History : Apr-May 2015
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC HISTORY 17 1 2 3 4 5 Europeans, abandoned to their fate by the desertion of a detachment of native soldiers. It is believed that the Zulu may have armed themselves with over a hun- dred Martini-Henry rifles, taken from the British at Isandlwana. The Zulu oc- cupied a nearby hill overlooking Rorke’s Drift and began firing down into the de- fensive compound. But unlike at Isandl- wana, this time the British had fortified their position as well as they could. A wall of wagons, flour sacks, and biscuit box- es was built to connect the site’s stone structures into a continuous defensive line behind which the British soldiers could fight. Over the following 12 hours they managed to repel successive Zulu attacks. Despite their bravery and deter- mination the Zulu were exhausted from a lack of provisions during the previous three days. At 4 a.m. on the 23rd, after losing about 500 warriors, the Zulu re- treated. Astonishingly there were on- ly 15 British deaths, most of them from bullet wounds. Eleven of the survivors were awarded the Victoria Cross, Brit- ain’s highest military decoration. This was partly a political move to “exorcise” the defeat at Isandlwana. The Zulu Empire Subdued When Cetshwayo was informed of his losses he lamented, “A spear has been thrust into the belly of the Zulu nation.” The king understood that his brave war- riors had borne the brunt of the battles. Despite the Zulu losses, the conquest was no easy task for the British. They lost 79 men at Ntombe, defeated by a renegade Swazi prince fighting for the Zulu. Days later another 200 British soldiers died in a clash at Hlobane. And a few months later Eugene Louis Napoleon, a grand nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, was killed while fighting as a volunteer in the British Ar- my. But by now the British military ma- chine was laying down the law. In Kham- bula, on March 29, the Zulu lost 2,000 men, and a few days later at Gingindlovu another thousand fell. In the war’s final battle, at Ulundi on July 4, 1879, the Zu- lu were barely able to hold out for half an hour; they suffered 1,000 casualties for just ten European deaths. The next month King Cetshwayo was captured, and the Zulu Empire was partitioned be- tween the British and their African allies. In 1882 a limited Zulu monarchy was re- stored with Cetshwayo as king. He died in 1884 and his grave remains a sacred site to the modern Zulu. BRIDGEMAN/INDEX CARLO CARANCI Learn more BOOKS British Infantryman Versus Zulu Warrior: Anglo-Zulu War 1879 Ian Knight, Osprey, 2013. Zulu 1879: The Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 from Contemporary Sources Compiled by D. C . F. Moodie, Leonaur, 2006. OIL PAINTING of the British garrison at Rorke’s Drift resisting Zulu attacks on January 22, 1879. It was thought that news of the disaster at Isandlwana would provoke mass desertion, but the British kept their calm, orga- nized a defensive stronghold, and used superior firepower to their advantage. 1 Parapet Made up of wagons, flour sacks, and biscuit boxes, it was crucial in repelling the Zulu attacks. 3 Fire In the evening, the house-hospital burned down. The British managed to rescue the wounded. 2 Lt. Chard Despite his limited combat experience he was able to maintain discipline and coordinate the troops. 4 Rifles A Martini-Henry rifle could fire a deadly 450-570 caliber bullet every five seconds if needed. 5 Ammunition It was essential to resupply the soldiers when the 70 bullets held in their cartridge pouches ran out.