The Role of Mounted Troops during the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879

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The Role of Mounted Troops during the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879


Introduction ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 1

Chapter 1 – Chelmsford’s First Move ………………………………………………………………………………………..…. 6

Chapter 2 – The Recovery …………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 17

Chapter 3 – The Second Attempt ……………………………………………………………………………………………….. 26

Conclusion …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 34

Bibliography ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 37


The deployment of mounted troops during the Anglo- Zulu War of 1879 was a highly effective strategy, despite the fact that the role was diminishing in European conflicts. The Anglo-Zulu War is probably one of the better known colonial wars of the late nineteenth century helped largely by its portrayal in cinema with films such as Zulu (1964) and Zulu Dawn (1979). The battles of Rorkes Drift and Isandlwana (22 January 1879) show both British Heroism and defeat during the first invasion of Zululand. Yet despite the glamour and the heroism that these films portray, what is often overlooked is the true extent of this war and the casualties sustained. It is estimated that the British lost 2,334 men through action, disease or wounds, with estimated Zulu casualties at three times this figure.[1] The invasion of Zululand can be summed up by both failure and success for the British.

This dissertation will illustrate how mounted troops tactics evolved throughout the war and despite initial misunderstanding of their use, how their role became invaluable in a mobile war. Chapter one will start by looking at the rationale behind the use of mounted troops in South Africa as well as the first engagements culminating with the defeat at Isandlwana. Chapter Two will look at the subsequent engagements of the first invasion and how British commanders adapted the use of mounted troops more effectively from the earlier failures. The third and final chapter will look at how mounted troops retained their effectiveness in the second invasion and the significant change in attitude towards the use of mounted troops. Due to editorial reasons this dissertation will emit Pearson’s No.1 Column but focus more on Chelmsford’s Centre Column and Wood’s No. 4 Column, later Wood’s Flying Column, using the battles of Isandlwana, Hlobane, Kambula and Ulundi as case studies.

On 11 January 1879 Chelmsford launched a three column invasion of Zululand; one column to the north in the mountains commanded By Lieutenant-Colonel Wood, another column advancing through the centre, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Glyn and the final column advancing near the coast commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Pearson.[2] The intention was for the three columns to sweep through Zululand and converge on Ulundi, the Zulu capital. The disposition of the Zulu Army were unknown to Chelmsford but he intended to fight a quick and decisive battle, eliminating the threat they posed. On 22 January all three columns came into contact with the enemy. Wood had successfully reconnoitred a large Zulu force, Pearson had successfully fought off a Zulu ambush but it is the actions of Glyn’s column that would go down in history.[3] Whilst the column was camped at Isandlwana a large force of approximately 20,000 Zulus were able to move undetected and attack the camp, completely annihilating all the British forces left in the camp.[4] After successfully destroying the camp, the reserve of the Zulu army crossed over the Buffalo River and attacked the small British outpost at Rorkes Drift where the Zulus were eventually stopped and forced to retreat.[5]

After the defeat at Isandlwana, Chelmsford ordered both Wood’s and Pearson’s column’s to halt their advance and hold their position. Pearson garrisoned his force at a small outpost called Eshowe and was subsequently besieged. Wood on the other hand continued to mount patrols around the area of his camp at Kambula. On 28 March 1879, whilst trying to capture the mountain of Hlobane, a large Zulu Army moved in around the base of the mountain leaving the majority of Wood’s force stranded on the plateau above. After moments of initial shock, the patrol was able to extract back to the camp at Kambula but not without sustaining a few casualties of their own. The next day, the Zulu Army attacked the heavily fortified camp at Kambula but were driven away and persued for many miles by mounted troops.[6] Elsewhere Chelmsford turned to relieving Pearson at Eshowe. Having formed a relief column made up mostly of reinforcements, Chelmsford crossed back over into Zululand and fought the Zulu’s at what became the Battle of Gingihlovu on 3 April.[7] Following victory Chelmsford could relive the siege at Eshowe and then propose a second invasion.

During April and May reinforcements began to arrive from all around the Empire. Chelmsford had approximately 10,000 troops at his disposal ready to launch a second invasion.[8] This invasion comprised of two divisions, one moving along the coast to Port Durnford, the other moving across to Ulundi. Wood’s column were given the primary role as a flying column operating ahead of the 2nd Division. On 1 June 1879 the two divisions began to advance towards their respective objectives. After a meticulous and steady advance through Zululand, as well as unhopeful peace negotiations, the second division were finally able to make their attack on Ulundi on 4 July 1879.[9] After a short and decisive battle, the British were victorious and Ulundi was raised to the ground. Cetshwayo, who had escaped the battle, was eventually captured a few months later and the Zulu nation was divided into 13 separate Chiefdoms.[10]

For the most part, the majority of the subsequent research focuses on the role of the infantry. This dissertation intends to fill the gap and puts focus on the effectiveness and importance mounted troops had in an infantry-based war. It also adds to the discussion that mounted troops were still effective in colonial warfare. What is clear is that mounted troops were completely underestimated by the leadership at the beginning of the war but as the war progressed their ability to reconnoitre and deliver damaging blows to the Zulu made a significant contribution to the overall campaign.

This dissertation defines the three types of mounted troops, Cavalry, Mounted Infantry and irregular forces. Cavalry were part of the traditional British regiments seeing service throughout the colonies and Europe. They would not be deployed until the second invasion of the Zulu campaign following the arrival of the 17th Lancers and The Kings Dragoon Guards.[11] Mounted on horseback and armed with a melee weapon, a sword or lance and a rifle, the preferred method of attack for any cavalryman was the charge. The second type of mounted troops are the Mounted Infantry. Essentially a combination of both cavalry and infantry, Mounted Infantry were trained in a number of roles, from mounted reconnaissance to a standard infantry role. They were armed with both a rifle and melee weapon, Mounted Infantry could perform a dismounted role with more manoeuvrability than the infantry but could also charge like their cavalry counterparts if needs be. In South Africa, these men were drawn from regular infantry battalions. The third and final type were the mounted irregular forces. These were native troops to Southern Africa and were used in both a cavalry and a Mounted Infantry role. What sets these apart from the British cavalry and Mounted Infantry is that these troops were all drawn from the local area to deal with manpower shortages, the majority were only raised for the campaign.

In terms of the literature surrounding this topic there are very few sources which focus predominantly on the role of mounted troops. Both the primary and secondary sources can be divided into four broad groups.  The first type examines the general history of the British army with a particular emphasis on colonial warfare. One such example of this is Callwell’s Small Wars: Their Principles and Practice. This category of source is very useful at understanding the thinking and perception of the role of mounted troops, before and after the Anglo-Zulu war, as well as understanding the makeup of these regiments. The second type focuses on the history and usage of mounted troops themselves. By far the most prominent work on this topic is the History of the British Cavalry 1816-1919 by Lord Anglesey. This is particular source is very good at documenting the evolution and demise of the cavalry during the Victorian era. Whilst this book focuses more on the overall history of the cavalry, it is one of the only few sources which gives a narrative of the Anglo-Zulu war from a cavalry perspective. The final two types are more Anglo-Zulu war specific. These two type of sources are either cover the whole campaign or specific elements on the campaign, whether it be specific battles or commanders. This is where the majority of both primary and secondary sources used in this dissertation are categorised.  These sources range from accounts written at the time to sources published in the past few years, with all offering a wide range of views and information on the conflict. One source, which is extensively used throughout the whole of this dissertation is the Narrative of the Field Operations connected with the Zulu War of 1879. Compiled a few years after the war by the War Office, this source is very useful at giving an insight of all the British troops involved during both invasions of Zululand. Another really useful source is Colonel Buller’s Diary over the two battles of Hlobane and Kambula. Whilst this type of source can be unreliable, Buller’s account offers very honest and detailed perspective from his point of view.

The majority of these sources seem to underestimate the contribution made by the use of mounted troops. This dissertation will come to the conclusion that mounted troops were a major factor in the success of the overall campaign, even though during the initial stages of the invasion how to deploy them effectively was not quite understood.  As the war progressed, mounted troops were put at the centre of operations and the use as shock troops had a particularly devastating effect. By the second invasion, the true potential of mounted troops had been realised and became essential for defeating the Zulu.

Chapter 1 – Chelmsford’s First Move

This chapter is going to examine the use of mounted troops in the opening stages of the war. Firstly looking at their composition and the problems the leadership faced in raising mounted units. Before moving onto the first few engagements of the war culminating with the defeat at Isandlwana on 22 January 1879, a key turning point of the war. With a particular emphasis on the Mounted Infantry and Irregular Forces, this chapter will show how advantageous the use of mounted troops were, especially in reconnaissance. However, it will also show their limitations, the lack of numbers and their intended use in battle.

From the outset, it was clear that the Zulus were going to be a hindrance to Sir Henry Bartle Frere’s policy on confederation. Frere knew that a quick and decisive campaign to force King Cetshwayo into submission would effectively deal with this problem. Unfortunately for Frere, the British government were reluctant to start a war in South Africa, wishing to focus on the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan. However, both Frere and his military commander, Lord Chelmsford, were confident that the British troops garrisoned in South Africa, with the aid of South African volunteers, would be able to defeat the Zulu before London could object. Their belief was based on superior weaponry, most noticeably the Martini-Henry rifle, an incredibly accurate and powerful breech loading rifle, and the perceived higher levels of discipline the British possessed over the Zulu.[12] By mid-1878 there was no cavalry and only six regular British Infantry Battalions available in South Africa with a seventh battalion inbound from Mauritius.[13] Due to the shortage of troops, Chelmsford appealed to London for more, and was rewarded with two more battalions.[14] However, London insisted that the battalions were to be used for defensive purposes.[15] Chelmsford’s initial plan was to launch a five column invasion in Zululand converging on Cetshwayo’s royal homestead of oNdini (known as Ulundi by the British). However, due to the problem of supply, the number of offensive columns was reduced to three with two columns remaining in defence.[16] The columns were as follows; the right flank, No.1 Column under Colonel Pearson were positioned at Lower Drift by the East coast. No.2 Column under Colonel Durnford, consisting of entirely African levies would remain in defence at Middle Drift. The centre and strongest column was the No.3 Column under Colonel Glyn, this would set off from Rorkes Drift. The left flank, No. 4 Column under Colonel Wood would set off from the Transvaal. No.5 Column under Colonel Rowland would have the important position in the north, defending against the Zulus to his front and dissident Boers to his rear. It would also be used to keep in contact with the Swazis in the aim of drawing them into the war.

Immediately apparent to Chelmsford was the lack of regular cavalry, resulting in the mounted element of the force would being made up of Mounted Infantry and irregular forces. The Imperial Mounted Infantry (IMI) were formed in 1877 using select infantrymen from the regular infantry battalions in South Africa.[17]  Before the invasion it had seen two commanders, Lieutenant Carrington and Lieutenant Browne, both of the 1/24th.[18] However, as part of Chelmsford’s request for reinforcements England sent over a special service officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Cecil Russell from the 12th Lancers, to take command.[19] The change in leadership had caused some disgruntlement amongst the officers in the IMI, especially Browne, due to the fact that despite Russell’s cavalry background, he had no experience of leading cavalry.[20] Nonetheless, despite the problems with leadership, the IMI were considered more reliable than Irregular Forces. [21] One officer, Lieutenant W.H. Tomasson who had served as a volunteer in the Native Bakers Horse, describes the IMI as the future of cavalry in Africa ‘as they are as good as any others and far cheaper’.[22] Coming directly from the infantry, the IMI were initially armed with Martini Henry rifles, but this proved unwieldy and were subsequently issued with Swinburne – Martini carbines and bowie knives as bayonets. [23]  They rode native horses but with regulation British cavalry saddlery.[24] The IMI was divided into two squadrons of approximately 100 men each.[25] No.1 Squadron under Lieutenant-Colonel Russell was attached to Glyn’s No.3 Column, whilst No.2 Squadron under Captain Barrow of the 19th Hussars was attached to Pearson’s No.1 Column.[26]

The remaining mounted elements were made up of irregular forces and these came in three types: mounted police, auxiliaries (men levied from local African tribes) and settler volunteers. For Chelmsford, the obvious first choice was to utilise the Natal Mounted Police (NMP). The NMP were a professional quasi-military organisation tasked to maintain security in Natal.  They differed from the other irregular forces in that they were the only native full time soldiers; the rest were made up of volunteers from the settler community for local defence.[27] Approximately 100 policemen, under the command of Major Dartnell, were mobilised under Glyn’s No.3 Column.[28]  The auxiliary element was raised by Colonel Durnford, who had previous experience with South African tribes. Durnford had formed the Natal Native Contingent (NNC), made up of British and colonial officers and NCOs, with African tribesmen forming the bulk. Whilst the NNC was used in an infantry role, Durnford took enormous pride in the mounted auxiliaries. Composed of five troops of approximately fifty men in Durnford’s No.2 Column, the mounted auxiliaries were formed from various tribes around South Africa.[29] Three of these troops were recruited from Chief Zikali’s Amangwane tribe and were known as Zikali’s horse whilst the other two were recruited from Basuto tribes and Christian converts.[30] Unlike their infantry counterparts in the NNC, every mounted man was armed with either a Martini-Henry or a Swinburne-Martini carbine.[31] Whilst some sources refer to these horsemen as the Natal Native Horse (NNH), at the beginning of the campaign these mounted auxiliaries were attached to the NNC but were not reorganised into the NNH until February 1879.[32] Although the majority were not from Basuto tribes, the British referred to all native mounted horsemen as Basutos.[33] Finally, volunteer units completed the mounted element of Chelmsford’s invasion force. Most of these units had been formed in the 1870s, although some were formed much earlier, for example The Natal Carbineers were formed as early as 1855.[34] These volunteer units were relatively small, ranging between 30-60 men but some, such as the Frontier Light Horse commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Buller, consisted of three troops of approximately forty men.[35] The volunteer units saw service in all three of the attacking columns.

The lack of cavalry was a major issue for this invasion force. Chelmsford may have felt that the Mounted Infantry and Irregular Forces would suffice, but their lack of experience and troop numbers would prove otherwise.  Some troops had gained previous experience in the Cape Frontier War in 1877, however for the majority, the Anglo-Zulu war would be their first combat. Frere had little confidence in volunteers, instead favouring regular troops. During his time in India, he is recorded saying “the more we see of amateur soldiers, the more we do value the trained veteran”. [36]Another problem that Chelmsford faced was getting the volunteers to battle. The volunteers had mustered 660 officers and men but only 290 were available for the start of the campaign.[37] The lack of troops did not seem an issue for Chelmsford due to the role he had intended for them. Chelmsford was confident that Cetshwayo would be first to attack whilst en route to Ulundi. [38] The mounted forces would be used for scouting out the Zulu Army, giving an early warning to the infantry and artillery, who would then deal the fateful blow in battle.[39] Frere on the other hand disagreed with Chelmsford believing that cavalry still had a place on the battlefield and could be used in the more traditional role as shock troops.[40] Frere, despite not being a military man, had experience in military affairs having had previous appointments in India.[41] Frere had even gone to the extent of requesting Indian cavalry in the months prior to the invasion, however little had come of it. This issue of reinforcements would later be reviewed in the House of Lords after the battle of Isandlwana over the requests by Frere and Chelmsford.[42]

With the invasion force in place by December 1878, it was left to see if Cetshwayo would concede to the demands of the Ultimatum. When the deadline passed on 11 January 1879, the three offensive columns began their advance into Zululand. It was in these early stages of the advance that mounted troops had the key role of conducting reconnaissance patrols to scout out the Zulu army. On 12 January the first engagement took place from the centre column, when a patrol of mounted men, with support from the NNC and 1/24th, had spotted a large amount of cattle and small number of Zulus on the high ground. The infantry advanced along the valley towards the cattle, whilst the mounted men advanced towards the Zulu force. The Zulus put up some resistance but the engagement was over in an hour and a half, the Zulus sustained 30 killed, 4 wounded and 10 prisoners. The British on the other hand had 1 native killed with 1 officer, 1 NCO and 12 natives wounded.[43] The British had achieved their aim and secured a large amount of livestock.[44] Since cattle was an important commodity in Zulu culture, these cattle raids were intended to lure out the Zulu Army and force them to attack. Despite being only a minor engagement, this cattle raid highlights Chelmsford’s intended role for mounted troops. Acting away from the main force, mounted troops would conduct reconnaissance patrols and cattle raids. The main force would then fight the attacking Zulu Army, with the mounted troops in support.

For the next ten days mounted troops continued to operate in a similar manner. On 22 January, the situation changed when all three columns had significant engagements, with mounted troops playing a substantial role in all of these. On the right flank, Pearson’s No.1 Column had won a resounding victory at the battle of Inyezane[45]. The left column too had success spotting out a large Zulu force. However it is the defeat of the centre column at Isandlwana which overshadowed the whole campaign.

Whereas the left’s engagements were not as noteworthy as Isandlwana or Inyezane, it saw a significant use of mounted troops. On 19 January, Colonel Buller led a mounted patrol of 7 officers and 75 men from the Frontier Light Horse and 22 mounted Boers under the command of Piet Uys.  Buller had been sent by Wood to reconnoitre and disrupt the abaQulusi (a separate Zulu tribe) homestead at Kalabatu. Whilst Buller approached Zungwini Mountain a number of armed Zulus were spotted by a homestead and Buller quickly dispatched the Boers to investigate. The Zulus began firing, the Boers prompted Buller to form up his men in an attacking formation and return fire. At this point the small party of Zulus had retreated up the steep slopes to form a larger attacking formation.  Buller’s men followed in pursuit of the Zulus, who had now formed the famous chest and horns formation and began to descend on Buller’s men. While Buller’s men were able to successfully halt the chest of the Zulu attack, the horns began to quickly encircle them forcing Buller to retreat. The Zulus continued to pursue Buller until he was able to make a determined stand and drive them off. [46] On the 22nd Wood launched a series of patrols in the same area to try and bring the Zulus into a fight. This was unsuccessful but gained some valuable information after observing approximately 4000 Zulus parading in the area.[47] Wood intended to launch a further series of attacks on the 24th but cut this short after hearing of the defeat at Isandlwana and withdrew back to Fort Tinta.[48] Although a very minor engagement, it is clear how Buller’s mounted men were able to adequately deal with the Zulus. Not only did the mounted force have the firepower but it also demonstrated that its mobility meant it could withdraw more easily compared to foot soldiers. From the information gathered on the 22nd Wood could plan attacks on the abaQulusi. Despite the planned offensives on the 24th being cut short, they would not have been possible without the use of mounted reconnaissance.

Despite the fact that these engagements were important, it was the battles of Isandlwana and Rorkes drift that totally dominated the day and the future of the conflict. Mounted troops, as in the other engagements, played a major role in both the lead up to and the fighting during the battle. There are two main reasons given for the defeat at the battle of Isandlwana, the camp did not laager (to form a circular defence of wagons) and Lord Chelmsford, who was accompanying the centre column, had split his force. The fact the camp did not laager may seem naïve with hindsight but Chelmsford had great trust in his men. Firstly Chelmsford believed that the infantry’s firepower would suffice but more importantly, Chelmsford was confident that his mounted patrols would be able to adequately scout out a Zulu force and give suitable warning for the camp to prepare for attack.[49] This did not happen, on 21 January an army of approximately 20,000 Zulus had positioned themselves a short distance from the camp completely undetected, it wasn’t until the morning of the 22nd that they were discovered, by which point it was too late.[50] This could be put down to the failure of the mounted troops to sufficiently reconnoitring the surrounding area but this seems a harsh criticism. It appears that Zulus were spotted early on the day of the 22nd on a small hill where mounted vedettes had been posted previously.[51] This suggests that had they remained posted there, the main Zulu force should have been spotted much earlier in the day, giving the camp time to prepare for attack. However this vedette had been withdrawn as Chelmsford required mounted men to deal with another body of Zulus, it was only until later in the day that this hill was investigated.[52]

This leads to the second point that Chelmsford had split his main force. Chelmsford had launched a series of reconnaissance patrols the previous day. These consisted of two large forces, the first made up of 150 mounted men, mainly the mounted police under Major Dartnell, whilst the other a battalion of native infantry.[53]  A smaller independent patrol of Mounted Infantry also left the camp.[54] Dartnell’s patrol had been productive, having spotted a considerable enemy force.[55] Having regrouped with the native infantry, Dartnell did not believe he had sufficient troops to deal with this force and so set up camp sending word to Chelmsford requesting reinforcements.[56] It is clear that once Chelmsford had received the message, he thought that this would be the main Zulu army. Chelmsford sent out almost half the infantry and the majority of the artillery and the Mounted Infantry to reinforce Dartnell. This left a considerably weaker force in camp comprising of thirty Mounted Infantry to mount vedettes and eighty mounted irregulars. The infantry were still strong with over eight companies of both British and native infantry. [57] The majority of the mounted men back at camp were a mix of administrators or men with sick or lame horses.[58] Chelmsford also ordered Colonel Durnford to bring forward the mounted auxiliaries consisting of 250 Basutos in his No.2 Column to reinforce the camp.[59] This meant that the majority of the mounted troops were away from the camp dealing with the secondary Zulu army spotted by Dartnell. It also explains why the mounted vedettes had been withdrawn from the hill where Zulus had been spotted.

Despite these initial short comings Durnford and his mounted force show how effective mounted troops could be in battle. Whilst Durnford’s mounted auxiliaries did boost the numbers of mounted troops that were left in camp, Durnford had made the decision to split this force, one troop would remain in the rear guarding the wagons, whilst two patrols of two troops would leave the camp from either side and sweep round the front of camp securing the high ground as well as preventing any Zulus from cutting off the route to Lord Chelmsford.[60] Durnford set off at 10.30am with two troops heading east whilst the other two troops under the command of Lieutenants Raw and Roberts, set off in a northerly direction.[61] By approximately mid-day, Raw and Roberts’s party had moved on to the high ground and was sweeping eastwards towards Durnford’s party. No large bodies of Zulus had been found but small parties moving away were spotted, Raw made the decision to pursue these Zulus only to then stumble across the main body of the Zulu army. He fired one volley and retired which in turn prompted the Zulu Army to launch the attack.[62] Durnford on the other hand was completely oblivious that this was taking place and continued to move his party around the high ground, around 12.45 a Carbineer brought the message to Durnford that Raw and Roberts were engaged with the enemy. Almost immediately the left horn of the Zulu army appeared on the ridge of the high ground and began to advance towards Durnford. Durnford began to retire back towards camp, firing where the ground suited.[63] Eventually Durnford’s men had reached a donga about 1000 metres away from camp and decided to make a stand there.[64] He was subsequently joined by the remainder of the mounted irregulars, a total of about 150 men and began to fire upon the left horn.[65] Meanwhile the infantry had been dispersed to support Durnford’s isolated patrols, with Raw and Roberts patrol re-joining the infantry line on the British left flank.[66] Durnford was particularly successful at holding the Zulu advance, one Zulu had said “the fire was so heavy we had to retire. We kept lying down and rising again.”[67] What is clear is that the mounted men on the far right of the British line were able to withstand the Zulu attack, it was only after Durnford had realised that the position was being outflanked by the Zulus and that ammunition was running low that the mounted men began to withdraw back into camp. [68] This occurred as the British line began to fail and the Zulus were able to overrun the camp.[69] Durnford and the mounted men ‘gallantly’ held up until their ammunition had run out but were quickly overwhelmed and killed.[70] Although this was a disaster, the limited number of Durnford’s mounted troops still demonstrated the manoeuvrability and firepower that they possessed.

Perhaps if there were more mounted troops at Isandlwana, then the outcome may have been entirely different. Firstly the Zulu Army could have been spotted much earlier by mounted vedettes, giving the infantry in camp more time to prepare adequate defences. Secondly, Durnford’s stand in the donga would have had superior firepower, Durnford was more than capable of stopping the left flank from advancing but with more mounted troops under his disposal they could have easily forced the Zulu left flank into retreat. This would not only have given the infantry space to manoeuvre and focus on the centre and right flank of the Zulu army but provided the mounted men the opportunity to charge down the left flank and then roll up the Zulu line which was being suppressed by the infantry. The historian O’Connor theorises that this could have been done by Indian cavalry which had been requested by Frere before the invasion.[71] However any large number of mounted men would have done the job, if the Mounted Infantry and NMP were present at the battle these would have been adequate.

From the initial stage of the invasion, one can conclude that mounted troops had a very limited role due to their inadequate numbers.  The evidence shows that mounted troops had their usefulness. Not only was valuable information gathered about the Zulus by long range mounted reconnaissance patrols, they were also effective at dealing with the Zulus in combat because they had adequate firepower and secondly they could disengage from the contact more quickly than their dismounted counterparts and regroup in order to harass the Zulus. After Isandlwana the British required a change in tactics and focus in order to salvage what was left of the first invasion.

Chapter 2- The Recovery

This chapter is going to examine the role of mounted troops in the later parts of the first invasion by examining how the leadership began to learn from the lessons of the early engagements and how mounted troops were utilised much more effectively.  With Chelmsford’s Centre Column now completely unserviceable, it was the two flanking columns that would continue to fight. This chapter will focus predominantly on Wood’s column to the North and demonstrate how Wood and Buller put the mounted troops to use for the first time at the battle of Kambula 28 March 1879 with devastating effect. This chapter will show how mounted troops were used much more effectively in battle especially in the pursuit of fleeing enemies.

News of the defeat of Isandlwana had reached the two flanking columns at different times. Wood was the first to hear of the attack and had moved back to Fort Tinta after cutting short a planned offensive against the Zulus.[72] Pearson on the other hand was not told about the defeat but on 28 January received a telegram from Lord Chelmsford cancelling the initial invasion and ordered to ‘act in whatever you think most desirable in the interests of the column’.[73] On hearing this Pearson besieged his column and sent away his mounted men.[74] However shortly after letting his mounted force go, Pearson realised he needed mounted men and re-established a scratch force using horses that remained in camp.[75] This force demonstrated an effective use for vedettes and raiding. [76]

To the north Wood had received similar instructions from Chelmsford and began to build up a fortified position. However, unlike Pearson, Wood was able to use the fort at Kambula to launch offensive operations against the Zulus.[77] Although news of the defeat at Isandlwana had cut short a planned offensive against the abaQulusi Zulus, Wood continued to use his mounted force under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Buller conducting patrols to burn down local homesteads and raid cattle.[78] For just over two months the mounted element of Wood’s column patrolled approximately 160 square miles of surrounding country.[79] In addition to the almost constant patrolling, the mounted men were used to defend the camp at Kambula, carrying out guard duties, vedettes and night pickets. [80]

By the middle of March, Wood’s column was strengthened by more mounted troops. These troops comprised of both mounted infantry and volunteers. The mounted infantry were Lieutenant-Colonel Russell’s 1st Squadron who were originally attached to the centre column but were withdrawn back to Natal after the defeat at Isandlwana.[81] The volunteers were an assortment of newly formed units, the largest being the Frontier Light Horse. These volunteers differed from the Natal Volunteers as the recruits came from all over South Africa and required a longer service.[82] Lieutenant Tomasson of Baker’s Horse, one of the new units, describes the disorderly nature of the volunteers. He goes on to call the majority of these men as ‘fearfully slovenly and the variest drunkards and winebibbers to ever take carbine to hand’ but commends the leadership of Buller as a ‘masterful man’ who can ‘bring these desperados into subjection’.[83] What is evident about these volunteers is their unprofessional approach to conflict, many men were simply attracted to these new units due to the increased rate of pay, 5s a day compared to the 1s that the British soldier earned.[84] It will be shown later that this lack of discipline would cause problems for Buller in subsequent offensives.

With these reinforcements came new orders. Chelmsford was planning to launch a relief column for the siege at Eshowe. Chelmsford ordered Wood to create a diversion on the 28March. Wood planned to attack the Hlobane Mountain, attacking from both east and west. Buller would lead the main assault from the east whilst Russell would act as a diversion from the west regrouping somewhere near the middle on the main plateau.[85]

The Battle of Hlobane was another military disaster. Highlighting how the lack of reconnaissance and communication, similar to the issues at Isandlwana, would cause major problems in the effective use of mounted troops. Buller with 400 mounted troops and 300 natives and Russell with 200 mounted troops and 400 natives set off on the night of the 27th.[86] Colonel Weatherley and his Borders Horse became separated from Buller’s party during the route out. [87]  Weatherley was instructed to re-join Buller on the upper plateau as he was making his ascent.[88] Buller already faced difficulty in ascending the mountain as the path was almost impassable to mounted men. [89] The ascent was made harder by a small number of Zulus firing down on his force from the top, causing casualties amongst horses and men.[90] By 9.00 a.m., having lost two officers in the ascent, Buller was able to get the rest of his force on the plateau. Buller, hindered by the lack of intelligence, needed to quickly assess the situation by finding routes back down.[91] Buller established three possibilities, the obvious choice retreating back the way he had come, the other two heading west towards the lower plateau. [92] The issue with the later was that they were more treacherous than the route up but were secure from flanking fire.[93] Having reconnoitred the plateau Buller ordered his second in command Captain Barton, with a force of 30 men, to bury the two dead officers. [94] Buller then instructed Barton to retrace their steps and regroup with Weatherley with the intention to return to Kambula via the south of the mountain.[95] Moments later a Zulu army of 20,000 were seen approaching from the South East.[96] This was the main Zulu Army, many of whom had fought at Isandlwana. Buller quickly realised that the southern route away from the mountain was no longer viable. He sent two men to inform Barton to return via the ‘right’ side of the mountain (meaning the north).[97] Barton received the warning as he was heading eastward but due to the confusing message he mistakenly interpreted the right side of the mountain to be the south.[98] By going south Barton and Weatherley found themselves in contact with the main Zulu army and had very little chance of escape. Barton was killed along with 18 men and Weatherley killed with 44 of his men.[99] Buller needed to get off the Plateau and decided to extract westward towards the lower plateau expecting Russell to be there.[100] Buller’s poor instructions to Barton and the evident lack of reconnaissance caused unnecessary casualties. Inadequate communications would also become an issue later in the battle.

Russell too struggled with poor instructions. Russell had successfully reached the lower plateau but could not see Buller on the plateau above. Russell had seen the Zulu army approaching around 9.00 a.m. and realising how quickly the army was approaching began to descend, opting to cover Buller’s retreat from the base.[101] Before Buller was able to make his decent, at around 10.30 Russell had received orders from Wood to move to the ‘Zunguin Neck’ (correctly spelt Zungen Nek) and meet Wood there.[102] Russell was unsure of where Wood meant but after consultation with his officers, Russell quickly moved into a position where he thought Zungen Nek was.[103] Unfortunately for Russell the position he was holding was six miles west of Wood’s intended position.[104] For the remainder of the battle Russell was kept out of the fray and unable to provide any support to cover the extraction of Buller’s mounted force and Natives. He did not encounter any Zulus and returned back to the camp in the late afternoon.[105] This error proved costly to Buller.

With Russell away from the battle, the support Buller needed was absent and so the retreat off the mountain was badly conducted. Buller began his descent on the lower Plateau around 10 a.m., it soon became clear that Russell had already retreated off the mountain and so therefore Buller knew he was unsupported.[106] Buller utilised the Frontier Light Horse as rear guard to keep the Zulus at bay but the firing quickly stopped as the men had mistaken the advancing Zulus as friendlies, demonstrating the undisciplined nature of the men.[107] The Zulus took advantage of this and began to fire on the men as they made their way down.[108] Not only was Buller taking casualties from the fire, the treacherous terrain also caused casualties of both men and horses. Eventually Buller’s troops were able to get onto the lower plateau but at a cost, losing an officer, 16 men and the Boer guide Piet Uys, who had proved invaluable to Wood’s column.[109] By this point Buller’s force was beginning to lose discipline, many were dismounted having lost their horses in the descent.[110] Fortunately for Buller the main army did not pursue his force and Buller was able to rally his men and conduct a more organised retreat back to Kambula.  Buller was pursued by a small force of abaQulusi Zulu and did not sustain further casualties.[111] Buller continued to inspire is men by continually riding back and forth rescuing any man who had either lost his horse or were isolated by the Zulu.[112] Tomasson describes Buller’s bravery as the only ‘bright spot’ of the battle.[113] For his bravery on the day Buller was awarded a Victoria Cross for rescuing these men.[114] Whilst the situation was not aided by the treacherous route down, the lack of training and discipline of Buller’s mounted men was apparent. The retreat was conducted poorly with very little covering fire. Buller had shown that a mounted fighting withdraw was highly effective earlier in the campaign, however at Hlobane, instead of a fighting withdrawal, Buller failed to maintain control of the situation.

After Isandlwana the Battle of Hlobane is seen as the second major disaster of the war. The battle saw 15 officers and 79 men killed with even more uncounted native deaths.[115] The battle also resulted in five Victoria Crosses and four Distinguished Conduct medals being awarded[116].  Despite the acts of bravery the battle was a failure and a good example of the result when mounted troops are not utilised correctly. From a mounted perspective it illustrates how terrain can have a huge impact on the performance of mounted troops. It also shows how misunderstanding and poor communication impacts the battle. Wood had failed to learn from the mistakes of Isandlwana due to the lack of mounted reconnaissance of the area. Wood’s column had been very active conducting reconnaissance patrols in the early part of March but had failed to successfully reconnoitre the Hlobane Mountain. If this had been done, it would have been noted that the routes up and down the mountain were almost impassable to mounted troops and the Zulus would have been spotted much earlier. Wood had been informed before the battle that the Zulu army was camped under five miles away from his position but completely disregarded this.[117] The orders from Wood and Buller also resulted in unnecessary deaths due to their confusing nature. Fortunately for Wood, the defeat at Hlobane was overshadowed by the victory at Kambula the next day.

If the battle of Hlobane is a good example of how not to use mounted troops, the battle of Kambula is the opposite. On the morning of the 29th a mounted patrol had spotted the main Zulu army and had returned to camp to inform them that the army was on the move.[118] This gave the camp plenty of time to prepare for the attack. By around midday the Zulu army were advancing towards the camp and had begun to move into the horns of the buffalo formation.[119] It soon became clear to Wood that the left and right horns would eventually move round and surround the camp. Fortunately for Wood, news came from scouts that the left horn was bogged down and the advance had slowed.[120] Seizing this opportunity Wood sent out Buller, who was acting as overall commander of the mounted troops, to harass the advancing right horn.[121] Buller and his force of about 90 mounted men rode to with 100 yards of the Zulu right horn, dismounted and fired a few volleys into the Zulu flanks.[122] The attack prompted the Zulus to charge the mounted men but they quickly remounted and rode back to the safety of the camp.[123] The right horn continued their attack on the camp but were quickly forced to retreat after receiving heavy fire from it.[124] The right horn did not attack again.[125] For four more hours the Zulu army continued to launch separate attacks from the Zulu left horn and chest but the attacks did not have the momentum to break the British defences.[126] Realising the lines would not be broken the Zulus began to withdraw from the camp.[127] At this point the call was given ‘stand to your horses mounted men’ and they began to pursue the fleeing Zulus. Within a matter of minutes, the steady withdrawal became a rout.[128] With the defeat at Hlobane still fresh in their memories the mounted men chased down the Zulu with impunity. Some men even picked up Assegais from fallen Zulus to aid in the killing.[129] The Zulus were simply too exhausted to deal with the charge and many gave up, revealing their chests to the mounted pursuers and saying ‘Dubula M’Lungu’ (‘shoot, white man’).[130] The pursuit continued for seven miles but was cut short as darkness began to fall.[131] Many horses were fatigued from the action the day before. [132]  It is estimated that 750 Zulus lost their lives attacking the camp and twice as many died in the pursuit.[133]

Kambula was the first major victory by the British and as a result can be seen as the key turning point of the war. For the first time mounted troops had successfully pursued the fleeing Zulus. Mounted troops also proved their worth in harassing the Zulu right horn. Whilst the mobility of the mounted troops had been utilised by Wood and Buller in earlier engagements, this was the first time they were used successfully in an offensive role and were able to force the Zulu into making an attack. Whilst there has been some debate as to the necessity of the bloody pursuit, it is clear it had a major impact on the war. Firstly, it broke the morale of the Zulu army: after the battle many Zulu soldiers simply returned home broken, accepting that it was increasingly unlikely they would win the war in the field.[134] Secondly, it laid down the format of subsequent battles, pursuing the fleeing enemy became the norm and continued to be used effectively after Kambula.

Whilst Pearson and Wood were engaged with the Zulus, Chelmsford returned back to Natal and began to salvage what was left of the centre column. Chelmsford requested urgent reinforcements and used some of these men to relieve Pearson. [135] Chelmsford’s relief column moved forward to Eshowe and successfully engaged the Zulu at Gingindlovu, relieving Pearson.[136] The battle of Gingihlovu in most respects played out like Kambula. The British infantry were able to hold off the Zulu attacks and when they faltered, the Zulus were pursued. The Zulus lost 1,200 men, the majority of these from the pursuit.[137] It is clear that Chelmsford was quick to learn the lessons of the early part of the invasion. No longer was the mounted element underestimated and effective reconnaissance was carried out before the battle. After four months trying, the British were finally performing as they had been expected to.

Clearly many lessons were learnt in the second part of the first invasion. Mounted troops were being used more effectively, importantly Chelmsford began to realise their value. Whilst errors had occurred in a reconnaissance role, as the battle of Hlobane shows, they proved their worth as shock troops. The mounted pursuits at Kambula and Gingihlovu inflicted huge damages to the Zulus. Chelmsford finally had developed a tactic for defeating the Zulus in the field. All that was needed now was to finish what he had started.

Chapter 3 – The Second Attempt

This chapter is going to examine the role of mounted troops in the second invasion by showing how the attitudes towards mounted troops had changed and how lessons were learnt from the first invasion to bring about an end to the war. This chapter will show that with the arrival of British cavalry and the reorganisation of the mounted volunteers brought long-needed mobility to the war. The true utility of mounted troops had been realised and they played key roles in the advance into Zululand, the Battle of Ulundi and the subsequent pursuit of King Cetshwayo.

Immediately after Isandlwana, Lord Chelmsford informed London of the defeat, the news reached England on the 11 February. By the end of the day a shocked government had plans put in place to send reinforcements.[138] The issue of reinforcements was discussed in Parliament for the next few days. One of the first issues for discussion was why no cavalry regiments were sent over originally. In the Lords on 14 February, it had been noted that Frere had ‘enthusiastically’ argued that cavalry would be of ‘enormous advantage’ in South Africa.[139] However, it was also noted that in a similar dispatch from Lord Chelmsford, only infantry had been requested.[140] From these discussions it was clear that cavalry reinforcements were needed. Although Chelmsford had failed to see their importance the beginning of the invasion, two cavalry regiments, The 17th Lancers and The 1st (Kings) Dragoon Guards were subsequently sent over.[141] Between March and June the reinforcements began to arrive. In total Chelmsford had received close to 10,500 troops.[142] As well as the cavalry there was also the exiled French Prince Imperial, Louis Napoleon, five Major Generals, twelve battalions of Infantry, five batteries of artillery and troops from the engineers, Army Service Corps and Army Hospital Corps.[143]  With the huge increase in troop numbers Chelmsford reorganised his force around Pearson’s and Wood’s columns. Pearson’s No.1 Column and the Eshowe Relief Column became No.1 Division under the command of Major-General Crealock. The division was broken down into two Brigades consisting of three battalions of Infantry. Pearson was promoted to Brigadier-General and took charge of the 1st Brigade.[144] A No.2 Division was also formed, again with two Brigades under the command of Major- General Newdigate. This consisted solely of reinforcements.[145] Wood’s No.4 Column was placed outside divisional command and acted independently as Wood’s Flying Column. [146]

It was decided that the cavalry would be formed into the Cavalry Brigade and attached to the No.2 Division. The brigade comprised of 613 men from the Lancers and 634 from the Dragoons.[147] The two regiments also brought their own horses. Up until now all the mounted troops were mounted on native horses, one of the first things that struck the volunteers was the sheer size of the horses and the equipment used.[148]

The introduction of English horse created problems for the cavalry in their battle deployment. Firstly, transportation, horses had to undergo a six week voyage to South Africa. Whilst in transit the horses’ casualty rate was very low at around four percent, upon arrival the horses had to then be nursed back to health and acclimatised.[149] On the march from Durban to the Zulu-Natal border, the horses were averaging ten miles a day and every third or fourth day a complete halt was required. [150] The horses also required different feed to the native horses. Although efforts were made to encourage the horses to graze, the horses were not used to being given the freedom to do so, nor was the grass suitable. [151] Native horses were fed grain but this could not be used for English horses as they had to be fed oats or hay.[152] This added to the already difficult logistical problems. These issue presented obvious difficulties in getting the cavalry regiments to battle, General Wolseley, who had been sent out to replace Chelmsford, noted that these difficulties made the cavalry ‘useless’ at fighting Zulu.[153] As a result, in order to maintain an effective cavalry, detachments of the Army Service Corps were attached to the Calvary regiments just to carry feed.[154]

With the 1st Division already in effect operating in Zululand after the battle of Gingihlovu and Wood continuing to operate around Kambula, Chelmsford moved the 2nd Division to the border and began to formulate a second invasion plan. However before Chelmsford could finalise his plans, there was the urgent requirement to return to Isandlwana and bury the dead. This was conducted by the Cavalry Brigade on 21 May.[155] The brigade was split into two columns with  the Lancers and Dragoons dispersed equally between the two, the right column was reinforced with elements of the 24th and the Natal Carbineers who were both been present at Isandlwana [156] The Brigade was prepared for contact with Zulus, but little trace of the enemy were found.[157] Protected by vedettes the bodies of the dead were buried and approximately 40 wagons and one gun limber was recovered.[158] With this unpleasant duty complete Chelmsford returned to his invasion plans. It was decided that the 1st Division would move north along the east coast to port Durnford.[159] Using information gathered from reconnaissance patrols from Wood’s column on 18 May the 2nd Division would cross near Koppie Alleen on the Blood River and head eastwards towards the Tshotshosi River.[160] Wood who was already advancing towards Tshotshosi from Kambula, would regroup with the 2nd Division before advancing together towards Ulundi.[161] Although the Cavalry Brigade had been attached to the 2nd Division, Chelmsford was still unsure of the best deployment. Chelmsford had reasoned that at least one of the cavalry regiments would either be attached to the 1st Division or used in defence of Natal. [162] Chelmsford had quickly ruled out sending cavalry to the 1st Division for two reasons. The first was that the area on the east coast was affected by a disease fatal to horses known as Horse Sickness and serious loss was anticipated.[163] Secondly, the terrain was not suited to cavalry operations.[164] Chelmsford also decided that with the difficulties transporting feed into Zululand the majority of the Kings Dragoon Guards would remain on the border.[165]

What is clear from this reorganisation is that mounted troops would have significant role. The 2nd Division would be the main striking division into Zululand with the Cavalry Brigade attached to it. The Cavalry Brigade, composed primarily of Lancers, added the much needed punch that had been severely lacking in the first invasion. It is also clear that the reconnaissance they could provide was invaluable. Wood’s Flying Column would act as the main reconnaissance force acting ahead of the 2nd Division’s advance. With the exception of the Battle of Hlobane, Wood’s column had proved effective at mounted reconnaissance during the first invasion and therefore Wood’s mounted men under the command of Colonel Buller were perfectly suited to continue this role.

On 1 June the 2nd Division began their advance into Zululand. No 1. Division were already moving up the coast but since the majority of the coastal Zulus had given up the fight the division would have a very limited role in this second invasion. [166] For the 2nd Division however, the 1June was marred with tragedy. A small reconnaissance patrol consisting of the Prince Imperial, his adjutant and six Europeans from Bettington’s Horse set off to verify observations from a previous reconnaissance. Whilst the patrol was dismounted, a small party of Zulus had crept up on them and opened fire whilst the patrol was remounting.[167] During the engagement the Prince along with three others were killed.[168] The next day, mounted patrols from Wood’s column recovered the Princes body and subsequently repatriated it home.[169]

Whilst strategically this patrol was very minor, the death of the Prince Imperial meant it received considerable attention. The incident highlights the vulnerability of small mounted patrols, they were very good at withdrawing from contact with the enemy and therefore ideal for reconnaissance. However they also needed to return effective fire to extract safely. Unfortunately during the Prince’s patrol the troopers did not have their rifles loaded.[170]

For the remainder of June, No.2 Division’s advance was slow and meticulous. The mounted men played a crucial role in the advance. Not only were the surrounding areas constantly patrolled; every effort was made to ensure the safety of the wagons, essential for supply. For ten days Wood’s Flying Column and half of the cavalry brigade escorted wagons and whilst this was done the rest of division remained halted.[171] On 17 June the Flying Column and 2nd Division regrouped and began their advance together towards Ulundi. [172] The Flying Column served as the screening force, marching about a day in advance, provided security and information to the 2nd Division.[173] On 26 June a large patrol consisting of two squadrons of Lancers and Buller’s mounted men rode off towards known military kraals. What is interesting is that Buller’s men had gained considerable respect from the regular cavalry. Although not nearly as well armed or as well-disciplined as the Lancers, many felt proud to ride alongside Buller’s men after their actions at the Battle of Kambula.[174]

Contact with Cetshwayo was established after a patrol led by Buller had found three messengers.[175] After much deliberation Cetshwayo sent oxen and the guns captured at Isandlwana to halt the British advance.[176]  Chelmsford was determined to fight the Zulus in a decisive battle and sent impossible demand to return all the arms captured at Isandlwana giving Cetshwayo until 3 July to comply.[177] During this period the division continued to advance and a large laager was formed by 2July.[178] As the final deadline approached, it was clear that Cetshwayo had not accepted Chelmsford’s demands and so Buller led a reconnaissance force to scout out a potential battlefield.[179] Once again Buller’s mounted men proved their worth by coming into contact with a force of about 5,000 Zulus.[180] Just as Buller had done in previous engagements, they quickly returned fire and began to withdraw.[181] During the withdrawal both Captain D’Arcy (who had been saved by Buller at Hlobane) and Sergeant O’Toole assisted men onto their horses while the Zulus advanced; as a result of this act both won the Victoria Cross.[182] Although Buller had suffered three men killed and four wounded, he had gathered the important information on the strength and position of the Zulu Army. This result of this information meant that British were given adequate time to prepare and engage the Zulu on their own terms, something which had not been achieved during the first invasion.

Mounted troops also played a key role in the battle of Ulundi on 4 July. Buller’s mounted men led the advance, followed by the infantry square.[183] Three squadrons of the Lancers formed the rear-guard.[184] When the square had reached the favourable position that had been noted from Buller’s patrol the day before, Chelmsford ordered a halt and the square turned to face Ulundi. The Zulu army had positioned itself on the high ground and as at Kambula, Buller was sent forward to provoke the Zulu Army into an uncoordinated attack.[185] Achieving this Buller then withdrew back inside the rectangle joining the rest of the other mounted troops.[186] For about half an hour the Zulu army tried to break the rectangle but the relentless fire from the infantry, Gatling guns and artillery meant the Zulus began to lose heart and retire.[187] With the Zulus now retiring Lord Chelmsford ordered the Cavalry to charge. On leaving the rectangle the Lancers came under some fire from a small party of Zulus who had not been involved in the initial attack.[188] As a result the Lancers took some casualties, Captain Wyatt-Edgell was shot dead as he led his squadron out and Lieutenant Jenkins was hit by a bullet in the jaw. However determined not to miss the charge, he bound up his face and rode out to face the Zulus.[189] The lancers were able to smash through the Zulu and then wheeled right to charge down those who were in full flight.[190] The effects of the lance on the Zulus were staggering. Colonel Drury-Lowe commander of the 17th Lancers wrote that the lance ‘proved their decided superiority in pursuit.’[191] The lancers were followed out by Buller and his mounted irregulars; they too pursued fleeing Zulus with more impunity than they had at Kambula.[192] After two hours the Zulu army was completely broken and Ulundi was captured by the British.[193] The kraal was subsequently burnt down.[194] Cetshwayo who had fled the battle was still at large however the war was now pretty much over. The British army began to withdraw its forces from Zululand.[195] After some months of hunting, Cetshwayo was captured by a squadron of the Kings Dragoon Guards and subsequently exiled, his kingdom was split into thirteen separate chiefdoms.[196] The former Zulu kingdom was now under the control of the British.

The battle of Ulundi was the culminating battle of the war, for the British leadership and the public back home the victory was a relief. Mounted troops had played a key role in the second invasion having learnt many lessons from the first. The introduction of the regular cavalry meant that the British finally had shock troops who were experts at the pursuit. Whilst Buller had successfully pursued the Zulus after Kambula, the Lancers were much better suited to the role as their lances could inflict considerably more damage. Callwell, who wrote about small wars at the turn of the nineteenth century believed that the lance was invaluable to cavalry because it meant that footmen could not lie on the floor to evade being hit.[197] Callwell uses the battle of Ulundi as the prime example of this.[198]

Mounted troops clearly played considerable role in the second invasion. Wood’s Flying Column used its knowledge and experience to form an effective reconnaissance force for the main invasion. Without Its use, the location of the Zulu army and the ideal terrain for the battle would not have been discovered. The Cavalry Brigade in the 2nd Division also added to the mobility of the army. Working closely with both Buller and the infantry, the cavalry added the striking force that had been previously lacking. Whilst the first invasion can be seen both as failure and success for mounted troops, their role in the second can be seen as a huge success and without them, the outcome of would not have been as decisive.


From assessing all the evidence it is clear that despite contemporary opinion, mounted troops were a highly effective and essential force for the Zulu war. This dissertation set out to show how the use of mounted troops evolved throughout the war despite the misunderstanding of their usage in the initial stages of the invasion. This dissertation has set out to shed a new light on the role of mounted troops, shifting attention away from the infantry and towards mounted troops themselves.

From the outset, the hurried creation of the initial invasion force, meant the irregular mounted force and the mounted infantry were simply far too few in number to be able to be used effectively. Despite disputes at this stage over requesting cavalry reinforcements, Chelmsford felt that the improvised mounted force would be suitable and that the infantry would be the predominant focus. What instead was needed was a mounted force better suited for a reconnaissance role. Whilst there had been successful reconnaissance patrols in the early stages of the invasion, Buller’s patrol on 22 January being a good example of a successful patrol, the lack of numbers was an apparent short coming to the effectiveness of mounted troops. Dartnell’s reconnaissance patrols carried out before Isandlwana had gathered important information; it had observed a large Zulu Force. Where it fell short was that there was simply not enough mounted troops. Chelmsford made the error of splitting his force to reinforce Dartnell, sending the majority of the mounted men away. This meant that the vedettes placed around the camp were no long sufficient as they did not have the men to man them.

If there were sufficient vedettes then the Zulu Army could have been spotted much earlier, as Zulus were observed where such vedettes were supposed to be, the camp could have been better prepared for attack. During the battle mounted troops also proved how effective they were.  Their mobility meant that they could extract back to a donga and use that as a firing position. The weight of fire they were able to put down was strong enough to halt the left horn’s advance. If there was a larger mounted force then the weight of fire would have only increased, making it more likely to inflict greater damage on the Zulu, increasing the prospect of retreat. This would have relieved pressure on the British lines. Whilst this is only hypothetical, the implications of having a larger mounted force seem evident.

That attitudes towards mounted troops changed in the second part of the first invasion. Pearson forming a makeshift mounted force highlights how useful they were, despite being besieged. Wood’s operations to the north also relied heavily on a mounted force. The defeat at the battle of Hlobane, like Isandlwana, showed the importance of thorough and well planned reconnaissance. This did not happen and the majority of the information was gathered whilst the offensive was taking place. The battle of Hlobane also shows how terrain can have an impact on the performance of mounted troops. The far from ideal terrain of the Hlobane mountain caused a great panic amongst the men and horses resulting in unnecessary casualties. Whilst Hlobane may have been a disaster, Kambula the following day showed what could be achieved when mounted troops were used effectively. Buller and his force of mounted men were able to force the Zulus into an uncoordinated attack and then quickly manoeuvre away into a better position.  The pursuit of the Zulus by Buller changed the course of the war. For the first time, the British forces were able to inflict massive casualties on the Zulu for considerably less cost to their own troops.

With a tested strategy capable of defeating the Zulus the second invasion was far more successful. With reinforcements, Chelmsford was able to use Wood and Buller’s troops as a more effective reconnaissance force. The arrival of the cavalry also meant they had more mounted troops for reconnaissance as well as shock troops which had been severely lacking. The advance to Ulundi was carried out slowly and methodically with Wood’s force constantly on the lookout for the Zulu army or advantageous ground. Without Wood, the ideal location of the battlefield would not have been discovered, neither would there have been a clear picture of the Zulu Army’s strength and dispositions. When the Zulu army assault was stopped and forced to withdraw, the cavalry were able to pursue. The following pursuit was just as devastating as at Kambula. The majority of the lessons were learnt in the later part of the first invasion and were put to use effectively in the second.

Whilst this dissertation has added to the debate about the role of mounted troops during the Anglo-Zulu War, it has not examined the role of mounted troops in the wider context. The late nineteenth century saw a period of rapid technological expansion, both civilian and military.  Some contemporary commentators saw this period as the demise of cavalry.[199] However, as is shown by this dissertation, mounted troops clearly were effective in the Zulu War. Future research should therefore look at the wider context and how Britain used mounted troops in future campaigns.  The British continued to fight in South Africa, in the Boer Wars of 1880-1881 and 1899-1902. Research should focus on how mounted troops were used in these campaigns. Whilst the Boers may have fought differently from the Zulus, the need for reconnaissance was greater when fighting a highly mobile enemy and this again emphasises the need of having a mounted reconnaissance force.  Britain continued to use mounted forces in the twentieth century, showing that despite mechanisation, the late nineteenth century was certainly not the end of mounted troops.[200]


Primary Sources Unpublished

Hansard, HL Deb 14 February 1879 vol. 243, cc1179-83

TNA WO 32/7383, Victoria Cross: Awards to Capt. (now Commandant) C D’Arcy and Sgt E O’Toole, Frontier Light Horse, for actions during Zulu War, 9 September 1879

TNA WO 32/7741, Zulu War: Dispatches relating to reconnaissance operations and preparations for advance; burial of dead at Isandlwana. (1879)

TNA WO 32/7744 Zulu War: Lord Chelmsford on Disposition of Cavalry Regiments 31 May 1879

TNA WO 33/36, General Report of Veterinary Department in the Zulu War (1881)

TNA WO 132/1, Buller’s Diary, 30 March 1879

Primary Sources Published

Ashe, W., and Wyatt-Edgell, E.V., The Story of the Zulu War (London, 1880)

Callwell, C.E., Small Wars: Their Principles and Practice (London, 1896)

Colenso, F., The History of the Zulu War and its Origin (London, 1880)

Fortescue, J.W., A History of the 17th Lancers (London, 1895)

Pitale, B. N., The Speeches and Addresses of Sir Bartle Frere (Bombay, 1870)

Rothwell, J.S. (compiler), Narrative of the Field Operations connected with the Zulu War of 1879 (London, 1881)

Tomasson, W.H., With the Irregulars in the Transvaal and Zululand (London, 1881)

The War Office, The London Gazette no.24734 (17 June 1879)

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Anglesey, The History of the British Cavalry 1816-1919: Volume III 1872-1898 (London, 1982)

Anglesey, The History of the British Cavalry 1816-1919: Volume VIII 1816-1919: The Western Front, 1915-1918, Epilogue 1919-1939 (London, 1982)

Badsey, S., Doctrine and Reform in the British Cavalry 1880-1918 (Birmingham, 2008)

Castle, I., Zulu War – Volunteers, Irregulars and Auxiliaries (Oxford, 2003)

David, S., Zulu: The Tragedy of the Zulu War of 1879 (London, 2005)

Greaves, A., Forgotten Battles of the Zulu War (Barnsley 2012)

Knight, I., The National Army Museum Book of the Zulu War (London, 2004)

Knight, I., The Zulu War 1879 (Oxford, 2006)

Laband, J., Zulu Warriors (Yale, 2014)

O’Connor, D.P., Redcoats & Zulus: Myths, Legends & Explanations of the Anglo-Zulu War, ed. A.Greaves (Barnsley, 2004)

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Spiers, E., The Late Victorian Army 1868-1902 (Manchester, 1992)

[1] J. Laband, Zulu Warriors (Yale, 2014), p.262

[2]I. Knight, The Zulu War 1879 (Oxford,2006), p.27

[3] ibid., pp.31-34

[4] ibid., p.35

[5] ibid.

[6] ibid., pp.51-54

[7] ibid. p.57

[8]J.S Rothwell (compiler), Narrative of the Field Operations connected with the Zulu War of 1879 (London, 1881) Appendix B

[9] Knight, Zulu War, pp.76-78

[10] ibid., p.86

[11] ibid. p.75

[12] I. Knight, The Zulu War 1879 (Oxford,2006) p.17

[13] ibid.

[14] I. Knight, The National Army Museum Book of the Zulu War (London, 2004) p.36

[15] Knight, Zulu War, p.29

[16] S. David, Zulu: The Tragedy of the Zulu War of 1879 (London,2005) p79

[17] ibid. p.69

[18] ibid.

[19] ibid.

[20] ibid.

[21] Anglesey, The History of the British Cavalry 1816-1919: Volume III 1872-1898 (London, 1982) p.184

[22] W.H. Tomasson, With the Irregulars in the Transvaal and Zululand (London,1881) p.129

[23] J.S Rothwell (compiler), Narrative of the Field Operations connected with the Zulu War of 1879 (London, 1881) p.18

[24] ibid.

[25] W. Ashe and E.V Wyatt-Edgell, The Story of the Zulu War (London,1880) pp.20-21

[26] Rothwell, Narrative, p.142

[27] Knight, Zulu War,  P.21

[28] I. Castle, Zulu War – Volunteers, Irregulars and Auxiliaries (Oxford, 2003) p.19

[29] David, Zulu, P.66

[30] ibid

[31] Castle, Irregulars, p.19

[32] ibid. p.11

[33] Knight, Zulu War 1879, p.62

[34] ibid., p.16

[35] ibid., p.33

[36]Pitale, B.N, The Speeches and Addresses of Sir Bartle Frere (Bombay, 1870) p.292

[37] Anglesey, History of Cavalry, p183

[38]D.P. O’Connor, Redcoats & Zulus: Myths, Legends & Explanations of the Anglo-Zulu War, ed. A. Greaves (Barnsley, 2004), p.192

[39] ibid.

[40] ibid.

[41] ibid.

[42] Hansard, HL Deb 14 February 1879 vol. 243 cc1179-83

[43] Rothwell, Narrative, pp.26-27

[44] ibid.

[45] A. Greeves, Forgotten Battles of the Zulu War, (Barnsley, 2012) p.46

[46] ibid., pp.33-34

[47] Rothwell, Narrative,  p.51

[48] Ibid., p.52

[49] Anglesey, History of Cavalry, p.185

[50] ibid.

[51] Rothwell, Narrative, p.33

[52] ibid.

[53] ibid., p.29

[54] ibid.

[55] ibid., p.31

[56] ibid.

[57] ibid.

[58] M. Snook, Notes on the Composition of the British Force at Isandlwana (2011) (accessed: 27 February 2015)

[59] Ibid.

[60] Knight, National Army Museum Zulu War, p.91

[61] Rothwell, Narrative, p.33

[62]David, Zulu, p.127

[63]Rothwell, Narrative, p.34

[64] Knight, National Army Museum Zulu War, p.99

[65] David, Zulu, p.132

[66] ibid.

[67] ibid., p.134

[68] Knight, National Army Museum Zulu War, p.100

[69] ibid.

[70]Rothwell, Narrative, p.38

[71] O’Connor, Redcoat, p.195

[72]J.S Rothwell (compiler), Narrative of the Field Operations connected with the Zulu War of 1879 (London, 1881) p.52

[73] ibid., p.53

[74] F. Colenso, The History of the Zulu War and its Origin (London, 1880) p.375

[75]  Rothwell, Narrative, p.56

[76] W. Ashe and E.V Wyatt-Edgell, The Story of the Zulu War (London,1880)  p.74

[77] Rothwell, Narrative, p.67

[78] ibid., pp.67-68

[79] Anglesey, The History of the British Cavalry 1816-1919: Volume III 1872-1898 (London, 1982).187

[80] E. Spiers, The Late Victorian Army 1868-1902 (Manchester, 1992) p.292

[81] Rothwell, Narrative, p.72

[82] I. Castle, Zulu War – Volunteers, Irregulars and Auxiliaries (Oxford, 2003),p.33

[83] W.H. Tomasson, With the Irregulars in the Transvaal and Zululand (London,1881) pp. 41-42

[84] Castle, Volunteers, p.33

[85] Rothwell, Narrative,  p.73

[86] TNA WO132/1, Buller’s Diary, 30 March 1879

[87] Rothwell, Narrative p.73

[88] ibid.

[89] ibid., p.74

[90] ibid.

[91] Buller’s Diary

[92] ibid.

[93] Rothwell, Narrative, p.75

[94] Buller’s diary

[95] Buller’s diary

[96] ibid.

[97] ibid.

[98] ibid.

[99] Rothwell, Narrative, p.76

[100] Buller’s Diary

[101] Rothwell, Narrative, p.76

[102] ibid. p.76

[103] ibid.

[104] Ibid.

[105] ibid., p.78

[106] Buller’s Diary

[107] ibid.

[108] ibid.

[109] ibid.

[110] ibid.

[111] ibid.

[112]A. Greeves, Forgotten Battles of the Zulu War (Barnsley 2012), p.78

[113] Tomasson, With the Irregulars, p.53

[114]The War Office, The London Gazette no.24734 (17 June 1879), p.3966

[115]Rothwell, Narrative,p.160

[116] Greeves, Forgotten Battles, p.83

[117] ibid., p.79

[118] Buller’s Diary

[119] Greeves, Forgotten Battle, p.100

[120] ibid.

[121] Buller’s Diary

[122] ibid.

[123] ibid.

[124] Rothwell, Narrative, p.80

[125] Buller’s Diary

[126] ibid.

[127] ibid.

[128] ibid.

[129] C. Callwell, Small Wars: Their Principles and Practice (London, 1896) p.363

[130] Anglesey, The History of the British Cavalry,  p.193

[131] Rothwell, Narrative, p. 81

[132] ibid.

[133] Greeves, Forgotten Battles, p.104

[134] I. Knight, The Zulu War 1879 (Oxford,2006), p.61

[135] Rothwell, Narrative, p.63

[136] ibid.

[137] ibid. p.65

[138] J.S Rothwell (compiler), Narrative of the Field Operations connected with the Zulu War of 1879 (London, 1881)  p.62

[139] Hansard, HL Deb. 14 February 1879, Vol. 243 p.1180

[140] ibid.

[141] Rothwell, Narrative, p.62

[142] ibid., Appendix B.

[143] I. Knight, The National Army Museum Book of the Zulu War (London, 2004) p.214

[144] Rothwell, Narrative, p.147

[145] ibid.

[146] ibid., p.84

[147] ibid., p.149

[148] W.H. Tomasson, With the Irregulars in the Transvaal and Zululand (London,1881) p.83

[149] TNA 33/36, General Report of Veterinary Department in the Zulu War (1881) p.3

[150] Anglesey, The History of the British Cavalry 1816-1919: Volume III 1872-1898 (London, 1982) p.195

[151] Vet Report p.4

[152] ibid., p.16

[153] S. Badsey, Doctrine and Reform in the British Cavalry 1880-1918 (Birmingham 2008) p.54

[154] Anglesey, History of Cavalry, p.195

[155]Rothwell, Narrative, p.91

[156] TNA WO 32/7741, Zulu War: Dispatches relating to reconnaissance operations and preparations for advance; burial of dead at Isandlwana. (1879) p.2

[157] ibid., p.3

[158] ibid., P.3

[159] Knight, National Army Museum Zulu War, p.225

[160] ibid., p.231

[161] ibid.

[162] TNA 32/7744 Zulu War: Lord Chelmsford on Disposition of Cavalry Regiments 31 May 1879

[163] ibid.

[164] ibid.

[165] Rothwell, Narrative, p.92

[166] Knight, National Army Museum Zulu War, p.223

[167]Rothwell, Narrative, P.94 Narrative

[168] ibid.

[169] ibid., p.95

[170] ibid., p.94

[171] ibid., p.97

[172] ibid., p.98

[173] ibid., p.110

[174] Aske and E.V Wyatt-Edgell, The Story of the Zulu War (London,1880) p.329

[175] Rothwell, Narrative, p.110

[176] Knight, National Army Museum Zulu War, p.249

[177] ibid.

[178] Rothwell, Narrative, p.113

[179] ibid.

[180] ibid.

[181] ibid.

[182] TNA 32/7383, Victoria Cross: Awards to Capt. (now Commandant) C D’Arcy and Sgt E O’Toole, Frontier Light Horse, for actions during Zulu War, 9 September 1879

[183] Rothwell, Narrative, p. 114

[184] J.W. Fortescue, A History of the 17th Lancers (London, 1895) p.176

[185] A. Greeves, Forgotten Battles of the Zulu War (Barnsley 2012) p.124

[186] Anglesey, History of Cavalry, p.200

[187] Rothwell, Narrative,  p.116

[188] Greeves, Forgotten Battles, p.126

[189] Anglesey, History of Cavalry, p.201

[190] Greeves, Forgotten Battles

[191] ibid.,

[192] ibid.

[193] Rothwell, Narrative, p.116

[194] ibid.

[195] Greeves, Forgotten Battles, p.128

[196] Anglesey, History of Cavalry, p.203

[197] C. Callwell, Small Wars: Their Principles and Practice (London, 1896) p.363

[198] ibid.

[199] S. Badsey, Doctrine and Reform in the British Cavalry 1880-1918 (Birmingham 2008) p.2

[200] Anglesey, The History of the British Cavalry 1816-1919: Volume VIII 1816-1919 The Western Front, 1915-1918, Epilogue 1919-1939  (London, 1982) p.342

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