It’s History Thursday, Battle of Isandlwana.
British hopes to unite South African under a single confederation under British rule received a major setback when the invading army’s main camp, defended, by 1,800 troops, was overrun in an overwhelming attack by Zulu warriors.
The British had given the Zulu King Cetshwayo an ultimatum he couldn’t comply with so as to instigate the war. Lord Chelmsford led 15,000 troops into Zululand in five columns. The idea was to find the main Zulu army, encircle and destroy it before moving on to capture Ulundi, the Zulu capital. He was afraid the Zulus would avoid a fight, but these fears were unfounded.
The Zulus were a warrior society in which most able men constituted the army during times of war. They were armed mainly with short assegai spears, which they used for thrusting, and cowhide shields. While logistically they couldn’t stay in the field very long, they could travel large distances very quickly.
The king told the 24,000 warriors in his main army, “March slowly, attack at dawn and eat up the red soldiers.”
About 4,000 warriors were detached for a diversionary attack on another column. Chelmsford took the bait with the bulk of his forces, leaving Lieutenant Colonel Henry Pulleine in charge of the main camp. The Zulu main army discovered the camp and attacked immediately, deploying into a battle line as they ran.
Despite an advantage in cannon and musketry, the British were poorly led and deployed, and they had not entrenched. In the ensuing battle, more than 1,300 British troops were killed, while the Zulus suffered losses of about 1,000 warriors.
Isandlwana proved a major defeat for the British. King Cetshwayo attempted a negotiated peace but was rebuffed by Chelmsford, who hoped to restore his shattered reputation. The British invaded a second time and crushed the Zulus at the Battle of Ulundi before burning the Zulu capital, ending the war.
The terrific film ZULU DAWN depicts the destruction of the British army, check it out: