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Map of the Battle of Colenso


From the Devon Times

29 December 1899



Chieveley Camp December 16th

(The day following the battle)


The Field Artillery were, in proportion, the heaviest sufferers in yesterday's battle. The whole of the 66th battery and four guns of the 14th were captured. The 7th Battery had all its men wounded and all its horses killed. In the course of a gallant attempt to save their guns from falling into the hands of the enemy, Captain Schreiber was killed and Lieutenant Grolls wounded.

The whole misfortune was due to the mistaken, but heroic, action of Colonel Long, R. A. in taking his batteries into action within 800 yards of the river to the left of the railway, and 1,250 yards from his objective - a ridge situated beyond Fort Wylie.

The guns were exposed to a perfect inferno of rifle and shell fire. Officers, men and horses fell in rapid succession but, nevertheless, the guns went on unlimbered*, and opened a steady fire, causing that of the enemy to abate to an appreciable degree.

In this position, the batteries remained for an hour and a half - as long, indeed, as their ammunition held out, and until the casualties had become so numerous as seriously to interfere with the efficient re-using of the guns.

Then, as there were no signs of the much-needed Ammunition Column, the detachment doubled back to the donga** already referred to, while twenty carts went to the rear with the wounded.

The men remained there for hours, protected, it is true, from the enemy fire, but exposed to the full effects of the burning sun.

Colonel Bullock, with two companies of the Devonshires and a few of the Scots Fusiliers, managed to reach the donga in support, but it was impossible to do anything in the face of the terrible and concentrated fire brought to bear upon them.

Sir Redvers Buller and his staff afterwards rode down the field towards the donga. Several of the staff officers, assisted by others belonging to the Batteries, made heroic efforts to save the guns, and Captain Scholfield, A. D. C., actually succeeded in bringing back two guns and some wagons belonging to the 65th battery. But it was not done with impunity. Lieutenant Roberts, A. D. C., son of the Field Marshall, was shot in the groin and Captain Reed was also wounded.

At a late hour in the afternoon, while the men were lying, without hope of succour, under the rays of the still blazing sun, a strong party of Boers crossed the river. Firing was stopped, and they surrounded the guns, which had been taken to the donga for shelter, and captured the whole of them.

* The limber is the detachable front part of a gun carriage, consisting of an axle, pole and two wheels. "Limbering up" means attaching a gun to a limber.

** Donga is a Zulu word for the side or  bank of a gully


The Hon Lieutenant Frederick Hugh Sherston Roberts, (1872-1899), was the son of Field Marshal Lord Roberts. He was mortally wounded on 15 December as described above and died 24 hours later. Lord Roberts never forgave Buller for the death of his only son.


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