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The Battle of Rorke’s Drift

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Fix Bayonets! by Mustang

It was the greatest stand in British military history.

Frederic Augustus Thesiger, Second Baron Chelmsford, was promoted to major general in March 1877, and appointed to command British forces in South Africa with the temporary rank of lieutenant general in February 1878. In January of 1889, Henry Bartle Frere [1], a personal friend of Thesiger, engineered a war against the Zulu nation, then led by King Cetshwayo, previously a associate of the British Empire by treaty.  Consequently, Lord Chelmsford initiated a military expedition against the Zulu nation. On 22 January 1879, a large Zulu army attacked Chelmsford’s force at Isandlwana, overwhelming the British and destroying Chelmsford’s central (albeit separated) military column.  The attack was unexpected and the worst defeat of the British Army by native forces in the entire history of the British Empire.

On 11 January 1879, Company B, 2ndBattalion, 24th(2ndWarwickshire) Regiment of foot, under the command of Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead was detailed to garrison a post along the Buffalo River abutting the Zulu borderland.  The post had been turned into a supply depot and hospital under the overall command of Brevet Major Henry Spalding of the 104thFoot, a member of Chelmsford’s staff.

Map of the Battle of Rorke’s Drift on 22nd January 1879 in the Zulu War: map by John Fawkes

Map of the Battle of Rorke’s Drift on 22nd January 1879 in the Zulu War: map by John Fawkes

On 20 January, Chelmsford’s central (Number 3) column marched six miles further east, leaving Company B in charge of the garrison at Rorke’s Drift (in the local language, known as Jim’s land), a Christian mission station and the trading post of James Rorke, an Irish merchant. A company of the 2ndNatal Native Contingent (NCC) under Captain William Stevenson was detailed to remain at the post to reinforce Company B.  The NCC company numbered about 100 locally recruited militia. Later that evening, a contingent of Number 2 Colum under Brevet Colonel Anthony Dumford (Royal Engineers) arrived and camped along the river bank, where it remained through the next day.

Late in the evening of the next day (21 January), Dumford was ordered to Isandlwana, along with a small detachment of British Engineers under the command of Lieutenant John Chard.  Chard’s mission was to repair the pontoon bridge over the Buffalo River.  Chard rode ahead of his detachment to Isandlwana to clarify his orders, but was sent back to Rorke’s Drift with only a wagon and its driver to construct a defense for the expected reinforcement of a company of infantry.  En route, he passed Dumford’s column going in the opposite direction[…]

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Permission to re-publish granted by Mustang of Fix Bayonets!
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About the Author:

I am an American, Black female, Christian, Conservative whose priorities are God, family and country. Born and raised in the Empire State, I am a mother, aunt and grandmother having raised a son and four nieces on my own while caring for a disabled spouse. Affiliate blog: PUMABydesign001's Blog, Member/Author of Wow! Magazine., Contributor to Veterans' Tales.org. Social media: Gab: gab.ai/PUMABydesign Twitter: @PUMABydesign001 MeWe: MeWe.com; Facebook: @GrumpyOpinions2016; Minds: @PUMABydesign001.
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