"March slowly, attack at dawn and eat up the red soldiers." - The Battle of Isandlwana

22 January 1879, 135 years ago in South Africa, a Zulu army led by Ntshingwayo kaMahole Khoza annihilated a British detachment in the Battle of Isandlwana while Prince Dabulamanzi kaMpande was repulsed on the same day during his attack on Rorke’s Drift.

"March slowly, attack at dawn and eat up the red soldiers." (King Cetshwayo’s orders to his Impi on January 17th, 1879)

Charles Edwin Fripp (1854 - 1906): "The Last Stand at Isandlwana" (1885)

Tommy Atkins was quite left in the lurch in the shadow of the huge rock looming over the veldt 10 miles east of the Tugela and 105 miles north by northwest from Durban on the morning of January 22nd 1879, three weeks after Lord Chelmsford invaded Zululand under the pretext of a few ridiculous frontier disputes, according to the Imperial scheme to annex the whole of South Africa. All of the sudden, the advance party of Chelmsford’s army, 1,000 men, twelve regular infantry companies: six each of the 1st and 2nd battalions, 24th Regiment of Foot (2nd Warwickshire Regiment), who were ordered explicitly by Lt Gen Lord Chelmsford himself not to form their baggage train into a protective laager under the immediate command of Colonel Pulleine, a logistics specialist who stretched them out into a firing line almost two miles long, saw themselves confronted with the best organized and most aggressive troops in Africa – a Zulu Impi, 15,000 strong.

A contemporary lithograph of Chelmsford’s troops returning to the battlefield on May 21st 1879, to bury the dead and recover the wagons

Attacking in their traditional “horns of the beast” formation, the “loins”, the centre of the Impi, fell down under the withering fire poured into them by the soldiers of the 24th with their Martini-Henry rifles, but the horns of the beast, the right and left wing, soon enveloped their flanks and when the soldiers of the queen ran out of ammunition, the line was rolled up and the last pockets of resistance, the men standing back to back and defending themselves with revolvers and knifes, slaughtered, there were almost no survivors, while a total eclipse of the sun plunged the battlefield in an eerie darkness. At the same time, the uNdi Regiment of the Impi, 4.000 men, led by King Cetshwayo half-brother Dabulamanzi kaMpande, attacked a mission station 30 miles away on the Buffalo River at Rorke’s Drift, defended by 139 men of the 24th were repulsed after losing almost ¼ of their army in dead and wounded. With the catastrophe of Isandlwana a bit toned down by the unlikely victory at Rorke’s Drift, Chelmsford was to be relieved immediately from his command but managed to achieve a decisive victory against King Cetshwayo at Ulundi in July of the same year, ending the Zulu War and the independence of the Zulu kingdom.

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