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   Chapter 15 No.15

Three Years' War By Christiaan Rudolf De Wet Characters: 5910

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Our Position at the End of May, 1900

Once more it became necessary that the seat of Government should be changed, and towards the latter part of May our administrative headquarters were established at a place between Frankfort and Heilbron. The object of our Government in choosing this position was to be able to keep up telegraphic communication with the Transvaal. And their choice was soon to be justified, for after Johannesburg had been taken on May 31st and Pretoria on July 5th, the only telegraphic connexion between the Free State and the South African Republic was via Frankfort, Greylingstad and Middlesburg. The terminus, at the Transvaal end, was situated not far from Pretoria.

But, for the moment, it looked as if fortune were again going to smile on us, after our long spell of ill luck. On May the 31st Lindley and its garrison of Yeomanry fell into the hands of General Piet de Wet. The Yeomanry lost heavily, and five hundred of them, including, as I was told, several noblemen, were taken prisoner. These were the last prisoners of war that we were able to send into the South African Republic. Soon afterwards, when Pretoria was on the point of falling into the enemy's hands, the prisoners there had to be sent further east, but-owing either to the stupidity of the Transvaal Government, or to the treachery of the guards-a great many of them were left behind for Lord Roberts to release and re-arm against us. Our burghers grumbled much at this, and blamed the negligence of the Transvaalers.

Before we had had time to get the captured Yeomanry through into the Transvaal, Sir Redvers Buller had forced his way over the Natal frontier, crossing the Drakensberg between Botha's Pass and Laing's Nek. This event, which happened on June the 17th, caused yet another panic among our commandos.

"We are now," they said, "surrounded on all sides. Resistance and escape are equally impossible for us."

Never during the whole course of the war were President Steyn and I so full of care and anxiety as at this time. With Buller across our frontier, and the enemy within the walls of Johannesburg and Pretoria, it was as much as we could do to continue the contest at all. However brave and determined many of our burghers and officers might be, and, in fact, were, our numerical weakness was a fact that was not to be got over, and might prove an insuperable obstacle to our success. Moreover, the same thing was now going on in the Transvaal after the capture of Pretoria, as we had witnessed in the Free State after the fall of Bloemfontein-nearly all the burghers were leaving their commandos and going back to their farms. Plenty of officers, but no troops! This was the pass to which we were come.

It was only the remembrance of how the tide had turned in the Free State that gave us the strength to hold out any longer.

President Steyn and I sent telegram after telegram to the Government and to the chief office

rs, encouraging them to stand fast. Meanwhile the two Generals, De la Rey and Louis Botha, were giving us all a splendid example of fortitude. Gazing into the future unmoved, and facing it as it were with clenched teeth, they prosecuted the war with invincible determination.

* * *

That the reader may the better appreciate the actual condition of our affairs at this time, I think it well to make a short statement as to the various districts of the Orange Free State, and the number of men in each on whom we could still rely!

The burghers of Philippolis and Kaapstad had surrendered en masse to the English. In the first named of these districts, only Gordon Fraser and Norval, in the second only Cornelius du Preez and another, whose name has escaped my memory, remained loyal to our cause. I mention these men here, because their faithfulness redounds to their everlasting honour.

In the district of Boshof, we could still reckon on Veldtcornet Badenhorst,[43] and twenty-seven men.

Jacobsdal was represented by Commandant Pretorius (who had succeeded Commandant Lubbe, after the latter had been wounded and taken prisoner at Tabaksberg), and forty men.

In the district of Fauresmith, Commandant Visser and some seventy men had remained faithful.

In Bethulie, Commandant Du Plooij, with nearly a hundred men, were still in arms.

Bloemfontein was represented by Commandant Piet Fourie and two hundred burghers.

The commandos of Rouxville, Smithfield, Wepener and Ladybrand, fell far short of their full complement of men, as a great number had remained behind at home.

Of the burghers from Winburg, Kroonstad and Heilbron, many had already laid down their arms, and the drain upon our troops in these districts was still continuing.

None of the burghers belonging to the districts of Ficksburg, Bethlehem,[44] Harrismith and Vrede had yet surrendered-their turn was to come.

All told, we were 8,000 burghers.

After my men had gone northwards, those burghers of Hoopstad, Jacobsdal, Fauresmith, Philippolis, Bethulie, Smithfield, Rouxville, Wepener, Bloemfontein and the southern part of Ladybrand, who had laid down their arms and remained at home between the beginning of March and the end of May, were left undisturbed by Lord Roberts-so far as their private liberty was concerned.

* * *

I was now camped at Frankfort, waiting for the ammunition, which ought to have already arrived from Greylingstad Station. It was about this time that the Government decided, on the recommendation of some of the officers, that the rank of Vechtgeneraal should be abolished. In consequence of this decision all the officers of that rank resigned. I did not approve of this course of action, and obtained from the Government the rank of Assistant Commander-in-Chief. I was thus able to re-appoint the old Vechtgeneraals, Piet de Wet, C.C. Froneman, Philip Botha and Paul Roux, and I at once proceeded to do so.

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