The Second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902)

From 1899 to 1902 a war between Farmers, commonly
known as Boers, and soldiers of the British Empire waged over South Africa. The British (also known as the Kaki’s) fought
unsuccessfully against the Boer snipers and militias. The Great British Empire needed 3 years to
defeat an army that was smaller in size than the population of Brighton. To make matters even worse for the British,
the initial phase of the war saw Boer militias claiming success after success, resulting
in some serious doubt and embarrassment among the British. And as always, time stamps are in the description
as this is a long one. -intro- Historical Background Back in 1830 the Boers, originally farmers
from Dutch origin, migrated to South Africa. They established two republics, the Orange
Free State and Transvaal. Now, there is more to the history of the Boer,
among which the Grote Trek, their migration northward when the British came around the
corner. VC3 Productions made a very good video about
the complete history of the 19th century of the Boer. Back in 1880 there had already been a war
between the British and the Boer population. During this war the British initially managed
to capture large parts of Transvaal, though the Boers defeated them in 1881 at the Battle
of Majuba, regaining their independence. During their independence, in the lead up
to the outbreak of the Second Boer War, the respective presidents of both republics were
Paul Kruger of Transvaal, and the other was Martinus Steyn of the Orange Freestate. In 1886, with tensions ever so present, gold
was discovered in Transvaal. The discovery of gold didn’t just bring
wealth to Transvaal, but a stream of ‘uitlanders’, or foreigners as well. Over the years, tensions rose between the
uitlanders and Boer population in Transvaal. By 1895, the Boer population was nearly outnumbered
by the uitlanders. These uitlanders had to pay higher taxes and
weren’t allowed to vote in elections. Paul Kruger, president of the Republic, wasn’t
planning on being voted out any time soon. It was in late December 1895 the British embarked
on what would become known as the Jameson Raid. A British Militia under Leander Starr Jameson
invaded Transvaal in an attempt to have the uitlanders rise up against the Boer. Well, this failed and in response, Kruger
started importing weapons because he felt the independence of Transvaal was under threat. A thought not too difficult to sympathize
with I’d say. During the next years, Sir Alfred Milner,
the British governor of the Cape Colony, started to increase the pressure on Transvaal in favour
of the uitlanders, after all, they made up the majority of the population in Transvaal
by this point. Kruger demanded Great Britain cede its claim
to Transvaal. Over years negotiations were embarked upon
but both parties refused to give in just a little. British troops had been gathering around the
borders of the Boer republics for a while. And then, Kruger sent an ultimatum to Britain
that expired on the 12th of October 1899, to withdraw their troops. As Britain rejected the ultimatum, the Boer
launched their attacks on British positions, fully convinced if they didn’t, they would
be attacked in no-time. As such, the Boers took up arms because they
were convinced it was the only way they would be able to ensure their independence. The Brits pushed the Boers to extremes. They thought Afrikaander nationalism was a
danger to the superior position of Great Britain in South Africa. Lord Milner, saw Transvaal as a threat to
the loyalty of its British citizens that lived in Cape Colony and Natal. Ever since the discovery of gold in Transvaal,
the economical balance had shifted away from Cape Colony. All over South Africa these British citizens
had spread over the years, and it seemed like a logical consequence that – given there would
be a short war – Transvaal would be taken over by the British as the newest territory
to add to the British empire. The Boers would easily be defeated, it was
assumed. So, I previously mentioned Paul Kruger set
the ultimatum. The following quote by Lord Milner to Lord
Frederick Roberts summarizes the spirit of the British about this whole ordeal the best:
“I hurried a crisis that seemed inevitable, before it was too late.” It was an incredibly complicated situation
of two opposing interests on a clearly defined piece of territory. But the war was yet to come… The Three Phases of War From the military point of view, it is commonly
accepted the war consisted of 3 phases. The first phase lasted from the 12th of October
to the end of the year. The Boers were definitely in a great position
during this time. They invaded Natal and the Cape Colony, enticed
uprisings, annexed British territory, sieged the cities Mafeking, Kimberley and Ladysmith. Furthermore, during the second week of December,
which the British would later refer to as the black week, the Boers defeated General
William Gatacre at Stormberg, Lord Paul Methuen at Magersfontein and General Redvers Buller,
the British commander in chief, at Colenso. These Boer militias posed a bigger challenge
to the mighty British empire than anyone had expected. Strategically the Boers were on the offensive. Yet tactically they were on the defensive. They enjoyed the advantage of already formed
border positions and they were experienced in constructing field defenses and trenches. It was how General Koos De La Rey won at Magersfontein:
the trenches were ideally positioned. An interesting anecdote of De La Rey is that
he was noted for his chivalry, returning all Prisoners of War taken after the battle of
Magersfontein because he could not support them. He even returned the British General Methuen. Now, the Boer trenches were filled with snipers
that were more skilled than the British. To give you an idea of the British perspective
of this phase of the Boer war, the British Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith lamented
about the lack of fantasy of their generals. After reading the reports of Buller he said
“Our generals appear to not just be unable to claim victory, but are also unable to explain
why they are not”. Furthermore, the first two weeks of the war
the British were outnumbered. There were barely 13.000 British soldiers
in South Africa and the majority of them were stuck in the big cities. The Boers on the other hand had over 30.000
men. So when during late October the British 1st
Army Corps arrived, it seemed the war was going to be turned around. It was under the command of General Sir Redvers
Buller and his arrival was promising. He made one crucial mistake, however. He spread his forces and attempted to relieve
both Ladysmith and Kimberley. By December, his troops were defeated on every
battlefield. His reserves, stationed around the border,
did not move up to relieve their counterparts in the chaos and seemingly steamroll campaign
by the Boer militias. On the 23rd of January the battle of Spion
Kop marked another British defeat. The Boers were heavily outnumbered by the
British, yet managed to achieve victory. Spion Kop was a strategically located hill,
in Natal. The Boers had occupied the hill upon which
the British general Charles Warren decided to have it attacked from two sides by his
British forces. Due to fog and miscommunication the British
dug themselves in at the bottom of the hill, with the Boer militias dug in much higher,
firing away at the Brits. Unable to escape the Boer fire the battle
of Spion Kop marked a humiliating defeat for the British army. Now as an interesting anecdote, both Winston
Churchill, the future Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, was present at the battle
of Spionkop, serving as war correspondent of the newspaper Morning Post. Mahatma Gandhi was there as well, working
as an auxiliary to the British volunteer ambulance corps. Although the Boers had surprised everyone
with their success, from this point onward it would last for little under a month. The British Counter-offensive Because of their victories during the Black
Week and at Spion Kop the Boers arrived at their ‘peak of success’. The Prussian military theorist and general
Carl von Clausewitz referred to this as “the culminating point of victory” in his book
“Vom Kriege”. By this he meant that “one side has achieved
the maximum possible military advantage relative to the available resources and feasible political
aims. Beyond that, as Clausewitz wrote, battlefield
gains will become increasingly marginal relative to the costs and risks incurred and, if it
presses too far, the attacking side risks major setbacks and even catastrophic defeat.” Well, this is rather applicable to the position
the Boers were in right now. Due to the catastrophic defeats the British
suffered, Commander in Chief Buller was now replaced by Field Marshal Lord Frederick Roberts. Lord Horatio Kitchener became his chief of
staff. Buller would remain in charge of Natal, while
Roberts started planning the relief attempt of Kimberley. It would mark the beginning of the war’s
second phase. Roberts acted with much imagination and Kitchener
improvised a system that used transport-wagons instead of the railway system that was up
until then prone to Boer ambushes. Reason for this was the philosophy of Boer
General Piet Cronjé. He was convinced about the fact that the British
would never abandon the railways as they appeared a vital advantage inland. And, well, the British did abandon the railway
tactic. Roberts made sure to establish a stable supply
line for his troops and embarked on his first objective: relieving Kimberley. He surrounded the city and had Major General
John French lead the assault. The climax came when the famed British cavalry
charge relieved the city that had been besieged for 124 days. Cronjé’s Boer troops of around 4000 men
were ambushed at the valley of the Modderrivier at Paardeberg and were forced to surrender
on the 28th of February. Incidentally, this was on the 19th anniversary
of the Boer victory at Majuba Hill during the First Boer War. At any rate, these initial British victories
marked the turning point of the war. Cronjé’s surrender certainly had the morale
of the Boers take a heavy blow. Those that had besieged Ladysmith now retreated
and finally, after 4 attempts, Buller was able to relieve the city. Subsequently Bloemfontein was occupied and
the British rapidly pushed through: the entire Orange Free State was annexed. General Pretorius was pushed back towards
the hills of the Basutoland Protectorate, and was eventually forced to surrender, together
with many other troops of the Free State. Roberts remained in Bloemfontein for around
7 weeks due to a contagious epidemic that spread among his troops. Once that was dealt with, he started his march
north and captured Johannesburg, Pretoria, and pushed the forces defending Transvaal
Eastward along the railway to Mozambique, then a Portuguese colony. By September 1900 Transvaal too was annexed. The second phase of the war, the massive British
counter-offensive was over. And with it, the war seemed to be over as
well, with a Boer defeat the only logical result. “Guerilla” Warfare So, the Boers were driven out of Orange Free
State and Transvaal it seemed. A clear victory for the British… except
it wasn’t really. The third phase of the war lasted for another
18 months: the Boer insurgency. What happened during these months is often
described as guerilla warfare, but there are some objections to using that term. Primarily, the fact that guerilla warfare
tends to be waged by small groups of combatants that operated independently of each other. While the Boer militias had been defeated
in open combat and the Boer governments left their capitals, they managed to retain their
authority. President Paul Kruger, at this point an old
and broken man, the war had taken a heavy toll on him, sailed to Europe. He would never return to his beloved country,
and eventually die in Switzerland. His mandate was transferred to Schalk Burger,
the vice-president of the Transvaal. Together with General Louis Botha, commander
of the armed forces, Burger wasn’t planning on giving up the fight anytime soon. General Botha commanded forces in Eastern
Transvaal and General de la Rey commanded troops in the West. Elsewhere, Boer Militias took matters into
their own hands and sought combat on their own terms. Attacking British supply lines, using their
flexible ways of combat and knowledge of the territory, these proved very effective in
opposing the British. Theoretically, both Transvaal and Orange Free
State had been annexed. President of the Orange Free State, Martinus
Steyn, had left his republic as well and the government seat was wherever he happened to
reside. In practice, however, the Boers waged a war
of attrition against the British, resisting a much larger force. Now, this third phase of the conflict changed
the nature of it. The Boers became convinced the British were
trying to eradicate them as a nation, while the British found themselves in ever increasing
difficulty differentiating between civilians and soldiers. This new pattern became apparent first in
Orange Free State. After the British annexation it had been renamed
as Orange River Colony. A large part of the population had surrendered
and was allowed to return home, after swearing an oath of neutrality. Neither President Steyn, nor acting president
Burger recognized the annexation, nor the right of their own people to withdraw from
their struggle. The British barely offered protection to those
Boers that surrendered. Those that had surrendered were now threatened
by Boer militias to be executed as deserters. In turn, Roberts started torching farms of
Boers that broke their oath and took up arms against the British again, resulting in reprisals
from the Boers again. It was rather chaotic to put it mildly. The British started building concentration
camps, under military control, where those that had surrendered could, together with
their family, “seek protection”. These concentration camps saw inhumane and
abhorrent conditions. We’ll get back to them in a bit. As the third phase of the war dragged on,
several realities appeared. One was a military stalemate, another was
the fact there were split opinions on both sides about how to continue the conflict. Furthermore, there was confusion among those
that had to act out orders and increased friction between civilian and military authorities. Well, for the Boers their military and civilian
authorities had become intertwined because of the war, so separating them became near
impossible. The British had a mandate to do whatever was
necessary for the objective of winning the war, though often civilians disagreed with
the methods used. One thing the parties had in common was their
determination to keep on fighting until the bitter end. Milner’s goal was breaking Boer nationalism. During 1900 he demanded an unconditional surrender
from the Boers. Lord Kitchener had unsuccessfully proposed
peace conditions to General Botha in Middelburg. It didn’t seem like the Boers were going
to surrender. As such, in 1901 the two Boer-governments
came together in Waterval and agreed neither would sign a separate peace, unless annexations
were returned by Britain. Given these conditions, the war could continue
until the last Boer had either been killed or captured. Roberts laid down his command in late 1900
and was replaced by Kitchener. And Kitchener, well he had personal reasons
to want to end this war as soon as possible. He wanted to become the commander in chief
of the armed forces in British India and feared he would be passed if he was still tangled
up in this war. As such, Kitchener barely cared about the
political impact of his actions and his respect for Milner soon changed to indifference. As for Milner, he started to distrust Kitchener
as time went on. The British Army seemed to have lost the initiative
during military operations. Suddenly it was responding to Boer actions
in countless places, instead of the other way around. Boer Generaal Christiaan de Wet undertook
two spectacular robberies during this time. From a military point of view, de Wet’s
actions didn’t mean that much but they certainly showed the incompetence and ineptness of the
British. While the British had a strong position in
military terms, they definitely needed to change the situation behind the scenes in
order for a victory. Boer insurrection So I’ve given a bit of an overview of the
political situation of the Boer war during its third phase. Fact of the matter is that it was marked by
a Boer insurgency, showcasing multiple attacks on the British. During one noteworthy event, during early
1901, the Freestate generals Pieter Kritzinger and James Hertzog attacked the Cape Colony
for the second time and managed to invade. They had tried this once before, but this
time, they sparked an uprising that was much more serious than the first one. It resulted in many casualties, executions
on both sides, and admittedly questionable practices against civilians. Eventually, the British regained control over
the territory. Later, joining the survivors of Kritzinger’s
troops, the former Transvaal State Attorney Jan Christiaan Smuts led a spectacular raid
towards the same direction. He ended up in the north-west of the colony. By the end of 1901 throughout the entirety
of the cape colony, a state of siege was declared. The British, by this point, had nearly 250.000
troops on the ground, while the Boers never had more than 30.000. The Brits were at a disadvantage as they were
spread over the entire colony. Although impressive fighting took place and
brutal repercussions were enacted upon by both sides, in general the situation in Cape
Colony remained a stalemate. As the British faced strong Boer resistance,
attacks and they seemingly couldn’t get a grip on it, Kitchener now resorted to the
tactic that became known as the scorched earth tactic. Kitchener started commanding large hunts on
Boer militias, building forth on Roberts tactic, burning down farms along the way. British troops now razed over the countryside,
confiscating cows and sheep, burning crops, farms and yards. Furthermore, a collection of cabins between
barbed wire obstructions were erected. All over Boer terrain these buildings appeared,
occasionally alternated with trenches or bunkers. These buildings made the resupplying of Boer
militias and the movement of said militias even more difficult. Even though Kitchener’s method was horrible
for the land, which now technically belonged to the British empire, he figured if he stuck
with it it would eventually guarantee him victory. The Boer families that were chased away could
only reside in the British concentration camps where the situation became more abysmal by
the day. It is worth dedicating a small chapter to
these camps. British Camps In 1901 the British internment camps were
pestered by disease. Lung infections, measles and stomach-typhoid. Thousands of Boer civilians got sick and passed
away. These horrors bestowed upon the Boer population
were the result of negligence and simply the lack of control and medical knowledge. I don’t wish to sugarcoat any of it, the
conditions were horrible. At any rate: over 20.000 Boer citizens died
in those camps. The journalist Emily Hobhouse visited these
camps and published about them in newspapers, bringing its horrible conditions to the attention
of the British public. Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, who was then
the head of British opposition, referred to the conditions as barbaric. Lord Milner had used this same expression
before, when discussing the matter with the minister of colonies, Joseph Chamberlain. All in all, I believe the images you’re
seeing right now allows for entertaining the thought of the conditions. Mortality rates due to disease, the destruction
of farms and lands, the annexation of territory and the war itself were fruitful ground for
even more hatred against the British. Well, Lord Kitchener added another reason
for hatred: field executions. Field executions could be carried out for
insurrection, but for the murder of non-whites as well. Kitchener recruited around 10.000 non-white
soldiers who, if killed by the Boers, provided the reason for the British to execute Boer
soldiers. In turn, Boer militants torched public buildings. The death penalty was carried out for torchings
as well. As such, many Boer soldiers would be executed,
two prominent examples are Gideon Scheepers and Commandant Lotter, whose commando was
holding itself up in Cape Colony after Kirtzinger invasion. He was tracked down by the British, and all
men were executed. Lord Milner was powerless against all these
events. By 1901 he had entered Transvaal in order
to place its industrial territory under government surveillance. After all, one of the reasons for these hostilities
were the gold mines in Transvaal. Slowly but surely the mines started operating
again and the rebuild commenced. Nevertheless, Milner was convinced negotiating
with the Boers was out of the question: the republics had to disappear. The conflict with Lord Kitchener didn’t
appear, as Kitchener still eagerly wanted to go to be assigned to British India, and
wanted to commence peace negotiations whenever the opportunity presented itself. Nearing the end As the British were ruthlessly pursuing Boer
militias, with thousands of Boer civilian casualties as a result, both sides started
to show serious signs of doubt. For the British, the re-election was a problem
and the conflict started to have a very bad aftertaste. But among the Boer population there wasn’t
a united front anymore either. The Orange Free State Boer generally was still
clinging on to their initial demands: no surrender unless complete independence is guaranteed. Those from Transvaal were starting to realize
this ideal probably would not be feasible. The Free State faced near total annihilation
by this point. Its infrastructure burned down, its population
locked away in camps. Yet its population remained Dutch. Transvaal, however, slowly started to resemble
a British colony. Some men of Transvaal figured they now could
still negotiate some concessions, with the alternative of resisting resulting in the
eradication of their language, the exile of its leaders and the end of being Afrikaner. Thanks to the interference of the Dutch government
the British seemed open to negotiations with the Boer. Those from Transvaal seemed willing to do
so, while those from the Orange Free State wanted to fight until the bitter end. Eventually the peace negotiations were undertaken
anyway. When these negotiations commenced, the Boer
population first held a meeting in Klerksdorp among themselves. Then between representatives of the Boers
and Milner and Kitchener in Pretoria. Some other negotiations between different
parties occurred over the weeks, and eventually an interesting political contrast started
to show. President Steyn and the representatives of
the Free State thought similar to Milner: continuing the war because they firmly clung
to their demands. Those from Transvaal and Kitchener had an
overlapping, contrasting vision because they wanted to war to be over. Eventually, the latter camp seemed to have
the majority. In May 1902 the Treaty of Vereeniging was
signed – a treaty that did not seem like an unconditional surrender. It was an agreement that was established by
negotiations which promised the Boer population self-government, the native population of
South Africa would be deprived of political rights and the Dutch language would be allowed
in schools and law courts. In turn all the Boers had to swear allegiance
to the Crown. It seemed like a decent agreement after a
bitter war – and most of all – the Boer could claim they weren’t defeated in battle: the
spirit of nationalism among them was alive and well. And that is how the Second Boer War ended,
an interesting and complex conflict that overshadowed another interesting conflict on the other
side of the world: China’s Boxer Rebellion. I have made a video a while back documenting
that uprising, which is fascinating and complex in itself. Consider checking that out! If you enjoyed the video consider subscribing
to my channel and checking me out on Patreon. Thank you for watching and is there an event
or person from South African history you would like to know more about, and perhaps see a
video of? Let me know your thoughts in a comment! See you next time.

11 Replies to “The Second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902)”

  1. This was, by far, the most requested video since I started House of History nearly 1 year ago. Hope it lives up to the expectations!

    Consider Supporting HoH:

    Time Codes

    0:49 Historical Background

    4:09 Three Phases of War

    7:35 The British Counter-offensive

    10:47 "Guerilla" Warfare

    15:54 Boer Insurrection

    18:19 British Concentration Camps

    20:45 Nearing the end

  2. The Boer war is also one of my favourites in worlds history.
    It is too pity that there are so few books about it.
    Thank you very much.

  3. One of the greatest and the longest resistance against superior forces of an empire were the Araucan (Mapuche) Wars, lasting more than 350 years, scoring countless humiliating defeats of the Spanish Empire from the Mapuche warriors, who managed to control a huge territory from Chile and Argentina.
    Can you make a video also about this?

  4. Thanks for this, enjoyed it as well as its inherent information, I must confess that your evident bias and editorials regarding many actions are somewhat frustrating but in our zeitgeist your interpretation will be seen as one of the more favourable to the British people, who lived there almost as long as Boer folks, (Notably nothing mentioned regarding native nationals, Zululand etc.?) so I say thànk you again and keep them flowing. An Englishman.

  5. A very underrated war in terms of influence.
    Will you do a video on the Zulu and Mahdist wars? Both are particularly interesting looks into British Imperialism against its own initial designs.

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