Fought from 1899 to 1902, the Anglo-Boer War straddled the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in its tactics and weaponry as much as in its dates. Advances in rifle technology, such as smokeless powder, added a new level of viability to guerilla warfare. As has often been the case, a great power embarked upon a war against a much smaller rival, expecting rapid victory, and instead found itself caught in a long and difficult conflict. These are the highlights of that conflict:
On January 2, an effort by Leander Starr Jameson to spark an uprising against the Boer government in the Transvaal was thwarted in the abortive Battle of Doornkop. Jameson, acting in concert with Cecil Rhodes, was looking for an opportunity to draw the semi-independent Transvaal fully into British control. The Boers considered this an example of covert aggression by the British government.
Between May 31 and June 5, the Bloemfontein Conference was held to resolve differences between the British and Transvaal governments. The effort failed, in large measure because of Sir Alfred Milner’s efforts to prevent any resolution that maintained any level of independence in the Transvaal.
September saw both sides begin the process of raising troops. On September 8, the British government ordered 10,000 troops to British-controlled Natal. On the 27th, the Transvaal and the Orange Free State raised volunteers.
On October 9, President Kruger of the Transvaal delivered an ultimatum to the British government: the British must agree to the independent arbitration of outstanding issues within 48 hours or face war. The British had already decided to fight; on October 11, the war officially began.
With a temporary advantage in manpower that was certain to dwindle, the Boers went immediately on the offensive, with the primary effort centered on the city of Ladysmith in Natal. October saw a cluster of battles near Ladysmith, several of which resulted in a siege, notably Kimberley and Mafeking. By the beginning of November, Ladysmith was also under siege.
Sir Redvers Buller was appointed commander of British forces and assumed command on October 31. In November, Buller ordered simultaneous offensives in Natal and in the Orange Free State, even as Boer momentum declined.
December saw three serious British defeats in what was known as Black Week: at Stormberg on Dec. 10, at Magersfontein on Dec. 11, and at Colenso on Dec. 15. On the 18th, Buller was replaced by Lord Roberts in overall command.
On January 10, Lord Roberts disembarked at Cape Town with his aide, Lord Kitchener, and assumed command. Roberts revised British planning to improve strategic mobility.
On February 11, Roberts began his operation. On the 15th, the siege of Kimberley was lifted. On the 18th, the British attacked Cronje’s force at Paadeberg. Losses were heavy, but Cronje was compelled to lay down his arms on the 27th. On the 28th, the siege of Ladysmith was lifted.
In March, Roberts turned from the defense of Natal to the conquest of the Orange Free State. On the 13th, the British captured Bloemfontein. Two days later, Roberts issued an offer of amnesty to those Boers of the Free State who surrendered, but not for their leaders. The Boers regrouped on the 17th, improving their strategic mobility by abandoning the use of wagon laagers. Under the leadership of Christiaan de Wet, portions of the Boer forces began to embrace guerilla warfare, but not yet exclusively. On the 27th, Joubert died, and Louis Botha assumed command of Transvaal forces.
On May 3, Roberts began his bid for the Transvaal. On the 17th, British forces lifted the siege on Mafeking. On the 24th, the British officially annexed the Orange Free state. On the 30th, the British took Johannesburg.
On June 5, the British seized Pretoria, the capital of Transvaal. In response to escalating guerilla warfare, Roberts ordered the burning of Boer farms on the 16th.
Transvaal President Kruger left South Africa for France on October 19. On the 25th, the British officially annexed the Transvaal.
The two ranking British officers both received a promotion on November 29: Roberts became the overall Commander in Chief in England, while Lord Kitchener took his place as local Commander in Chief.
On January 28, Kitchener began an effort to round up Boers into concentration camps in order to deprive the guerillas of their support. This entailed a large campaign into eastern Transvaal.
De Wet led an unconventional campaign into Cape Colony on February 10, spending the rest of the month in the engagement. On February 28, Lord Kitchener met with Botha at Middelburg to discuss peace, but the talks end without any result.
On May 16, Boer leader Kritzinger mounted another invasion of Cape Colony. This effort was not defeated until August 17. Kritzinger returned on December 11, but was taken prisoner on the 16th.
In February, the British opened two campaigns in Orange River Colony, formerly Orange Free State. The first ran from the 6th through the 8th, and the second from the 13th through the 26th.
On March 7, Boers under de la Rey defeated the British at Tweebosch, taking the British commander, Methuen, prisoner. On the 24th, Kitchener opened up a campaign in the western Transvaal on the same scale as his February campaigns.
Between April 12 and 18, Boer leaders met in Pretoria to discuss peace.
From May 1 to 10, the British conducted one last campaign in Orange River Colony. On the 11th, the last campaign in the Transvaal also concluded. On May 15, Boer leaders met at Vereeniging to draft a peace resolution. On May 31, they signed the Treaty of Vereeniging at Pretoria.
The Anglo-Boer war succeeded in bringing all of South Africa into the British Empire. The Boers remained an important part of South Africa, however, and subsequent British rule depended on their cooperation. This in turn laid the foundation for the Afrikaner state of the second half of the twentieth century.
Evans, Martin Marix. The Boer War: South Africa 1899-1902. Osprey, 1999.
Fremont-Barnes, Gregory. The Boer War: 1899-1902. Osprey, 2003.
Pakenham, Thomas. The Boer War. Random House, 1993.
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