
The enemy and all other men called it war, but to the Boers it was merely a hunt for lions such as they had engaged in oftentimes before.
The old Boer farmer hardly needed the proclamation from Pretoria to tell him that there was to be a lion-hunt, and that he should prepare for it immediately. He had known that the hunt was inevitable long before October 11, 1899, and he had made preparations for it months and even years before. When the official notification from the Commandant-General reached him through the field-cornet of the district in which he lived, he was prepared in a few minutes to start for the frontier where the British lions were to be found. The new Mauser rifle, which the Government had given him a year or two before, was freshly oiled and its working order inspected. The bandolier, filled with bright new cartridges, was swung over his shoulder, and then, after putting a Testament into his coat pocket, he was ready to proceed. He despised a uniform of any kind as smacking of anti-republican ideas and likely to attract the attention of the enemy. The same corduroy or mole-skin trousers, dark coat, wide-brimmed hat, and home-made shoes which he was accustomed to wear in every-day life on the farm were good enough for a hunting expedition, and he needed and yearned for nothing better. A uniform would have caused him to feel uneasy and out of place, and when lions were the game he wanted to be thoroughly comfortable so that his arm and aim might be steady. His vrouw, who was filling a linen sack with bread, biltong, and coffee to be consumed on his journey to the hunting grounds, may have taken the opportunity while he was cleaning his rifle to sew a rosette of the vierkleur of the Republic on his hat, or, remembering the custom observed in the old-time wars against the natives, may have found the fluffy brown tail of a meerkatz and fixed it on the upturned brim of his grimy hat. When these few preparations were concluded the Kafir servant brought his master's horse and fixed to the front of the saddle a small roll containing a blanket and a mackintosh. To another part of the saddle he strapped a small black kettle to be used for the preparation of the lion-hunter's only luxury, coffee, and then the list of impedimenta was complete. The horseman who brought the summons to go to the frontier had hardly reached the neighbouring farmhouse when the Boer lion-hunter, uniformed, outfitted, and armed, was on his horse's back and ready for any duty at any place. With a rifle, bandolier, and a horse the Boer felt as if he were among kindred spirits, and nothing more was necessary to complete his temporal happiness. The horse is a part of the Boer hunter, and he might as well have gone to the frontier without a rifle as to go in the capacity of a foot soldier. The Boer is the modern Centaur, and therein is found an explanation for part of his success in hunting.
When once the Boer left his home he became an army unto himself. He needed no one to care for himself and his horse, nor were the leaders of the army obliged to issue myriads of orders for his guidance. He had learned long before that he should meet the other hunters of his ward at a certain spot in case there was a call to arms, and thither he went as rapidly as his pony could carry him. When he arrived at the meeting-place he found all his neighbours and friends gathered in groups and discussing the situation. Certain ones of them had brought with them big white-tented ox-waggons for conveying ammunition, commissariat stores, and such extra luggage as some might wish to carry; and these were sent ahead as soon as the field-cornet, the military leader of the ward, learned that all his men had arrived from their homes. The individual hunters then formed what was called a commando, whether it consisted of fifteen or fifty men, and proceeded in a body to a second pre-arranged meeting-place, where all the ward-commandos of a certain district were asked to congregate. When all these commandos had arrived in one locality, they fell under the authority of the commandant who had been elected to that post by the burghers at the preceding election. This official had received his orders directly from the Commandant-General, and but little time was consumed in disseminating them to the burghers through the various field-cornets. After all the ward-commandos had arrived, the district-commando was set in motion toward that part of the frontier where its services were required; and a most unwarlike spectacle it presented as it rolled along over the muddy, slippery veld. In the van were the huge, lumbering waggons with hordes of hullabalooing natives cracking their long raw-hide whips and urging the sleek, long-horned oxen forward through the mud. Following the waggon-train came the cavalcade of armed lion-hunters, grim and determined-looking enough from a distance, but most peaceful and inoffensive when once they understood the stranger's motives. No order or discipline was visible in the commando on the march, and if the rifles and bandoliers had not appeared so prominently it might readily have been mistaken for a party of Nachtmaal celebrants on the way to Pretoria. Now and then some youths emerged from the crowd and indulged in an impromptu horse-race, only to return and receive a chiding from their elders for wasting their horses' strength unnecessarily. Occasionally the keen eyes of a rider spied a buck in the distance, and then several of the lion-hunters sped obliquely off the track and replenished the commando larder with much smaller game than was the object of their expedition.
If the commando came from a district far from the frontier, it proceeded to the railway station nearest to the central meeting-place, and then embarked for the front. No extraordinary preparations were necessary for the embarking of a large commando, nor was much time lost before the hunters were speeding towards their destination. Every man placed his own horse in a cattle-car, his saddle, bridle, and haversack in the passenger-coach, and then assisted in hoisting the cumbersome ox-waggons on flat-top trucks. There were no specially deputised men to entrain the horses, others to load the waggons, and still others to be subtracted from the fighting strength of the nation by attending to such detail duties as require the services of hundreds of men in other armies.
After the burghers were entrained and the long commando train was set in motion the most fatiguing part of the campaign was before them. To ride on a South African railway is a disagreeable duty in times of peace, but in war-times, when trains were long and overcrowded, and the rate of progress never higher than fifteen miles an hour, then all other campaigning duties were pleasurable enjoyments. The majority of burghers, unaccustomed to journeying in railway trains, relished the innovation and managed to make merry even though six of them, together with all their saddles and personal luggage, were crowded into one compartment. The singing of hymns occupied much of their time on the journey, and when they tired of this they played practical jokes upon one another and amused themselves by leaning out of the windows and jeering at the men who were guarding the railway bridges and culverts. At the stations they grasped their coffee-pots and rushed to the locomotive to secure hot water with which to prepare their beverage. It seldom happened that any Boer going to the front carried any liquor with him and, although the delays and vexations of the journey were sufficiently irritating to serve as an excuse, drunkenness practically never occurred. Genuine good-fellowship prevailed among them, and no quarrelling was to be observed. It seemed as if every one of them was striving to live the ideal life portrayed in the Testament which they read assiduously scores of times every day. Whether a train was delayed an hour at a siding or whether it stopped so suddenly that all were thrown from their seats, there was no profane language, but usually jesting and joking instead. Little discomforts which would cause an ordinary American or European soldier to use volumes of profanity were passed by without notice or comment by these psalm-singing Boers, and inconveniences of greater moment, like the disarrangement of the commissariat along the route, caused only slight remonstrances from them. An angry man was as rarely seen as one who cursed, and more rare than either was an intoxicated one.
Few of the men were given to boasting of the valour they would display in warfare or of their abilities in marksmanship. They had no battle-cry of revenge like "Remember the Maine!" or "Avenge Majuba!" except it was the motto: "For God, Country, and Independence!" which many bore on the bands of their hats and on the stocks of their rifles. Very occasionally one boasted of the superiority of the Boer, and still more rarely would one be heard to set three months as the limit required to conquer the British army. The name of Jameson, the raider, was frequently heard, but always in a manner which might have led one unacquainted with recent Transvaal history to believe that he was a patron-saint of the Republic. It was not a cry of "Remember Jameson" for the wrongs he committed but rather a plea to honour him for having placed the Republic on its guard against the dangers which they believed threatened it from beyond its borders. It was frequently suggested, when his name was mentioned, that after the war a monument should be erected to him because he had given them warning and that they had profited by the warning to the extent that they had armed themselves thoroughly. Seldom was any boasting concerning the number of the enemy that would fall to Boer bullets; instead there was a tone of sorrow when they spoke of the soldiers of the Queen who would die on the field of battle while fighting for a cause concerning the justice or injustice of which the British soldier could not speak.
After the commando-train reached its destination the burghers again took charge of their own horses and conveyances, and in even less time than it required to place them on the train they were unloaded and ready to proceed to the point where the generals needed their assistance. The Boer was always considerate of his horse, and it became a custom to delay for several hours after leaving the train, in order that the animals might feed and recover from the fatigues of the journey before starting out on a trek over the veld. After the horses had been given an opportunity to rest, the order to "upsaddle" came from the commandant, and then the procession, with the ox-waggons in the van, was again formed. The regular army order was then established, scouts were sent ahead to determine the location of the enemy, and the officers for the first time appeared to lead their men in concerted action against the opposing forces. To call the Boer force an army was to add unwarranted elasticity to the word, for it had but one quality in common with such armed forces as Americans or Europeans are accustomed to call by that name. The Boer army fought with guns and gunpowder, but it had no discipline, no drills, no forms, no standards, and not even a roll-call. It was an enlarged edition of the hunting parties which a quarter-century ago went into the Zoutpansberg in search of game—it was a massive aggregation of lion-hunters.
THE COMPOSITION OF THE BOER ARMY
A visitor in one of the laagers in Natal once spoke of a Boer burgher as a "soldier." A Boer from the Wakkerstroom district interrupted his speech and said there were no Boer soldiers. "If you want us to understand concerning whom you are talking," he continued, "you must call us burghers or farmers. Only the English have soldiers." It was so with all the Boers; none understood the term soldier as applying to anybody except their enemy, while many considered it an insult to be called a soldier, as it implied, to a certain extent, that they were fighting for hire. In times of peace the citizen of the Boer republics was called a burgher, and when he took up arms and went to war he received no special title to distinguish him from the man who remained at home. "My burghers," Paul Kruger was wont to call them before the war, and when they came forth from battle they were content when he said, "My burghers are doing well." The Boers were proud of their citizenship, and when their country was in danger they went forth as private citizens and not as bold warriors to protect it.
There was a law in the two republics which made it incumbent upon all burghers between the ages of sixteen and sixty to join a commando and to go to war when it was necessary. There was no law, however, which prevented a man, of whatever youthfulness or age, to assist in the defence of his country, and in consequence the Boer commandos contained almost the entire male population between the ages of thirteen and eighty years. In peaceful times the Boer farmer rarely travelled away from his home unless he was accompanied by his family, and he would have felt the pangs of homesickness if he had not been continually surrounded by his wife and children. When the war began it was not an easy matter for the burgher to leave his home for an indefinite period, and in order that he might not be lonely he took with him all his sons who were strong enough to carry rifles. The Boer youth develops into manhood early in life in the mild South African climate, and the boy of twelve and thirteen years is the equal in physical development of the American or European youth of sixteen or seventeen. He was accustomed to live on the open veld and hunting with his elders, and, when he saw that all his former companions were going to war, he begged for permission to accompany the commando. The Boer boy of twelve does not wear knickerbocker trousers as the youth of like age in many other countries, but he is clothed exactly like his father, and, being almost as tall, his youthful appearance is not so noticeable when he is among a large number of his countrymen. Scores of boys not more than twelve years were in the laagers in Natal, and hundreds of less age than the minimum prescribed by the military law were in every commando in the country. When Ladysmith was still besieged one youth of eleven years was conspicuous in the Standerton laager. He seemed to be a mere child, yet he had the patriotism of ten men. He followed his father everywhere, whether into battle or to the spring for water.
"When my father is injured or killed, I will take his rifle," was his excuse for being away from home. When General De Wet captured seven cannon from the enemy at the battle of Sannaspost two of the volunteers to operate them were boys aged respectively fourteen and fifteen years. Pieter J. Henning, of the Potchefstroom commando, who was injured in the battle of Scholtznek on December 11th, was less than fifteen years old, yet his valour in battle was as conspicuous as that of any of the burghers who took part in the engagement. Teunis H.C. Mulder, of the Pretoria commando, celebrated his sixteenth birthday only a few days before he was twice wounded at Ladysmith on November 9th, and Willem Francois Joubert, a relative of the Commandant-General, was only fifteen years old when he was wounded at Ladysmith on October 30th. At the battle of Koedoesrand, fifteen-year-old Pieter de Jager, of the Bethlehem commando, was seriously injured by a shell while he was conveying his injured father from the field. With the army of General Cronje captured at Paardeberg were no less than a hundred burghers who had not reached the sixteenth year, and among those who escaped from the laager in the river-bed were two Bloemfontein boys named Roux, aged twelve and fourteen years. At Colenso a Wakkerstroom youth of twelve years captured three English scouts and compelled them to march ahead of him to the commandant's tent. During one of the lulls in the fighting at Magersfontein a burgher of fifteen years crept up to within twenty yards of three British soldiers and shouted "Hands up!" Thinking that there were other Boers in the vicinity the men dropped their guns and became prisoners of the boy, who took them to General De la Rey's tent. When the General asked the boy how he secured the prisoners the lad replied, nonchalantly, "Oh, I surrounded them." These youths who accompanied the commando were known as the "Penkop Regiment"—a regiment composed of school children—and in their connection an amusing story has been current in the Boer country ever since the war of 1881, when large numbers of children less than fifteen years old went with their fathers to battle. The story is that after the fight at Majuba Hill, while the peace negotiations were in progress, Sir Evelyn Wood, the Commander of the British forces, asked General Joubert to see the famous Penkop Regiment. The Boer General gave an order that the regiment should be drawn up in a line before his tent, and when this had been done General Joubert led General Wood into the open and introduced him to the corps. Sir Evelyn was sceptical for some time, and imagined that General Joubert was joking, but when it was explained to him that the youths really were the much-vaunted Penkop Regiment he advised them to return to their school-books.
When a man has reached the age of sixty it may be assumed that he has outlived his usefulness as a soldier; but not so with the Boer. There was not one man, but hundreds, who had passed the Biblical threescore years and ten but were fighting valiantly in defence of their country. Grey-haired men who, in another country, might be expected to be found at their homes reading the accounts of their grandsons' deeds in the war, went out on scouting duty and scaled hills with almost as much alacrity as the burghers only half their age. Men who could boast of being grandfathers were innumerable, and in almost any laager there could be seen father, sons, and grandsons, all fighting with equal vigour and enthusiasm. Paul Kruger is seventy-five years old, but there were many of his burghers several years older than he who went to the frontier with their commandos and remained there for several months at a time. A great-grandfather serving in the capacity of a private soldier, may appear like a mythical tale, but there were several such. Old Jan van der Westhuizen, of the Middleberg laager, was active and enthusiastic at eighty-two years, and felt more than proud of four great-grand-children. Piet Kruger, a relative of the President, and four years his senior, was an active participant in every battle in which the Rustenburg commando was engaged while it was in Natal, and he never once referred to the fact that he fought in the 1881 war and in the attack upon Jameson's men. Four of Kruger's sons shared the same tent and fare with him, and ten of his grandsons were burghers in different commandos. Jan C. ven [Transcriber's note: sic] Tander, of Boshof, exceeded the maximum of the military age by eight years, but he was early in the field, and was seriously wounded at the battle of Scholtznek on December 11th. General Joubert himself was almost seventy years old but as far as physical activity was concerned there were a score of burghers in his commando, each from five to ten years older, who exhibited more energy in one battle than he did during the entire Natal campaign. The hundreds of bridges and culverts along the railway lines in the Transvaal, the Orange Free State, and Upper Natal were guarded day and night by Boers more than sixty years old, who had volunteered to do the work in order that younger men might be sent to localities where their services might be more necessary. Other old Boers and cripples attended to the commissariat arrangements along the railways, conducted commissariat waggons, gathered forage for the horses at the front, and arranged the thousands of details which are necessary to the well-being and comfort of every army, however simple its organisation.
Among the Boers were many burghers who had assisted Great Britain in her former wars in South Africa—men who had fought under the British flag, but were now fighting against it. Colonel Ignace Ferreira, a member of one of the oldest Boer families, fought under Lord Wolseley in the Zulu war, and had the Order of the Commander of the Bath conferred upon him by the Queen. Colonel Ferreira was at the head of a commando at Mafeking. Paul Dietzch, the military secretary of General Meyer, fought under the British flag in the Gaika and several other native wars.
It was not only the extremely old and the extremely young who went to war; it was a transfer of the entire population of the two Republics to the frontiers, and no condition or position was sufficient excuse to remain behind. The professional man of Pretoria and Johannesburg was in a laager which was adjacent to a laager of farthest-back veld-farmers. Lawyers and physicians, photographers and grocers, speculators and sextons, judges and schoolmasters, schoolboys and barkeepers—all who were burghers locked their desks and offices and journeyed to the front. Even clergymen closed their houses of worship in the towns and remained among the commandos to pray and preach for those who did the fighting. The members of the Volksraads, who brought on the war by their ultimatum, were among the first in the field, and foremost in attacking the soldiers of their enemy. Students in European universities, who hastened home when war-clouds were gathering, went shoulder to shoulder into battle with the backwoodsman, the Boer takhaar. There was no pride among them; no class distinction which prevented a farmer from speaking to a millionaire. A graduate of Cambridge had as his boon companion for five months a farmer who thought the earth a square, and imagined the United States to be a political division of Australia.
The Boer who was bred in a city or town good-naturedly referred to his country cousin as a "takhaar"—a man with grizzly beard and unkempt hair. It was a good descriptive term, and the takhaar was not offended when it was applied to him. The takhaar was the modern type of the old voortrekker Boer who, almost a hundred years ago, trekked north from Cape Colony, and after overcoming thousands of difficulties settled in the present Boer country. He was a religious, big-hearted countryman of the kind who would suspect a stranger until he proved himself worthy of trust. After that period was passed the takhaar would walk the veld in order that you might ride his horse. If he could not speak your language he would repeat a dozen times such words as he knew, meanwhile offering to you coffee, mutton, bread, and all the best that his laager larder afforded. He offered to exchange a pipe-load of tobacco with you, and when that occurred you could take it for granted that he was your friend for life. The takhaar was the man who went to the frontiers on his own responsibility weeks before the ultimatum was sent, and watched day and night lest the enemy might trample a rod beyond the bounds. He was the man who stopped Jameson, who climbed Majuba, and who fought the natives. The takhaar was the Boer before gold brought restlessness into the country, and he was proud of his title. The fighting ability of the takhaar is best illustrated by repeating an incident which occurred after the battle of Dundee when a large number of Hussars were captured. One of the Hussar officers asked for the name of the regiment he had been fighting against. A fun-loving Boer replied that the Boers had no regiments; that their men were divided into three brigades—the Afrikanders, the Boers, and the Takhaars—a distinction which carried with it but a slight difference. "The Afrikander brigade," the Boer explained, "is fighting now. They fight like demons. When they are killed, then the Boers take the field. The Boers fight about twice as well and hard as the Afrikanders. As soon as all the Boers are killed, then come the takhaars, and they would rather fight than eat." The officer remained silent for a moment, then sighed and said, "Well, if that is correct, then our job is bigger than I thought it was."
The ideal Boer is a man with a bearded face and a flowing moustache, and in order to appear idyllic almost every Boer burgher, who was not thus favoured before war was began, engaged in the peaceful process of growing a beard. Young men who, in times of peace, detested hirsute adornments of the face allowed their beards and moustaches to grow, and after a month or two it was almost impossible to find one burgher who was without a growth of hair on his face. The wearing of a beard was almost equal to a badge of Boer citizenship, and for the time being every Boer was a takhaar in appearance if not in fact. The adoption of beards was not so much fancy as it was a matter of discretion. The Boer was aware of the fact that few of the enemy wore beards, and so it was thought quite ingenious for all burghers to wear facial adornments of that kind in order that friend and foe might be distinguished more readily at a distance.
Notwithstanding their ability to fight when it is necessary, it is doubtful whether twenty per cent of the Boer burghers in the commandos would be accepted for service in any continental or American army. The rigid physical examinations of many of the armies would debar thousands from becoming regular soldiers. There were men in the Boer forces who had only one arm, some with only one leg, others with only one eye; some were almost totally blind, while others would have felt happy if they could have heard the reports of their rifles. Men who were suffering from various kinds of illnesses, and who should have been in a physician's care, were to be seen in every laager. Men who wore spectacles were numerous, while those who suffered from diseases which debar a man from a regular army were without number. The high percentage of men unfit for military duty was not due to the Boer's unhealthfulness, for he is as healthy as farmers are in other parts of the earth. Take the entire male population of any district in Europe and America and compare the individuals with the standard required by army rules, and the result will not differ greatly from the result of the Boer examination. If all the youths and old men, the sick and maimed, could have been eliminated from the Boer forces, eighty per cent, would probably have been found to be a low estimate of the number thus subtracted from the total force. It would have been heartrending to many a continental or American general to see the unmilitary appearance of the Boer burgher, and in what manner an army of children, great-grandfathers, invalids, and blind men, with a handful of good men to leaven it, could be of any service whatever would have been quite beyond his conception. It was such a mixed force that a Russian officer, who at the outset of the war entered the Transvaal to fight, became disgusted with its unmilitary appearance and returned to his own country.
The accoutrement of the Boer burgher was none the less incongruous than the physical appearance of the majority of them, although no expensive uniform and trappings could have been of more practical value. The men of the Pretoria and Johannesburg commandos had the unique honor of going to the war in uniforms specially made for the purpose, but there was no regulation or law which compelled them to wear certain kinds of clothing. When these commandos went to the frontier several days before the actual warfare had begun they were clothed in khaki-coloured cloth of almost the same description as that worn by the soldiers whom they intended to fight. These two commandos were composed of town-folk who had absorbed many of the customs and habits of the foreigners who were in the country, and they felt that it would be more warlike if they should wear uniforms made specially for camp and field. The old Boers of the towns and the takhaars looked askance at the youth of Pretoria and Johannesburg in their uniforms, and shook their heads at the innovation as smacking too much of an anti-republican spirit.
Like Cincinnatus, the majority of the old Boers went directly from their farms to the battlefields, and they wore the same clothing in the laagers as they used when shearing their sheep or herding their cattle. When they started for the frontier the Boer farmers arranged matters so that they might be comfortable while the campaign continued. Many, it is true, dashed away from home at the first call to arms and carried with them, besides a rifle and bandolier, nothing but a mackintosh, blanket, and haversack of food. The majority of them, however, were solicitous of their future comfort and loaded themselves down with all kinds of luggage. Some went to the frontier with the big, four-wheeled ox-waggons and in these they conveyed cooking utensils, trunks, boxes with food and flour, mattresses, and even stoves. The Rustenburg farmers were specially solicitous about their comfort, and those patriotic old takhaars practically moved their families and household furniture to the camps. Some of the burghers took two or three horses each in order that there might be no delay or annoyance in case of misfortune by death or accident, and frequently a burgher could be seen who had one horse for himself, another for his camp utensils and extra clothing, and a third and fourth for native servants who cooked his meals and watched the horses while they grazed.
Without his horse the Boer would be of little account as a fighting man, and those magnificent little ponies deserve almost as much credit for such success as attended the campaign as their riders. If some South African does not frame a eulogy of the little beasts it will not be because they do not deserve it. The horse was half the Centaur and quite the life of him. Small and wiry, he was able to jog along fifty and sixty miles a day for several days in succession, and when the occasion demanded it, he was able to attain a rate of speed that equalled that of the ordinary South African railway train which, however, makes no claims to lightning-like velocity. He bore all kinds of weather, was not liable to sickness except in one season of the year, and he was able to work two and even three days without more than a blade of grass. He was able to thrive on the grass of the veld, and when winter killed that product he needed but a few bundles of forage a day to keep him in good condition. He climbed rocky mountain-sides as readily as a buck, and never wandered from a path by darkest night. He drank and apparently relished the murky water of mud-pools and needed but little attention with the currycomb and brush. He was trained to obey the slightest turn of the reins, and a slight whistle brought him to a full stop. When his master left him and went forward into battle the Boer pony remained in the exact position where he was placed, and when perchance a shell or bullet ended his existence, then the Boer paid a tribute to the value of his dead servant by refusing to continue the fight and by beating a hasty retreat.
In the early part of the campaign in Natal the laagers were filled with ox-waggons, and, in the absence of tents which were sadly wanted during that season of heavy rains, they stood in great stead to the burghers. The rear half of the waggons were tented with an arched roof, as all the trek-waggons are, and under these shelters the burghers lived. Many of the burghers who left their ox-waggons at home took small, light, four-wheeled carriages, locally called spiders, or the huge two-wheelers or Cape-carts so serviceable and common throughout the country. These were readily transformed into tents, and made excellent sleeping accommodations by night and transport-waggons for the luggage when the commandos moved from one place to another. When a rapid march was contemplated all the heavy waggons were left behind in charge of native servants with which every burgher was provided.
It was quite in keeping with their other ideas of personal comfort for many Boer burghers to carry a coloured parasol or an umbrella to protect them from the rays of the sun, and it was not considered beneath their dignity to wear a woman's shawl around their shoulders or head when the morning air was chilly. At first sight of these unique spectacles the stranger in the Boer country felt amused, but if he cared to smile at every unmilitary scene he would have had little time for other things. It was a republican army composed of republicans, and anything that smacked of the opposite was abhorred. There were no flags or insignia of any kind to lead the burghers on. What mottoes there were that expressed their cause were embroidered on the bands of their slouch-hats and cut on the stocks of their rifles. "For God and Freedom," "For Freedom, Land, and People," and "For God, Country, and Justice," were among the sentiments which some of the burghers carried into battle on their hats and rifles. Others had vierkleur ribbons as bands for their hats, while many carried on the upturned brim of their hats miniatures containing the photographs of the Presidents.
Aside from the dangers arising from a contact with the enemy and the heart-burns resulting from a long absence from his home, the Boer burgher's experiences at the front were not arduous. First and foremost he had a horse and rifle, and with these he was always more or less happy. He had fresh meat provided to him daily, and he had native servants to prepare and serve his meals for him. He was under no discipline whatever, and he could be his own master at all times. He generally had his sons or brothers with him in the same laager, and to a Boer there was always much joy in this. He could go on picket duty and have a brush with the enemy whenever he felt inclined to do so, or he could remain in his laager and never have a glimpse of the enemy. Every two months he was entitled to a ten days' leave of absence to visit his home, and at other times during the first five months of the war, his wife and children were allowed to visit him in his laager. If he was stationed along the northern or western frontiers of the Transvaal he was in the game country, and he was able to go on buck-shooting expeditions as frequently as he cared. He was not compelled to rise at a certain hour in the morning, and he could go to bed whenever he wished. There was no drill, no roll-calls, nor any of the thousands of petty details which the soldiers of even the Portuguese army are compelled to perform. As a result of a special law there was no work on Sundays or Church-holidays unless the enemy brought it about, and then, if he was a stickler for the observance of the Sabbath, he was not compelled to move a muscle. The Boer burgher could eat, sleep, or fight whenever he wished, and inasmuch as he was a law unto himself, there was no one who could compel him to change his habits. It was an ideal idle-man's mode of living and the foreign volunteers who had leaves of absence from their own armies made the most of their holiday, but in that respect they did not surpass their companion, the Boer burgher.
The most conspicuous feature of the Boer forces was the equality of the officers and the men, and the entire absence of any assumption of superiority by the leaders of the burghers. None of the generals or commandants wore any uniform of a distinctive type, and it was one of the most difficult problems to distinguish an officer from the burghers. All the officers, from the Commandant-General down to the corporal, carried rifles and bandoliers, and all wore the ordinary garb of a civilian, so that there was nothing to indicate the man's military standing. The officers associated with their men every hour of the day, and, in most instances, were able to call the majority of them by their Christian names. With one or two exceptions, all the generals were farmers before the war started, and consequently they were unable to assume any great degree of superiority over their farmer-burghers if they had wished to do so. General Meyer pitched quoits with his men, General Botha swapped tobacco with any one of his burghers, and General Smuts and one of his officers held the whist championship of their laager. Rarely a burgher touched his hat before speaking to an officer, but he invariably shook hands with him at meeting and parting. It is a Boer custom to shake hands with friends or strangers, and whenever a general visited a laager adjoining his own, the hand-shaking reminded one of the President's public reception days at Washington. When General Joubert went from camp to camp he greeted all the burghers who came near him with a grasp of the hand, and it was the same with all the other generals and officers. Whenever Presidents Kruger and Steyn went to the commandos, they held out their right hands to all the burghers who approached them, and one might have imagined that every Boer was personally acquainted with every other one in the republics. It was the same with strangers who visited the laagers, and many a sore wrist testified to the Boer's republicanism. Some one called it the "hand-shaking army," and it was a most descriptive title. Many of the burghers could not restrain from exercising their habit, and shook hands with British prisoners, much to the astonishment of the captured.