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Battlefields in the Drakensberg Region

KwaZulu-Natal is a military history enthusiast’s dream and many of its battlefields have become ‘must see’ sites, several of which are within easy reach of the Drakensberg Experience. They include the Voortrekker / Zulu conflict of 1838 and the Anglo-Boer War of 1899 – 1902.
 
The Voortrekker / Zulu conflict arose as a result of a major exodus of Dutch speaking people from the Cape Colony to the interior of South Africa. In 1838, one of these parties led by Piet Retief made contact with the Zulu king Dingane kaSenzangakhona to negotiate vast tracts of land. The suspicious king had Retief’s party put to death in February 1838 and unleashed his amabutho (warriors) on the various Voortrekker encampments scattered around the Bushmans and Bloukrans River valleys.
 
This incident eventually resulted in a retaliatory campaign being launched by the Voortrekkers under the leadership of Andries Pretorius, and the Zulu army was defeated in the epic Battle of Blood River on the 16th December 1838.
 
The Anglo-Boer War can be linked to the discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand in the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek in 1886, which resulted in an influx of foreigners to seek their fortune. Fearing that their Afrikaner sovereignty was under threat, the ZAR Government made their franchise difficult to achieve and members of the British Government manipulated the situation to suit their needs, and the war began on the 11th October 1899.
 
Several other sites related to the Langalibalele Rebellion of 1873, the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 and the Transvaal War of Independence of 1880 / 1881 are also within easy reach of the Drakensberg Experience.
 
Guided battlefield tours are available:
 
RON GOLD TOURS
Tel 033 263 1908 083 556 4068 rgrongold@gmail.com
Book your battlefield tour with a professional guide
 
SPION KOP LODGE
Tel 036 488 1404 082 573 0224 spionkop@futurenet.co.za
With warm hospitality, relive the memories of the Battle of Spion Kop and walk the footsteps of three great leaders.
 
THREE TREE HILL LODGE
This intimate, luxury, eco-friendly lodge is the perfect location to base yourself for exploring the major Anglo-Boer War and Anglo-Zulu War battlefields.
 
IMPORTANT NOTE: It is illegal to remove any relic or item from South African Battlefields. No excavation may take place without the written authority of the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Heritage Authority, Amafa aKwaZulu-Natali / Heritage KwaZulu-Natal
 
 

kaalvoet vrouRetief’s Pass is the route taken by Piet Retief’s party as they descended the Drakensberg and headed for Mgungundlovu, King Dingane’s capital. The Kaalvoetvrou (Barefoot woman) Monument commemorates Susanna Catharina Smit, sister of Gerrit Maritz, who claimed that she would prefer to walk barefoot over the Drakensberg than under a British flag. Ironically, she died in Natal, which meant that she never did walk barefoot across the Drakensberg.

GPS co-ordinates: S28° 33.300’ E29° 08.963’.

Read more: The Kaalvoetvrou Monument and Retief's Pass

This was the laager established on the banks of the Little Tugela near Loskop by Hans Dons de Lange after the Zulu attack on the Voortrekkers’ Veglaager. Deep trenches were dug around it and sods were piled up in the form of a defensive perimeter, giving it the name sooi (or sod) laager. Co-ordinates S28° 56.383’ E29° 34.747’.

The site of Gerrit Maritz’s laager. It was attacked by the Zulus on the 17th February 1838. The Zulus attempted to cross the Bushmans River but their progress was disrupted by musket fire from Maritz and his party on the opposite bank. This was where grain was planted in Natal for the first time, hence the name Zaailaager (or sowing laager). Co-ordinates S29° 00.478’ E29° 53.273’.

Bloukrans memorial 3Following the killing of Piet Retief and his party at Mugundlovu on the 6th February 1838, King Dingane ordered his amabutho (warriors) to attack the various Voortrekker encampments that were scattered about the Bushmans and Bloukrans River valleys.  Several parties were attacked on the night of the night / early morning of Sunday 17th February 1838. Altogether 41 men, 56 women, 185 children and approximately 250 coloured retainers were killed in this area.

Read more: Bloukrans

This was the encampment of Johannes van Rensburg, Wilhelmus Pretorius and the Harmse and Loggenberg families. It was attacked at about 09h00 on the 17th February 1838 by between 1000 and 1500 amabutho led by eManzimdaba, who was killed when Marthinus Oosthuizen arrived on the scene to discover that the Trekkers, who had taken refuge on a koppie at the end of the Malanspruit valley, were running out of powder.

Read more: Rensburgskop Battlefield

Piet Retief and his party reached Doornkop on the 10th January, 1838 and he established a laager. He departed from here on the 25th January 1838 and headed for King Dingane’s royal residence at Mgungundlovu. Co-ordinates: S28° 49.882’  E29° 44.676’.

After the Voortrekkers’ victory over King Dingane’s amabutho at the Battle of Ncome/Blood River on the 16th December 1838, they established the Republic of Natalia, with Pietermaritzburg as its capital. Weenen (“The Place of Weeping” – a reference to the nearby Bloukrans killings) was laid out as the centre for Northern Natalia. It was established on the farm granted to James Howell in 1839. Remains of the Voortrekkers’ irrigation furrows may still be seen, and there are several Voortrekker graves in the cemetery. Co-ordinates: S28° 51.111’  E30° 05.216’.

The hero of the Battle of Rensburg’s Kop.  He died on the 2nd April, 1897 and lies buried on the farm Enon, which he purchased in later years. He often gave accounts of his exploits and drew a sketch map of his ride, but unfortunately never wrote down his account.  Co-ordinates S28° 50.358’  E29° 26.426’.

Fort Durnford 2Constructed in 1875, shortly after the Langalibalele Rebellion, and designed by (then) Major Anthony Durnford RE, who had led the Natal Carbineers into their disastrous action at the Bushman’s River Pass on the 4th November 1873. It is an almost perfect example of a mid-Victorian frontier post and houses an excellent museum relating to the military history of the area.

This is the furthest south that a pitched battle was fought during the Anglo-Boer War. The Boers had withdrawn a section of their force from the perimeter of Ladysmith and headed towards Durban when they were challenged by Maj Gen Henry Hildyard’s force in Estcourt at Willow Grange. Despite a Boer advantage, they decided to withdraw to the Tugela River line and in effect await the arrival of the British relief force.

Read more: Willow Grange Battlefield

The remains of several British soldiers whose remains lay buried in scattered graves were relocated to this Garden of Remembrance in the 1960s. Co-ordinates: S29° 00.404’  E29° 52.867’

Churchill at the armoured train wreck 01This is the site where an armoured train was ambushed by the Boers on the 15th November 1899, and Winston Churchill (then a newspaper correspondent with the Morning Post, who helped to clear the wreckage from the railway line) was captured.  The grave of three members of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers are situated across the railway line.

Co-ordinates S28° 52.419’ E29° 46.072’.

Chieveley military cemeteryThis is the site of No 4 Stationary Hospital. Many soldiers who were killed in action during the battles to relieve Ladysmith, or who died of disease, are buried here. The officers who are buried at Chieveley include Lieutenant Freddie Roberts VC, only son of Field Marshal Lord Roberts VC, who was killed during one of the attempts to save the guns of 14th and 66th Batteries RFA during the Battle of Colenso on the 15th December 1899.

Co-ordinates: S28° 50.013 E29° 48.413’.

During the 1960s, most of the graves and memorials from the Battle of Colenso (15th December 1899) were relocated to this site on ground that was donated by the Clouston Family. Several brigade field hospitals were also situated here during the battle, which was General Sir Redvers Buller’ HQ.  This is also where the first moving pictures were taken of a battle. Co-ordinates: S28° 46.744’  E29° 42.595’

Colenso Gun Positions Nov 2012 1The Gun Positions. The Battle of Colenso was the first attempt by General Sir Redvers Buller VC to relieve the town of Ladysmith, which became besieged by the Boers for 118 days. It was fought on the 15th December 1899, and during the course of the Battle, the guns of 14th and 66th Batteries RFA were deployed too close to the Tugela River, which resulted in them coming under heavy Boer fire and being put out of action. Despite four gallant attempts being made to recover them, only two guns of 66th Battery were saved; the Boers captured the remaining ten. Co-ordinates S28° 44.330’ E29° 49.821’

This massive battle was fought between the 12th and 28th February, 1900. It was General Sir Redvers Buller’s 5th attempt to relieve Ladysmith and began with the occupation of Hussar Hill for the first time on the 12th February, 1900.

Read more: Tugela Heights

ABW Shell damage to Ladysmith Town HallThe second battle of the Anglo-Boer War was fought here on the 21st October 1899. The Boers had occupied the station the previous night and the GOC Natal Field Force, Lt Gen Sir George White VC, ordered Maj Gen Sir John French to dislodge them and restore the communications between Ladysmith and Dundee.

Read more: Elandslaagte Battlefield

Ladysmith Siege Museum

An outstanding collection of items related to the 118 day siege of Ladysmith, situated alongside the historic Town Hall. Co-ordinates: S28° 33.544’ E29° 46.844’

Ladysmith Military Cemetery

Many of the soldiers who were killed in action or died of disease during the Siege of Ladysmith are buried in two separate sections of the Ladysmith cemetery. Those who died during WW2 are buried in another section. Co-ordinates: Anglo-Boer War graves: S28° 33.320 E29° 47.671’ and S28° 33.369’ E29° 47.676’. WW2 cemetery: S28° 33.435’ E29° 47.681’.

eNtombe Military Cemetery

Established as a neutral hospital during the Siege, after negotiations between Gen Schalk Burgher and White’s Chief of Staff, Maj Gen Sir Archibald Hunter. Many patients perished as a result of disease, and the unfortunate Pte Cohen of the Natal Carbineers was buried outside the perimeter because he was a Jew. S28° 35.739’ E29° 49.331’. Note that the road to this site can be very muddy and should not be attempted in a conventional vehicle after rain.

Caesar’s Camp and Wagon Hill

This formed part of Colonel Ian Hamilton’s sector and the two features (actually three is one included Wagon Point) were attacked by the Boers on the 6th January 1900. The battle lasted for 16 hours and the Boers on Wagon Hill withdrew after a daring charge across the summit by the Devonshire Regiment. The feature is commonly referred to as ‘Platrand’ and numerous monuments, memorials and gun positions are scattered across the summit. Access to both Caesar’s Camp and Wagon Hill is via Platrand Lodge. Co-ordinates:
Caesar’s Camp Burgher Memorial: S28° 35,233’ E29° 46.361’; Manchester Regiment Memorial: S28° 35.304’ E29° 46.965’; Rifle Brigade graves: S28° 35.366’ E29° 47.009’ and S28° 35.419’ E29° 47.030’. Monument to Pte Scott VC and Pitts VC: S28° 35.456’ E29° 47.388’.
Wagon Hill and Wagon Point: Devonshire Regiment Monument: S28° 35.472’ E29° 45.564’; ILH Monument close by; memorials to Lt Tommy Digby Jones VC and Field Cornet J de Villiers: S28° 35.416’ E29° 45.288’; Sgt Webb’s memorial: S28° 35.387’ E29° 45.268’

Various Siege Sites

There are numerous memorials and features relating to the Siege of Ladysmith. It is suggested that the following booklet will be of use in locating them: “The Siege of Ladysmith, 2 November 1899 – 28 February 1900” by Steve Watt. ISBN Number 978-1-928211-44-0.

 

rangeworthy 1General Sir Redvers Buller’s 2nd attempt to relieve Ladysmith was fought in the iNthabamnyama hills above Rangeworthy Farm between the 20th and 22nd January 1900. He tasked the Divisional Commander of the newly arrived 2nd Division, Lt Gen Sir Charles Warren, with breaking through the Boers’ line. The Boers put up a spirited resistance during the two days which led to a haphazard decision being made to take the neighbouring feature of Spioenkop.

Co-ordinates of the British military cemetery at Rangeworthy: S28° 39.008’ E29° 28.111’.

General Sir Redvers Buller VC’s headquarters during the Upper Tugela Operations. This is situated on private property and therefore permission should be obtained from Spion Kop Lodge prior to visiting the site. S28° 42.296’ E29° 32.823’.

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