Tourism, Accommodation and Historical Attractions in Natal, South Africa
The Natal Battlefields
The Zulus Defeated at Blood River.
The Voortrekkers take Revenge for Bloukrans at Blood River
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Pretorius received reports that the Zulu army was on its way to meet him and he chose a strongpoint with a deep 'donga' (erosion channel/arroyo) 14ft deep, on the one side and the Ncome river, into which the donga flowed, on the other. The river was high and could be forded in two places. On the remaining two sides was open plain that could be easily enfiladed. The position was very strong.
Pretorius sent out a patrol to entice the 15,000 strong Zulu army to attack but they retired, hoping to lure Pretorius into an ambush. Pretorius declined and the Zulus then had to attack.
The Zulu Army Makes a Great Mistake
Dingane`s vastly experienced induna (commander) Ndlela planned to follow the Boer horsemen, cross the river and attack them that night but the distance was longer than he had anticipated and the regiments kept getting lost in the mist. Although many of the Zulus had reached the laager during the night, dawn came and saw most of the Zulu army still trying to cross the Ncome river.
This mistake on the morning of Sunday December 16th 1838 might be considered to be the critical turning point in the whole of the Great Trek.
The Zulu army could have laid siege to the laager, or have waited until the remaining two thirds crossed the Ncome river. Instead, the warriors who had crossed attacked impulsively, being cut down, charge after charge.
The Course of the Battle
In the laager was a herd of cattle that, because of the smoke and the din of the guns, threatened to stampede through the laager into the donga. Men were dispatched to that side and out of the laager the few yards to the donga where the Zulus were packed solidly. Every one was shot dead.
The Zulus now attacked with even greater ferocity and were crossing the Ncome river in numbers. Moreover, the ammunition was running low so Pretorius chanced sending out men on horseback. Two charges brought little result but a third, of 300 horsemen split the Zulu army and it started to falter.
The Boer horsemen were able to pick off the Zulu warriors lining the banks of the river that ran red with their blood and was henceforth called Blood River. A late charge by the Zulu crack corps was to no avail as they became entangled with the retreating warriors.
The Zulu Army is Routed
An estimated three thousand Zulu warriors were killed on the veld, in the donga and in the river. Not a single Boer was killed. Despite incredible bravery, the Zulus were no match against a strong defensive position.
The parallel with the previous events on the highveld is strong - each encounter starting with a massacre and ending in revenge.
In the ultimate of ironies, on that very day, the British had run up the Union Jack in Durban. The trekkers' greatest enemy had arrived.
Umgungundlovu is Sacked
After a day of rest, the commando headed for the Zulu capital. Closer, they saw it to be entirely in flames as Dingane fled. After recovering what they could from the burnt out ruins, the men were drawn to kwaMatiwane where they found the bodies of the Retief party. Retief was recognizable through his clothes and surprisingly enough still had about him the satchel with the treaty ceding the land to the Trekkers, intact after ten months on the veld.
Pretorius buried the party in a communal grave.
The Commando is Attacked
After several days at the kraal, the commando came upon a narrow defile similar to that of Ithaleni and again, a group was lead down. 'Cattle' in the distance suddenly leapt up as Zulu warriors leaped out from hiding under their shields.
The Boers were again cut off but charged through the Zulus, riding more than 15 miles and being incessantly harried until they found another ford in the river. Even here, six more lost their lives along with 70 'friendly' Africans.
The commando retreated again to Umgungundlovu to rest before moving back to the main encampments under the Drakensberg.
Although the Zulu army had been soundly beaten, it still existed and a number of the commando had been killed and the cattle that had been taken from them after the Bloukrans massacres had not been retaken.
Next: Umgungundlovu Sacked