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Episode 44: The Omega of the Alpha


(1:24) Battle at Tweebosch: It was March … 1902. The Boers and the Brits would clash again at Tweebosch (Twee-boash). One side would carry away one of their enemy’s leading generals. Would this put a nail in the coffin of the Boer war effort or bring British Parliament to call for peace, as soon as possible? This battle of Tweebosch (Twee-boash) or De Klipdrift (Klip-driff) followed months of the British unsuccessfully chasing De Wet all over southern Africa … or so it must have felt to a frustrated Kitchener. De Wet and Steyn managed to escape entrapment again! This time breaking through at least 3 block house lines and out of the Orange Free State. They even met De La Rey briefly in the Western Transvaal. No blockhouse system could corral Boers in this region … a region too devoid of water to plant blockhouses. So Kitchener left 9 different column commanders with extra mobile forces at their disposal. Their job? Get De la Rey … wherever he was lurking between Mafeking and the Magaliesburg (Mah-Hah-lees-berGG)


(3:22) March 1902 Battle of Tweebosch: On February 24th, 1902, De La Rey  struck a wagon convoy that was part of this effort to catch him. De La Rey’s men killed, wounded, or captured nearly 400 Brits. Then vanished again. The Lord Methuen you heard about early on in the war … the general who first led the British war effort in the Cape Colony and Orange Free State, but then was disgraced and nearly stripped of his command after Magersfontein (Mah-hers-fontain) … that Lord Methuen led one of those 9 columns on March 7th when … De La Rey struck again. Methuen led about 1,300 inexperienced yeomanry and other irregulars from Tweebosch (Twee-boash) at 3AM with his main force of 900 leading the way, and the rest trailing with his ox wagon convoy. I bet you know who gets attacked first. At 5AM, General van Zyl (fawn sail) led part of De La Rey’s 750 men in an attack … on the wagon convoy. Methuen tried to pull his two forces together, but couldn’t in the chaos. His artillery guns focused on the Boer attack on the wagon convoy. So then the main Boer force attacked the right flank of Methuen’s main force and the right rearguard. Three times Boer horsemen galloped close to British forces and fired, not showing any fear of inaccurate artillery and rifle fire coming from the raw British recruits. Then De La Rey rode along on the fourth charge … this time they rode through the terrified, main British forces contingent and then attacked the British ox wagon convoy from a third side. At one point, De La Rey rode into a pack of British combatants … thinking they were his own Boers … and then had to beat a narrow escape. Remember, a lot of De La Rey’s men wore British khakis when their own clothes fell apart. Methuen fared much worse. First, he took a bullet to the leg while riding horseback. Then … Methuen’s horse got shot out from under him and then … rolled over Methuen’s wounded leg and broke the leg. But that wasn’t the worst of it for Methuen. De La Rey, with General Jan Kemp and General Johan Celliers (sell-ee-air), annihilated Methuen’s force. Many of Methuen’s men panicked and fled the battle. In the end, the Boers suffered 34 casualties while killing & wounding nearly 200 Brits and … capturing 500 horses & mules, 120 supply wagons with ammunition, and … 859 prisoners .. including Methuen. De La Rey kept characteristically classy and released Methuen back to the British so that Methuen could get better medical attention … you know, for his bullet wound and broken leg. This kindness of Koos actually forged a friendship that would last a lifetime between him and Lord Methuen. …. So did capturing Methuen ultimately matter? … no. Kitchener reverted to sending tens of thousands of Brits to steam roll the area, but yielded little. 


(6:56) Klerksdorp (Clairks-dorp) vs. Joiners: Another force began rolling even more swiftly on January 25th, 1902. Many listeners with a Reformed theology background will recognize the man who sped this force up. Dutch Prime Minister … Dr. Abraham Kuyper contacted the British government on this day … offering his services as a peacemaker between his racial & theological cousins … and the British. Lord Kitchener passed word of this on … only to the Transvaal’s acting president Schalk Burger. Kitchener knew President Steyn and Free State leaders still rejected peace that stripped away freedom. By April, what was left of Transvaal and Free State leaders met at Klerksdorp (Clairks-dorp) in the Transvaal. Those men who met were not faint of heart. These bittereinders (bitter-ainderz) aka “bitter enders” kept fighting even after Paardeberg (PaRRdeBerGG), even after being forced out of Natal after Vaal Krantz (Fall-krawnz), even after the fall of Bloemfontein and Pretoria, even after thousands of Boer warriors surrendered over the months and years … these leaders fought on. They sometimes even fought on against their former brothers in arms! Piet De Wet, Christiaan’s brother, and Andries Cronje, whose brother surrendered at Paardeberg (PaRRdeBerGG), for example … lost all hope of Boer victory, and instead … took British money to fight against republican forces. “Joiners” like Piet De Wet and Andries Cronje hoped they could end the horrors of the war … scorched earth, concentration camps and all … by helping the British end it. Some joiners served honorably … depending who you ask. Others did their land dishonor. For example, Captain Oloff M. Bergh (oa-loff M bairGG) led surrendered Boers and some black soldiers, not only in attacking Boer commandos near Winburg (Win-BurGG), … but also burning down homesteads and even molesting women and children there. Kitchener incorporated Transvaal joiners into National Scout columns that fought under British supervision. Some National Scouts fought on the British side at Tweebosch (Twee-boash) … where Methuen got captured. National Scout members’ families lived in houses of “bitter ender” men while those bitter ender families lived in concentration camps. In December 1901, families of National Scout members moved to separate concentration camps that had similar food rations but much better medical care than camps where bitter ender families suffered. Piet De Wet helped establish the Orange River Colony Volunteers for former Free State joiners. These joiners served mainly as scouts and guides. By the time republican, bitter ender leaders met at Klerksdorp (Clairks-dorp) in April 1902, about 5,000 Boers actively served alongside British columns … compared to less than 20,000 Boers still fighting in the field for their freedom.


Those leaders of the remaining Boers fighting for republican freedom drew up a peace proposal that still maintained independent republics. President Steyn maintained that if the British “did not wish the Republics to remain independent, the struggle must continue.” Of course, the republics were willing to demilitarize, extend the vote to Uitlanders now, sign a binding treaty of friendship with Britain, and give the English language equal rights to the Dutch language. Even if republican leaders had no chance of turning the tide of the war against an enemy that outnumbered them almost 15:1, men like Steyn hoped that holding on would drain the British treasury some more and make British Parliament & voters tired of carrying on the war. Kitchener sat in on negotiations when they moved to Pretoria on April 12th; Lord Alfred Milner joined the negotiators on April 14th. Eventually, London laughed at these Klerksdorp (Clairks-dorp) terms and replied with roughly the same 10-points they’d proposed to Botha at Middelburg (Middle-BearGG) nearly a year before. The British eventually guaranteed safe travel for 60 Transvaal and Free State delegates … elected by commandos still in the field … to meet again for peace negotiations in Vereeniging* (I’ll butcher this …Fuh-rey-nuh-hung). 


(11:40) APRIL 11, 1902 FINAL BATTLE of ROOIWAL: While Boer leaders convened, General Jan Kemp and General Ferdinandus Potgieter (Fair-dee-nawn-dus Poo/aut-heater) led Boers into the final formal battle of the Anglo-Boer War … near a farm … called Rooiwal (Roy-vawl). The battle ended with Kemp and Potgieter charging ahead of their 1,700 horsemen with no cover into Kekewich’s 3,000 entrenched men, six artillery pieces, and 2 pom-poms. Pakenham compares this doomed attack to the charge of Light Brigade back in the Crimean War, and then writes, “To continue the charge seemed folly, if not madness. Yet Kemp and Potgieter both accepted the challenge; in their attempt to out-do De La Rey’s achievements, they threw his tactics to the winds. They cantered on, forming a massed phalanx, two, three, and four deep. The six British guns began to tear holes in the column. Still they came on, gambling everything on the chance that the British would turn and run. If fortune always favoured the brave, Kemp and Potgieter would have won the most spectacular victory of the war. As it was … they were assisted by the shooting of Kekewich’s [Mounted Infantry], which was dismally wide of the mark. Some of the raw yeoman turned and fled. Lieutenant Carlos Hickie … had just gone off to tell the commanding officer of the convoy to laager it up. Suddenly … he saw a mob of panic-stricken yeoman galloping back. ‘I tried to get hold of these faint-hearted ones to line them up on the flank … but nothing would stop them. It takes a strong man to shoot one of his own men … but I thought I should be driven to it that day … the galloping men stampeded the convoy.’” But no Boers … followed. Instead, Potgieter lay a mile away with three bullets to his head and body … along with 50 dead or seriously wounded Boers. The charge … was broken. But for various reasons, Ian Hamilton and company took hours to organize a mop-up … a counter-attack. The belated mop-up only bagged 50 Boers. Meanwhile, where Potgieter lay dead, Brits foraged for food, some took pictures of each other with a Kodak camera, and many collected Boer wounded on ambulance wagons. Now all that mattered … was what was happening at Klerksdorp (Clairks-dorp) and continued at Vereeniging (Fuh-rey-nuh-hung)… then Pretoria.


(14:29) Vereeniging to Pretoria for Negotiations: Boer delegates began meeting on May 15th at Vereeniging (Fuh-rey-nuh-hung). These warriors and leaders were all too aware how hopeless their efforts were to trigger an uprising in the Cape Colony, how much their women and children were suffering in concentration camps, how helpless they were to provide for women and children that the British simply left destitute on the veld beginning in December 1901, and how helpless they were to stop natives from committing “murders and all sorts of cruelties” against Boers warriors … and Boer women and children. Louis Botha really drove that violent native point home. Botha and Jan Smuts argued persuasively to the delegates that keeping the resistance on for another year would leave any survivors with even less leverage in treaty negotiations by 1903. Koos De La Rey, General Hertzog (hairt-sock), and President Steyn’s wing with many Free State delegates scorned Smuts and Botha’s arguments … but in the end, Smuts and Botha’s arguments won the day. On the British side, Milner and Kitchener continued to disagree over what sort of peace to offer the Boers. Milner demanded far more … wanting the influence of republican generals and leaders completely destroyed. In Lord Milner’s mind, the peace he wanted would give a much freer hand to mold the future South Africa that would emerge from the ashes … a South Africa run by men like the Cape loyalists and Uitlanders. Lord Kitchener wanted to be far more accommodating and allow the Boer leaders to make a more dignified peace so that, in his mind, the war would end sooner, so that the empire could stop broadcasting to the world that most of their troops still remained bogged down in southern Africa, and so the remaining Boer leaders would be more likely to reconcile with the British empire after the war. Neither man got all that he wanted. The sixty Boer delegates selected five men to form their negotiating team: General Botha, General De La Rey, and Jan Smuts … now putting his attorney hat back on … to represent the Transvaal; and …General Christiaan De Wet and General Hertzog (hairt-sock) … also putting his attorney hat back on to represent the Free State. This team wrangled for days with Kitchener and Milner and their legal team. De Wet exploded when the British delegation insisted the republics let go of their independence and call King Edward VII their “king.” Milner seemed all too pleased with this … all too pleased to end negotiations and ground the Boer rebels into dust on the field. But once the generals– especially De Wet– left the room, Smuts and Hertzog went to work at Kitchener’s encouragement … to draft something they could eventually run by De Wet. The proposal aligned with the 10-point Middelberg (Middle-BearGG) terms proposed to Botha a year earlier, but with three major changes. First, Cape rebels … except for their leaders … would not be imprisoned … but would instead be banned from voting for five years. Second, the natives … the blacks would not have any shot of getting the vote, until … after South Africa was self-governing … not before. Was there any way in the real world that even a decade later … a self-governing South Africa led by leaders of Natal, the Transvaal, the Free State, and Cape Colony would willfully grant blacks the vote? Ha! Third, the British government would agree to pay pre-war debts of the ex-republics up to £3 million … instead of £1 million. The Brits would also offer generous loans to both loyalists and former rebels. The British Cabinet, including Joseph Chamberlain, liked these terms well enough to let the natives be indefinitely disenfranchised, but not enough to go without saying that the £3 million would cover war losses. The Salisbury (Sawls-Berry) cabinet returned the updated peace terms to the Boer delegates on May 27th. 


The Boers could only say yes or no … no more negotiating. Could these delegates bear to let their women and children drift about on the veld vulnerable to violence … with not even a concentration camp willing to admit them? Would they reject this peace offer and fight … until only Uitlanders and loyalists remained to lead whatever government rose out of the ashes? De Wet argued as long as he could that the fight, despite all the evidence, could go on. But Hertzog couldn’t maintain this dream. On May 31st, 1902, at 2PM in Vereeniging (Fuh-rey-nuh-hung), the 60 Boer delegates voted on the peace terms. De Wet ultimately joined the 54 delegates who opted for peace and unity between the delegates. Then, the British rushed Schalk Burger and Christiaan De Wet by train to Pretoria where they signed away their respective republic’s independence; then Kitchener and Milner signed. Then … it was over. 


Days later, all but 20,000 of Kitchener’s quarter million steamed toward Britain. 21,000 bitter enders threw their rifles into heaps and went to find their families in those wretched concentration camps. Historian Andre’ Wessels (Vessels) argues that 

some bittereinders’ (bitter-ainderz’) believed that Boer peace negotiators had sold their countrymen out. Like many Germans after the Great (First World) War of 1914 to 1918, some Afrikaners believed that they were not actually defeated militarily in the war, and could therefore have continued their struggle. “Like the Germans who after 1918 believed that they had been stabbed in the back by the Weimar (vigh-mar) politicians who negotiated for peace and had surrendered (see the [stabbed-in-the-back] myth that was propagated by Adolf Hitler and his Nazi followers), some Afrikaners believed (erroneously), on conclusion of the Anglo-Boer War, that they could have continued to pursue the guerrilla war against the British with success, but had been betrayed by people, such as General Louis Botha and General Jan Smuts―both of them prominent Transvaal commanding officers.” A few other Afrikaners would say after that the British only won the war because of putting Boers families into concentration camps. This assertion …. Lacks logic … to say the least.  


(21:40) The Aftermath: Queen Victoria reigned over the British empire from 1837 to 1901 … that’s over 60 years. During those years, the British Army engaged in 230 wars, campaigns & punitive expeditions. The Anglo-Boer War was the 226th of those. So what did this war cost? The British government spent £217 million pounds on this war … more than 20 times what they’d predicted before.  About 350,000 of the half million horses, donkeys, and mules that the War Office threw into this war … died. Of 450,000 British men who served in this South African War of 1899-1902, 22,000 died in the field. Of those 22,000, only 9,000 died in combat while over 13,000 died from faecal-oral illnesses like enteric fever…. Meaning more British men died because of ingesting human poop particles from water, dust, or flies … than men who died from bullet wounds. Little wonder that they couldn’t keep Boers they didn’t care about from dying from preventable diseases in their concentration camps. Speaking of concentration camps, four times as many women and children … 28,000 … died in those “refugee” camps … as Boers battling in the field. Of the 83,000 Boers who took up arms for their republics and around 2,000 foreign volunteers, 7,000 died in combat. The surviving veterans returned to homes, towns, countrysides devastated beyond recognition. 63,000 made claims on some of the £3 million pounds that the British promised for rebuilding. But money flowed disproportionately to loyalists, handsuppers, and Uitlanders. We mentioned in a previous episode that the British burned over 30,000 Boer homesteads to the ground during the war. But tens of thousands of black labourers’ homesteads lay in ashes after the war too. Those Africans with property before the war, filed £661,000 in compensation claims … but successfully saw that money far less than even Boer bitter enders. Those Africans were treated with even more contempt by Boers of this new British domain. Blacks and coloureds looked with increasing distrust on all whites with the British selling them out for greater “white” reconciliation in southern Africa. Black groups like the ANC– the African National Congress– would fight against white domination and clash with Afrikaner nationalist groups who were also working to fight against British domination. Afrikaners and English never found sufficient reconciliation and healing from the trauma of the war, so future Afrikaner generations emerged as bitter as ever about the war and the concentration camps. 


Blacks and coloureds remained marginalized and left to harbor and breed more resentment of their own. In yet another instance of history rhyming, many Afrikaners for decades after the war harbored hatred and fear against any foreign intervention … like the British intervention that came allegedly on behalf of the Uitlanders … foreign intervention that doomed them during the Anglo-Boer War. But this hatred and fear extended towards any that many Afrikaners saw as “the other” … whether that be English who remained in their midst, or … the coloured, the Indian, the Chinese, … and the black that still greatly outnumbered them. They elected leaders intent on keeping these “others” from taking Afrikaner sovereignty away … again. And so, formulated another umbrella group … a different  Uitlanders who … greatly outnumbered and outproduced the Afrikaner, but would not be given the vote … this time because of their skin tone. Needless to say to many of you, these non-whites of what became  South Africa didn’t get the vote for almost 100 years …. Yeah, we are talking until the year 1994. Swaziland’s blacks watched helplessly as the British apportioned ⅔’s of post-war Swaziland to private concessions.  The remaining third of what was once Swaziland survived as a poor protectorate until 1968 … when Swaziland emerged an independent country. What about the Sotho or the Zulu? We may get to that. New Zealand, Australia, and Canada’s volunteers served admirably during this war. Their service in this war fueled greater desire for independence from the British empire. 


Throughout the war, Alfred Milner worked hard to make sure the gold mines kept their production up, and stayed hell-bent on this after the war. The mines in a way … were key to funding South Africa’s development. Milner made more moral and even political errors. He recruited Chinese migrants to work in the mines for low wages, and allowed these Chinese to be flogged when they didn’t perform satisfactorily. Allowing Chinese in … to take those mining jobs that the mine owners wanted to be as low wage as possible … did not do anything to endear Milner to South Africans. Allowing those Chinese to be flogged caused enough consternation in Britain to help propel CampbellBannerman (Banner-men) and the Liberals into power in the House of Commons in 1906. This new British government expedited the process of South African self-rule. That isn’t to say that Milner’s hopes and Milner’s Kindergarten’s work to Anglicize … to make these new colonies in their British stepmother’s image … had much hope of success by 1906. Not nearly enough British immigrated to these new colonies. Milner’s hope of importing British women to repopulate these colonies with more British children didn’t work either; I’ll post a link to an article I wrote about this British Women’s Emigration Association in the show notes. 




When the Union of South Africa emerged as a dominion, Louis Botha served as the first prime minister. His friend Jan Smuts took his place until their political party lost power in 1924. But that wouldn’t be the last time that Jan Smuts served as prime minister. I could go into much more depth and breadth about the path South Africa took after the Anglo-Boer War, but that would require another episode. And this ladies and gentlemen … is our final chapter in this first and maybe only season of Forgotten Wars.


(29:25) Conclusion: If you’d like more depth and breadth about what course– what we now know as- -South Africa took after the war, I’d ask something I’ve asked many a time before. Share the show. Show me that you’ve shared the show using the contact link in the show notes. Writing and researching this season has been a long, grueling process. I thank all of you who’ve taken the time to listen to the fruit of over 15 months and nearly 2500 hours of hard work. I hope this won’t be the last you hear from me on the show. Your purchasing from our sponsors, purchasing from our modest online store, supporting us on Patreon, your suggesting me for interviews or speaking engagements, or … donating to the show … will help determine whether there will be a second season. 


But while I wait and see if this show’s efforts are worthy, I’ll focus on my family and my students. In a few weeks, I will be all clear after my recent back surgery to start holding my son again … and of course … tossing him up into the air again. I will be all clear to love my wife by stumbling around trying to do “manly” stuff around the house. For this next school year, I will be focused on earning National Board Certification as a high school history teacher. This process helped me grow as a teacher in the fall 2019-spring 2020 school year, until … COVID cut the year too short for me to get the samples and videos from the classroom that I needed to submit for consideration. COVID cutting that year short and really “altering” this recent fall 2020-spring 2021 school year for the worse … is what pushed me to make lemons out of lemonade, and give this podcast … a podcast I’d considered for a couple years … a shot …beginning in spring 2020 when I began my research. And now after presenting you with this first season of the show, everything comes full circle. I’ll make a second attempt at achieving National Board Certification and getting dramatically better for my students. Wish me luck or … pray me some favor & patience as I focus on that this next school year. By May of 2022, I’ll hopefully have submitted everything and taken the test. And maybe … I’ll know then that pursuing a second season of this podcast … is worth it. But regardless of the results … you’all love your neighbor, and may you be blessed. 🙂 


Link to Women In Demand article on website: https://forgottenwarspodcast.com/blog/ 


Link to 1994 right to vote AP story: https://apnews.com/article/114b08c396d444f7b1de900b481ea059 




For further reading, check out:


Bossenbroek, Martin. The Boer War, translation edition. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2018.


Nasson, Bill. The Boer War: The Struggle for South Africa. Stroud, United Kingdom: The History Press, 2011. 


Pakenham, Thomas. The Boer War. London: Abacus, 1979.

Porter, Andrew. “The South African War and the Historians.” African Affairs 99, no. 397 (2000): 633-48. Accessed May 19, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/723319.


Pretorius, Fransjohan. The A to Z of the Anglo-Boer War.  Lanham, MD:  The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2010.


Reitz, Deneys. Commando: A Boer Journal of the Boer War. Kindle Edition. Create Space Independent Publishing Platform, 2016.


Warwick, Peter. Black People and the South African War: 1899-1902. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983.


Wessels, André. “The Anglo-Boer War (1899 – 1902) and Its Traumatic Consequences.” In Breaking Intergenerational Cycles of Repetition: A Global Dialogue on Historical Trauma and Memory, edited by Gobodo-Madikizela Pumla, 160-73. Opladen; Berlin; Toronto: Verlag Barbara Budrich, 2016. Accessed July 3, 2021. doi:10.2307/j.ctvdf03jc.14.




Episode 43: Some Battle Scenes that Belong in a Movie




(2:22) Vlakfontein:  As September 1901 drew to a close, Colonel Robert Kekewich (Keek-which) led the only British force still west of the Magaliesberg (Mah-Hah-lees-berGG). Yes … that’s the same Kekewich (Keek-which) who ably led besieged British forces at Kimberley … until Cecil Rhodes manipulated General French into replacing Kekewich (Keek-which). 


Due to Kekewich’s (Keek-which) force being relatively isolated, Koos De La Rey jumped at the opportunity to restock his commandos’ scarce ammunition by attacking Kekewich’s (Keek-which’s) column. Kekewich’s (Keek-which’s) 930 men set up camp with their 3 guns and pom-pom at the Moedwil (mood-vewl) farm just 800 yards east of the drift in the Selons (See-lawnz) River. Kekewich (Keek-which) wisely used the river and surrounding climate as a strong natural defense position, then spread a third of his force into outposts along semicircles a healthy distance from camp. Yet…somehow … depending who you ask … between 300 & 1,500 Boers-quite a variance I know-managed to cross the river below the camp on foot. General Jan Kemp led the center of this force. Basically the same Boers and the same Brits who survived the Battle of Vlakfontein (Flock-fontain) four months before …clashed early on the morning of September 30th, 1901. At 4:45AM, a patrol of Devon Yeomanry (Yoe-mun-ree) stumbled upon part of this Boer force that snuck across the river. Shots rang out. This saved Kekewich’s (Keek-which’s) force from being caught completely surprised and asleep. De La Rey had to make the split decision to start the full attack before the flanks of his Boer force were in position. They charged through the scrub on the right bank. This decision paid off by 5AM when they overwhelmed those outposts and began firing down on Kekewich’s (Keek-which’s) camp … before dawn fully broke. Kekewich kept his cool amidst the chaos with men and animals scurrying around at first. He set up a defensive firing line, but sustained not one … but two gunshot wounds from Boer warriors. The mounting morning light didn’t spell calm at first. More Boer bullets found their British targets. The pom-pom jammed. Koos’s men destroyed some artillery pieces. British horses and mules … shot down in large numbers … some of them stampeded away. Would the Kekewich (Keek-which) camp fall?  


Just after 5AM, Major Watts and Major Browne … on their own initiatives …led Brits not already engaged in battle … in a charge against the far left of the main Boer line. About an hour later, they rushed down the river bank with fixed bayonets into the Boers and threatened to roll up the Boer line from end to end. Running short on their meager ammunition and fearing that they’d be cut off from their horses they’d left behind for the attack, the Boers completely fled by 6:15AM. It was over. Kekewich and company suffered about 200 casualties. The Boers … about a quarter of that. The Boers alleged three of their wounded met a grisly fate … retaliation for what allegedly happened during the Battle of Vlakfontein (Flock-fontain). Here at Moedwil (mood-vewl), Boers claimed that British soldiers either shot down three wounded Boers from close range … or beat the wounded Boers to death with their rifle butts. The British also captured Piet Schuil (Skoi-ewl), a Dutchman they claimed shot at two British soldiers … while having a white surrender flag tied to his rifle! Schuil (Skoi-ewl) was tried and then executed by firing squad on October 2nd. 


So what happened at Vlakfontein (Flock-fontain) nearly 4 months ago that neither the Boers or the Brits involved … forgot?  What the Boers did in this May of 1901 battle …. garnered both fame … and infamy. Brigadier General Henry Dixon was leading a force of over 400 mounted men, about 800 infantry, and several artillery pieces and a pom-pom on a mission … a  mission to clear and burn farms southwest of Magaliesberg and … to search for any caches of rifles and ammo. Moving west from Vlakfontein (Flock-fontain) on May 29th, General Dixon split his force into three. They raided some farms, then discovered a huge cache of ammo. Before they removed all the ammo, Dixon ordered his men back to camp at Vlakfontein (Flock-fontain) with about 330 of his men to act as a rearguard. And that … is when General Jan Kemp decided to pounce with his 1,500 Boers.  The way they pounced … was epic. What you’ll hear next will not do justice to what actually happened. The scene you’ll hear about next … belongs in a movie. 


(8:29) Vlakfontein scene: General Jan Kemp denied doing what you’ll hear next. But the record does seem to void his denial.  Jan Kemp’s force took advantage of wind blowing towards the British by doing the following. Kemp and company threw gun powder on the ground before them, lit it on fire, and then used the ensuing smoke screen to hide the size of their force. The fire quickly closed in on Dixon’s rear guard. Pretorius reports what happened next. “The Boers, pressing on under cover of the fire, … suddenly burst through, 500 men in all, some firing from horseback, others leading their horses and firing as they ran. 


The Yeomanry (Yoe-mun-ree) lost heavily, and so did the Derbys (Dar-beez) who resisted bravely. However, the Boers captured the guns and were soon … masters of the ridge.” Then … the Boers took the guns they’d captured from Dixon’s rear guard, and turned them on Brits in the distance. General Dixon ordered reinforcements towards the rear guard and then rode personally towards the action. Dixon turned his remaining artillery on the Boers and sent other Brits with bayonets fixed towards Kemp’s forces. At that point … Kemp and company decided to make a run for it … leaving the guns behind that they’d used briefly against Dixon. 57 Brits died from this engagement. About 120 more sustained wounds. The Boers suffered about 40 casualties. Rumors swirled afterwards in British circles that the Boers executed wounded Brits on the ridge during the battle after the Boers briefly captured those guns. One wounded Boer allegedly crawled around and finished off three wounded Brits before he was stopped. Whatever happened … those British who survived Vlakfontein (Flock-fontain) did not forget the rumors when they faced basically the same Boers a few months later … at Moedwil (mood-vewl). The British lost more men at both Vlakfontein (Flock-fontain) and Moedwil (mood-vewl), but … in a crude sense … their lives were less scarce. The Boers paid dearly for every dozen men they lost in the field; they just couldn’t replace these warriors. What was worse? Bleeding the British 2, 3, 4 or more times as much in these clashes … didn’t move the needle at all for the Boer republics’ fight for independence. 


(11:02) Battle of Bakenlaagte: A month after Moedwil (mood-vewl), Lieutenant-Colonel George Benson faced off against General Louis Botha in the final major battle fought in the eastern Transvaal highveld … before peace was signed. Botha returned from his aborted invasion of Natal to find that Colonel Benson also … had successfully used Boer guerrilla tactics to move his columns rapidly and to capture 117 Boers in September alone. Botha and Benson faced off on October 30th. Initial news of what happened wrecked Kitchener’s self-confidence. At that point, Kitchener feared for his job … no matter what confidence his superiors voiced or perhaps faked. Kitchener mournfully reported the following to Lord Roberts after the battle of Bakenlaagte (baw-ken-loKK-tuh): “The Boers observe the movements of a column from a long way off, only showing very few men, then having chosen some advantage, in this case … it was the weather, then charge in with great boldness, … and the result … is a serious casualty list. Benson’s was one of the very best columns and had an excellent and efficient intelligence run by Woolls Sampson. He knew every inch of the ground, having constantly been in that part of the country … if a column like Benson’s … is not safe … it is a very serious matter and will require a large addition of our forces to carry on the war … what makes me most anxious is, if they can act in this way with Benson’s columns, how far easier it would be for them to catch some of my less efficient columns.” Some facts emerged after Kitchener sent this telegram to his boss … facts that must have heartened Kitchener … at least a little. Botha and 1,200 Boers attacked Benson’s column of about 1,650 men as they crossed the Steenkool Spruit in the rain on the morning of October 30th. By afternoon, Boers surrounded Benson’s defense line. 


Imagine that you’re Colonel Benson during this attack. For three hours, your men are fighting in close quarters with the Boers. You’re leading your men during this chaotic defense when a Boer bullet strikes you in the knee … and another strikes you in the arm. But you don’t quit. You grit your teeth and crawl up and down your defensive firing line … through the mud … urging your men to fight on. Your voice doesn’t waver. You just deliver commands like nothing has happened to you … until you can’t anymore. Because you’re struck in the stomach by another Boer bullet. You think this might be over. So Colonel Woolls-Sampson takes over at about 5PM. Now the Boers are shooting at anything that moves on your ridge. You die the next morning, as did 77 of your 280 men who fought on Gun Hill; 161 more were wounded. 


The Boers only suffered 52 casualties. Kitchener is now even more convinced that he needs more than the quarter million troops he already has at his disposable in southern Africa. But while begging for these troops, Kitchener adopted essentially what Milner had proposed months before: … establishing protected areas starting with cities like Pretoria and Bloemfontein, then working outward … like ring shaped ripples … from those protected zones clearing more territory of Boer rebels. By this point, Kitchener’s block houses augmented this new strategy too … narrowing the lanes and zones where Boers could flee. Even if the micromanaging Kitchener didn’t coordinate the work of his more than 80 flying columns or give much latitude to his junior commanders, the imperfect system … was delivering. 


(15:20) Guerrilla War drags on & Brit brutality: Though Botha and many others knew their cause was hopeless, the guerrilla war dragged on. Both Boer and British forces fell deeper into depraved brutality. Colonial troops from Australia, Canada, and South Africa who’d earned commendation for their bravery, also gained infamy for the brutality of some. Depending who you ask, Kitchener ordered the executions of Lieutenants ‘Breaker’ Morant and Peter Handcock because of their vengeful murders of several Boer prisoners of war. 1980 saw a whole movie devoted to Breaker Morant’s story. Perhaps I’ll do a bonus episode on him if enough of you ask. British sanctioned executions didn’t look much better at times. General French enthusiastically prosecuted Cape rebels, and forced “disloyal Dutch” to watch these rebels be shot dead publically … in Middelburg (Middle-BearGG) and Dordrecht (Door-dreckt). 


(16:23) Boer brutality: More and more Boer warriors and civilians were waking up to how bleak … perhaps even helpless that their cause was. They knew that much of their population now … were withering away in concentration camps. Boys as young as 12 had been serving on commando since the war’s beginning, but President Steyn decreed in November that 14-year old Boer boys could now be conscripted. Something else troubled Boer warriors and civilians. Blacks by and large had sided with the British when possible … whether blacks scouted, spied, supplied crops & livestock, sold horses or skilled labor, or increasingly during Kitchener’s tenure … took up arms against the Boers.


Colonel Sir Henry Rawlison fought Boers in both the Transvaal and the Free State during this South African War. What he wrote on August 28th, 1901 to Lord Roberts … is haunting. “This war is fast degenerating into the same kind of dacoit (duh-koyt) hunt we used to have in Burma. The Boer is becoming just as cold-blooded a ruffian as the dacoit (duh-koyt) was … and his wholesale slaughter of Kaffirs (cah-firs)… has I think forfeited his right to be considered a belligerent. I found the bodies of four Kaffir boys … none of them over 12 years age … with their heads … broken in by the Boers and left in the Kraal of their fathers. Strong measures will be required to stop this slaughter.” I wish I could tell you that this brutality to blacks … was an isolated incident. But the truth is … that Boers openly admitted to killing any armed Africans they captured. And there is far too much unpublished evidence that points to many unarmed blacks getting the gun … or worse. Canon Farmer, a prominent British missionary in the Transvaal wrote privately about a troubling incident in 1901 involving … Jan Smuts of all people. Farmer wrote, “Of all who have suffered by the war, those who have endured most & will receive least sympathy, are the Natives in the country places of the Transvaal … they have welcomed British columns & when these columns have marched on … [the Natives] have been compelled to flee from the Boers, abandon most of their cattle & stuff & take refuge in the towns or fortified places, or … be killed. I have been asking after my people & this is the account I get of them all. … For instance, at Modderfontein (Mow-der-fon-tine), one of my strongest centres of Church work in the Transvaal, there was placed a garrison of 200 [white] men. The Natives-all of whom I knew-were there in their village: … the Boers under Smuts, captured this post last month … & then afterwards … a British column visited the place … they found the bodies of all the Kaffirs murdered and unburied. … I should be sorry to say anything that is unfair about the Boers. They look upon the Kaffirs as dogs … & killing of them … as hardly a crime….” I wish I could tell you that it was just a few Transvaal Boers who brutalized blacks. … But that wouldn’t be true either. 


(20:00) Cape blacks: Blacks who took up arms or resisted Boers in the Cape  … faced much more peril towards the beginning and middle of the war. Forty-five year old Abraham Esau came from Cape Colony’s town of Calvinia. This Coloured man (remember … coloured in this context means he came from a mixed race lineage) this Coloured man led local resistance to Boer rebels. Boers led by Commandant TK Nieuwoudt (new-woat) rolled into Calvinia in January 1901. Field Cornet C. van der Merwe (fawn-der Mare-vuh) assumed leadership as the landdrost (lant-roast) of Calvinia. Boers dragged Abraham Esau before the new authorities for the crime of speaking against the Boer republicans and … trying to arm the town’s Natives. For these crimes, Abraham Esau earned 25 lashes and arrest. Esau fell unconscious while being brutally lashed. What was worse, the Boers weren’t finished with Esau. They beat him in public … several more times. But the Boers lost their grip on Calvinia before long. As they prepared to evacuate the town in the face of overpowering British force, the Boers didn’t neglect to drag Esau in leg irons until he waited helplessly between two horses. Those Boers tied him between the two horses … and dragged him further to a secluded area outside town … and shot Esau dead. Coloured people quite understably made a martyr out of Esau afterwards. The British made sure to use this incident to fuel further outrage back in Britain … against the Boers. Some Calvinia whites were enraged when British authorities allowed black witnesses to testify against Esau’s perpetrators. This outrage of allowing these black “savages” to testify against Boer perpetrators in Esau’s killing & other cases during the war, sometimes led to further backlash against blacks. 


But as the British drove Boers commandos out of the Cape Colony over and over again, blacks grew more and more bold. Black and coloured corps arose throughout the Cape Colony, often armed by the British. These included militias like the Namaqualand (Nah-maw-quaw-land) Scouts, Bushmanland Borderers, and Northern Border Scouts. As if the block house system wasn’t already squeezing commandos enough, these armed blacks squeezed the commandos some more. Blacks didn’t only rise up in the Cape Colony. Nasson writes, “As if to add to a sense of impending doom, back in Boer territory … groups of rural African tenants were taking up the habit of armed threat or violence in disturbingly large numbers. They began occupying land across many areas, particularly in the Transvaal, … spurning customary master-and-servant or land-lord-and-tenant relations. Boers obviously resisted moves to contest their authority and ownership … but as hostilities wore on, many began to lose all ability to act, and even faith in their strength. So extensive was this decomposition, and so intense the Boer-African belligerence to which it gave rise … one historian has characterised it as the eruption of a ragged peasant war or a ‘rebellion from below.’ Without exaggerating its influence as a force behind republican defeat, African resistance and collaboration with the imperial occupation certainly played its part in pushing the Boers to surrender.”


(23:52) 1902 Zulu backlash: Some commandos didn’t help themselves when … they helped themselves to whatever increasingly scarce supplies that they could get their hands on … in Zulu or other African homesteads. Remember, Roberts and now Kitchener burned republican farms down to the point that the Boers had few options for supplying themselves. I think many of us can understand stealing food in desperation, but … I also think most of us can understand taking issue with your home, your village … being pillaged by armed people who often have treated you pretty poorly to begin with. Blacks responded to these raids by informing on Boer raiders as soon as British pursuers showed up. Some … took revenge into their own hands. For example, some Zulus took matters into their own hands in April of 1902 near Vryheid (Fray-hate). Boers operating here confiscated food and even forced Zulu to perform manual labor for them. Zulus bearing spears descended on a small commando encampment at Holkrantz (oh/awl-crawnz) on one April evening. The surprised commando shot about 100 warriors down, but not before these Zulu speared 56 Boers to death. Botha remarked afterward about the losing cycle his men were trapped in. The only way his commandos in the Transvaal could feed themselves … was by stealing food. The more food they stole, … the more enemies they created.


(25:29) Leliefontein: Missionary stations presented attractive targets, even if armed defenders patrolled them. Canon Farmer provided you one account at the top of this episode, but that … was not an isolated incident. Now you heard that Canon Farmer alleged that it was Jan Smuts’s Boers who murdered many blacks at his mission station. What happened at a Methodist mission station at Leliefontein (lilly-fontain) in Namaqualand (Nah-maw-quaw-land) sickened Deneys Reitz and likely angered Jan Smuts, at least according to historian Peter Warwick. Independent peasants and those fleeing work on neighboring Afrikaner farms worked around this mission station and provided military labour to the British. One day in early 1902, SG Maritz (maw-ritz) and a few Boers tried to gain intelligence from white missionaries at the station when … armed natives attacked. Deneys Reitz reports that the next day, “To avenge the insult, [Maritz] (maw-ritz) returned [the] next morning with a stronger force and wiped out the settlement, which seemed to many of us a ruthless and unjustifiable act. We found the place sacked and gutted, and, among the rocks beyond the burned houses, lay twenty or thirty dead Hottentots, still clutching their antiquated muzzle-loaders. This was Maritz’s (maw-ritz’s) handiwork. … General Smuts said nothing, but I saw him walk past the boulders where the dead lay, and on his return he was moody and curt, as was his custom when displeased. We lived in an atmosphere of rotting corpses for some days ….” Those blacks who survived the attack were then forced to work at nearby white farms. 


(27:19) Christmas 1901: On Christmas eve 1901, Christiaan De Wet set a trap. De Wet deceived Major Williams’s nearly 500 isolated Brits on the Groenkop (HRRewn-coh/awp) hilltop into thinking that no Boers roamed this area of the Orange Free State. De Wet’s 500 men ascended the hill from 3 sides and surprised the British on the summit … early that Christmas morning. Major Williams died during the ensuing clash. The Boers’ expanding bullets ripped apart many a face and stomach. Before sunrise, the Boers had their Christmas gifts and De Wet his final victory … before the war was over. Williams’s column suffered over 140 casualties, and the Boers took most of the rest prisoners … for a limited time only. The prisoners must have been disoriented when their captors were rounding them up and stripping them of spare clothes. Many of these bearded, rifle-wielding Boer captors were wearing bonnets and dresses… because those were all the clothes they could come by after theirs wore out. After stripping many of these Brits, the Boers quickly ejected the prisoners across the Basutoland border. In addition to getting to ditch their dresses and bonnets,  De Wet and company bagged vast quantities of ammunition and supplies … as well as 500 horses. All at the cost of 14 Boers killed in this Battle of Groenkop (HRRewn-coh/awp). But did this victory matter in the end? … I think you already know. 


All his complaints aside, Kitchener’s forces kept growing while Boer forces kept diminishing. Less than 20,000 Boers operated in the field … outnumbered more than 10:1. Plus, Kitchener kept arming blacks; he eventually confessed to Parliament of arming over 10,000 across southern Africa. What was more? The British Field Intelligence department emerged in southern Africa as a dominant force. When Lord Roberts left for England the previous year, less than 300 whites worked in this department. By December 1901, nearly two thousand-five hundred whites worked in this department and were aided along by thousands of Africans gathering intelligence in the field. The Colonel Woolls-Sampson you’ve heard about previously performed so well as the field officer for one column that it captured 300 of the 756 Boers who fell into British hands in just the 2nd & 3rd weeks of December alone. Woolls-Sampson so eagerly led that he paid African scouts out of his own pocket. Kitchener had wanted to fire this guy months ago, … but now the colonel was a star. And the work of men like this star colonel … suffocated the Boers’ war effort.


Spur of the moment plug for A) Announce final chapter of story B) getting me sending me any questions about these wars… enough questions gets a Q & A episode C) tagging me in social media posts of podcast episodes to be entered into a contest.


For further reading, check out:


Bossenbroek, Martin. The Boer War, translation edition. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2018.


Nasson, Bill. The Boer War: The Struggle for South Africa. Stroud, United Kingdom: The History Press, 2011. 


Pakenham, Thomas. The Boer War. London: Abacus, 1979.


Pretorius, Fransjohan. The A to Z of the Anglo-Boer War.  Lanham, MD:  The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2010.


Reitz, Deneys. Commando: A Boer Journal of the Boer War. Kindle Edition. Create Space Independent Publishing Platform, 2016.



Warwick, Peter. Black People and the South African War: 1899-1902. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983.



Episode 42: Smuts and Botha Try Again


(2:05) Reitz and Dynamite: Deneys Reitz rode with General Jan Smuts and his band of guerrillas into the Cape Colony … hoping against all odds that this time would be different … that this time they could ignite an Afrikaner uprising in the Cape Colony. But how were they to deal with the many blockhouses before them? Blockhouse #4 bothered Smuts. Some of his warriors attacked it before, but without success. Smuts wouldn’t leave this blockhouse alone, even though he didn’t have to defeat it. So Smuts ordered Commandant Maritz (maw-ritz) to take the blockhouse. 


The young Deneys Reitz saw Maritz (maw-ritz) as “… a short, dark man, of enormous physical strength, cruel and ruthless in his methods, but a splendid guerilla leader, and according to his lights an ardent patriot….” Deneys Reitz sets the remarkable scene that followed: “With [Maritz] (maw-ritz) went the Marquis de Kersauson (Mar-key de Kee/air-sue-zawn), a young French adventurer who had been his constant associate since the war began. I went too, and, as before, we were challenged, but reached the ledge in safety. The first thing Maritz (maw-ritz) did was to stand on another man’s shoulders in order to calculate the throwing distance. He then climbed down and fastened three bombs together, weighing about twenty pounds. No other man could have hoped to throw so heavy a missile that length, but standing precariously on the shoulders of one of his men, he lit the fuse and hurled the triple grenade right on the roof. The fuse flared and sizzled for a second or two, lighting up the scene for many yards around, and then there was a tremendous roar, and stones and sandbags went flying in all directions. Silence followed, and realizing that the defenders were dead or stunned, we helped each other on to the rocky platform and, crawling over and under the wire entanglements, rushed the entrance passage. From within we heard groans and a muffled voice, ‘Stop throwing; stop throwing,’ so we crowded in. Striking matches, we saw that the roof was blown down upon the soldiers. A few were dead, and the rest lay on the ground stunned. About half were Warwicks and the rest Hottentot levies. … The dead and injured men were removed, also the arms and ammunition, and then we placed the remaining sticks of dynamite in the loopholes, and blew No. 4 Block-house into still further ruin before we returned to Concordia.” What Maritz (maw-ritz) and company did, what other guerrillas operating in the Cape Colony, Free State, and Transvaal … against such steep odds … composed a mosaic … a symbol … a symbol of Boer resistance. 


(5:45) British argue strategy within: Decoded telegrams to Kruger also added to this mosaic symbol of Boer resistance. The British War Office broke the code used for Boer telegrams to Kruger in July 1901. The telegrams betrayed that Botha wanted to make peace, but… that Free State President Steyn stood as too strong of an obstacle to the republics making peace and giving up their sovereignty. Even before the decoding of these telegrams, Alfred Milner used the stubborn Boer resistance as proof that Kitchener’s severe, scorched earth policies … were not working. Milner also pointed out that Kitchener’s policies were too expensive to maintain. Even after a recent income tax increase, the war rapidly exceeded tax revenue. It could only be paid for with loans now. Milner even privately met with commander-in-chief Lord Roberts to see if there was any way to talk him into immediately sending Kitchener to India … a place Kitchener saw as his next stepping stone. Cabinet sent Kitchener an ultimatum on July 2nd. End the war by September or … adopt Milner’s proposed troop drawdown and suspension of scorched earth and a few other items. Kitchener, in turn, used stubborn Boer resistance to argue for staying the course and keeping his quarter-million man army in South Africa at full strength. Kitchener also used the fact that Kritzinger’s (Curt-sin-er’s) mini army of around 2,000 men was still operating in the Cape Colony … still trying to cause a greater uprising in the Cape Colony. How could Cabinet reduce Kitchener’s army to 140,000 when this “invasion force” still operated in the Cape Colony? Kitchener went on the rhetorical offensive. He called for mild 1-year sentences for Cape rebels who surrendered, death sentences for Cape rebels who didn’t surrender, leniency for Boers who surrendered in the Transvaal and Free State, fines and confiscation of property for those Boer republicans who did not surrender, permanent ejection from southern Africa for any Boer leaders, deporting wives and children of Boer warriors to one of the islands where Boer POWs lived, selling property of remaining Boer rebels to pay for the cost … of concentration camps, and being allowed to take a “strong line” in general … to finish this war off. British cabinet blocked or watered down these “aggressive” ideas of Kitchener, and protested Kitchener allowing the brutal use of the stick in places like Dordrecht (Door-dreckt). General French forced townspeople there to look on while his troops publicly executed Cape rebels there. Ultimately, Cabinet rejected Kitchener’s aggressive proposals, but did not follow through on reducing troop numbers by 110,000 … so they had to go to Parliament to ask for still more money to fight this war that was far more expensive than they had originally projected.


(9:00) What Smuts was doing in the Cape Colony: But by September 1901,

 Kritzinger  (Curt-sin-er), De Wet and company’s “invasions” had come to nothing … at least nothing decisive where the war was concerned. De Wet did succeed at evading British hunts time and time again … which really frustrated Kitchener because De Wet … more than any other Boer leader stood as the strongest obstacle to Botha and the rest of the Boers surrendering to British might. But De Wet and company could not achieve the Cape Afrikaner uprising they hoped for. They continued to fight and flee, fight and flee, as hundreds and hundreds of Boer warriors left the field … in British hands … or on their own volition. None of these failed invasion attempts stopped Jan Smuts and his mere 200 Boer warriors from making their way across the Orange Free State and eventually for the Cape Colony. While Smuts and company made their way across the Orange Free State, nothing looked encouraging. Smuts wrote the following in his diary on August 7, 1901. “Dams everywhere full of rotting animals; water undrinkable. Veld covered with slaughtered herds of sheep and goats, cattle and horses. The horror passes description … Surely such outrages on man and nature will lead to certain doom.” Paul Kruger’s State Secretary’s 18-year old son, Deneys Reitz, traveled with Smuts. Deneys and his brothers refused to stay demoralized in the Transvaal. Deneys traveled with Koos De La Rey’s forces, … and now with Smuts’s small force. Reitz wore no shirt under his ragged coat; his sandals patched multiple times. Reitz wasn’t unique. Some of Smuts’s commando wore khaki uniforms captured from British soldiers. Some wielded British Lee-Metford rifles. This wasn’t typically a ruse. This was desperation. Their own clothes and equipment … exhausted. Reitz didn’t know exactly why this Smuts commando was journeying into the Cape Colony. Smuts intentionally made that a mystery to the men who followed. But Smuts didn’t overpromise Deneys about what he would face. He promised privations and … that their graves would be remembered for generations to come. 


Back in June, Smuts proposed this re-opening of a third front to the war council at Standerton. Smuts argued that De Wet and Kritzinger  (Curt-sin-er) and Hertzog had failed because their Cape incursions were uncoordinated. Smuts proposed joining forces with Kritzinger (Curt-sin-er) and uniting the Free State commandos who remained cut off in the Eastern Cape. Together, they could push to the Western Cape and blaze the trail for a “large-scale invasion” by De La Rey’s remaining Transvaal Boer warriors. But even before they opened up a path for a De La Rey attack, Smuts argued that he and Kritzinger’s (Curt-sin-er’s) force would take pressure off of Botha’s forces in the Transvaal and De Wet’s forces in the Free State. Smuts also was aware that in mid-1901, outrage in England was growing over the concentration camps. Smuts probably hoped that just holding on a little longer could keep open the possibility of Liberals taking power in Britain, and maybe bringing about a peace similar to the peace delivered after the First Boer War. Smuts & his now 250 men crossed into the Cape on September 4th. 


(12:40) Scobell vs. Lotter: What happened that evening into the ensuing morning … appeared … a bad omen. Commandant Johannes Lötter’s (Low/aw-ter’s) commando had already crossed back into the Cape Colony in May and reunited with Kritzinger  (Curt-sin-er)Commandant Lötter’s (Low/aw-ter’s) men scored many small successes while operating in the Eastern Cape, until … they ran into a British officer who you could say “out-Boered” them. Colonel Harry Scobell’s (Scoe-bell’s) column moved with a speed unparalleled by other British columns. They copied Boer guerrillas by scrapping wagons in favor of pack mules for greater mobility. Scobell’s (Scoe-bell’s) column packed light. We are talking 3-day’s food for a 6-day journey in this case. Not only could Scobell’s (Scoe-bell’s) men and mules move fast, they could move with agility that allowed them to scale mountain sides like goats. After five days of this particular Boer hunt, Colonel Scobell (Scoe-bell) ordered a night march on empty stomachs. Scobell’s (Scoe-bell’s) African scouts far outperformed the 26-year old Lötter’s (Low/aw-ter’s) scouts. Through the heavy rain, they detected Commandant Lötter’s (Low/aw-ter’s) commando in the distance. 

Colonel Scobell (Scoe-bell) outnumbered Lotter’s 130-man commando by almost 10 to 1. But Colonel Scobell refused to take victory for granted. He said to himself, “These rebels … know they are fighting with a rope round their necks, and it makes them fight very well.” 

Scobell (Scoe-bell) stayed alert for good reason. Instead of sleeping in a farmhouse in a mountain gorge called Groenkloof (H/rewn-clue-if) … as Scobell (Scoe-bell) initially expected… Lötter (Low/aw-ter) and company lay asleep in a 30-foot-by-15-foot stone sheep-house a few hundred yards away. Before sunrise, Scobell (Scoe-bell) sent some of his thousand men to hold ridges looking down on the farm, and then sent others down to the sheep-house. Lord Douglas Compton led a squadron of 9th Lancers to the sheep-house. The first move must have felt ominous. Right at the doorway of the sheep-house … right at the doorway … Lord Compton clumsily dropped his revolver on the ground and then got off his horse to pick up the gun. This is something I can easily imagine my sleep deprived self doing in a training exercise at Army Basic Training back at Fort Jackson. Anyway, Pakenham writes, “A hundred sleeping Boers, curled up in blankets, like so many exhausted sheep in the kraal– this was, indeed, one of the strangest sights of the war. Lord Douglas did not have long to enjoy it. From sheep … to lions. Their rifles were cocked and a fusillade cut down the six behind Lord Douglas. He grabbed his revolver and galloped past the doorway. Other survivors fired and scattered. Meanwhile, a tempest of bullets burst over the kraal. It came from all the surrounding ridges, as well as from point-blank range, smashing and grinding the stones and wood and bone and flesh, as though the bullets were explosive themselves: half an hour of frenzy.


Trooper Edingborough (Eh-ding-bur-uh) was one of the first to enter the kraal. Seventy years later, he remembered that morning with pride …. At the time, he was appalled … Someone had tried to wave a white flag, but, as there was still some resistance, the butchery had continued.  Edingborough (Eh-ding-bur-uh) entered, “8 were lying dead huddled under the wall, men were lying about with half their faces shot away, blood spouting out of their chests, thighs, etc. … in fact the place was like … a butcher’s shop, some men making awful noises … groaning … clutching the ground and rolling in the dirt in their agony … it was awful; we buried the dead ….’” … So in the aftermath of Scobell’s (Scoe-bell’s) surprise attack, 13 Boers lay dead, 46 … wounded, while Lötter (Low/aw-ter) and 60 others fell into captivity. Just like that, before Smuts’s commando had really done anything in the Cape Colony … more than 10% of Boer guerrillas operating in the Cape … got gobbled up. 


(17:10) Smuts and Scheeper’s Nek: Smuts & company also met plenty of peril … 

whether it was fighting Basutho tribesmen, marching for four days straight, or still being surrounded by General French’s force from September 9th to September 13th. Smuts and company only escaped after a hunchback on crutches showed them a steep, narrow mountain path that took them in earshot of a British camp. Somehow, 250 Boers and their 500 horses quietly escaped French’s noose … thanks to the hunchback. But Smuts was losing men and horses and his mens’ confidence by the day. No Cape Afrikaners joined them. Would this invasion fail in just 2 weeks?


If Kitchener and company had already confiscated or burned crops and livestock, how could Smuts and company survive? Maybe you guessed it. Smuts and company would have to pillage … the British. A farmer sprinted from his cottage on September 17th and yelled hoarsely to the Smuts commando. 200 British sat circled up nearby with mountain guns, Maxim, ammunition, horses, and … food. Deneys Reitz overheard Smuts say, “If we don’t get those horses and a supply of ammunition, we’re done for.” The clash that came at Elands (Ee-lawns) River came as close to a massacre as anything that South African spring. Many of Smuts’s men fired their rifles now with two years of battle-hardened experience. Captain Sandeman (Sahn-duh-muhn) and Lord Vivian led 130 Brits with skull-and-crossbones “blazoned on their uniforms” … with very little battlefield experience. Their patrol saw through the fog … what they thought were irregulars from Colonel Gorringes column. As these “irregulars” grew closer, a British officer shouted “Don’t fire! We are 17th Lancers!” The “irregulars” replied with a deadly volley. What actually crept up on this British patrol were more than a few Boers wearing British khaki uniforms. Pakenham describes what followed: “Reitz himself used up his last two rounds, then … threw away his rifle and grabbed a Lee Metford and bandolier from one of the first British soldiers to fall. [Reitz] shot two gunners dead, having crawled up to within a few yards of the main British encampment, under the lee of a rocky outcrop. A desperate duel followed, ‘almost at handshake distance’, as Reitz put it. One wounded officer (it was Lieutenant Sheridan, a cousin of Churchill’s) rose to his feet, his face streaming blood, and was shot through the brain. Reitz shot another man in the heel. The shock made him leap in the air, and Jack Borrius (Bore-ree-us), … brought him down. In all, Reitz’s party claimed to have killed 12 or 13, without loss to themselves, though earlier, three of their men were wounded. 


Meanwhile, the main commando had worked up to the British camp from the rear. Many Boers here, too, were dressed in captured khaki, and this meant that they were allowed to approach to within a few hundred yards, a crucial advantage. When the confused butchery was over – 29 killed and 41 wounded on the British side, compared to one dead and 6 wounded among the Boers – the victors took stock of their captures. … And well stocked the camp was …. ‘We were like giants refreshed,’ wrote Reitz later. ‘We had ridden into action that morning at our last gasp, and we emerged refitted from head to heel. We all had fresh horses, fresh rifles, clothing, [haha], saddlery, boots and more ammunition than we could carry away, as well as supplies for every man.’”


After the Battle of Elands River, the British knew even more than before that they had to take Smuts seriously. Major Douglas Haig, and Smuts faced off for the next month in guerrilla warfare. Yes … that is the same Douglas Haig who rose to the rank of field marshal during the first world war, and who earned criticism for unimaginative and costly frontal attacks he ordered his soldiers to make along the Somme (So/awm) for example. However, against Smuts, Haig proved an equal match in the guerrilla warfare that followed … at least according to Pakenham. Regardless, … Smuts kindled a flame– however small– in the Cape Midlands … a flame of rebellion that did draw some young Cape Afrikaners to take up the armed struggle … belatedly or not. 


(22:06) Across South Africa on September 17th-Blood River Poort: On that same September 17th, Louis Botha fought a battle many miles away. The other half of Smuts’s Standerton (Stand-er-tun) proposal back in June hinged on … an invasion of Natal. This in theory would divert pressure away from the Boer republics. Louis Botha’s force stood nearly 1000 horsemen strong, but … couldn’t Kitchener just send 20,000 men to counter this “invasion” too? Botha was about to find out. Botha also kept quiet on grand strategy as he led his men to where he had helped humiliate the British at Colenso (Cuh-len-soe) and Spion Kop (Spee-ewn coh/awp), to where he had fought with one Zulu army against another years before. Botha’s force traveled light … intentionally forsaking any field guns that could slow them down. Torrential rain ruined Botha’s original plan to attack the British camp at Dundee. So he drove his army towards Zululand and towards the vicinity of Major Hubert Gough’s (Goff’s) Mounted Infantry. Major Gough (Goff) endeared himself to Lord Kitchener as one of the few cavalry officers with sufficient aggression. With this aggression came frustration. Major Gough (Goff) resented the lack of aggression and fortitude shown by many other commanders saying, “They move about in solemn masses down the main roads, expecting and usually fearing (!!) a battle, which the Boers would not and could not fight.  Gough (Goff) also grew frustrated with seemingly aimless searching for Boers. Gough (Goff) grew more frustrated at some Irish companies of his battalion after a 500-mile train ride to Natal. One company got drunk before boarding their railway cars in Kroonstad (Crew-in-stawt). Another company got wasted while detraining in Dundee. Gough (Goff) wished he could flog his men the way Boer commandant’s could! So he marched his men in the rain to De Jager’s (Yaw-HHer’s) Drift … where British intelligence reported an impending attack by Botha’s force. British intelligence often exaggerated in their reports, so Gough (Goff) wasn’t all that optimistic that he would run into any real threat. 


This time … Gough (Goff) was wrong. Riding forward with 3 companies, he caught site of two to three-hundred Boers riding northwards from Scheeper’s (Ski/ee-per’s) Nek. Gough (Goff) watched these Boers dismount at a farm near Blood River Poort. Gough requested backup, 450 mounted infantry that Lieutenant-Colonel HK Stewart was holding in reserve. Gough (Goff) called for a surprise attack. Finally … Gough (Goff) prepared for a battle he’d been itching to fight. Meanwhile, about 2 hours after Smuts led an attack at Elands River, Botha had a decision to make. He could wait to be outnumbered 10 or 15-to-1 again … once more Kitchener reinforcements arrived, or … strike Gough’s (Goff’s) force while it was outnumbered. What Gough (Goff) couldn’t see was Botha’s main force of 700. These 700 rode hard to hit Gough’s (Goff’s) unsuspecting right flank holding a ridge at that point. Gough (Goff) watched in horror and disbelief as Botha’s force cut down this British company in 20 minutes. Gough rode frantically across to his two field guns only to find his men frantically failing to find a clear target as Botha’s Boers swarmed. Pakenham picks up here: “Some Boers galloped up, pointed their guns at the gunners … and shouted, ‘Hands up!’ Gough (Goff) put his hand down to his holster; … it was empty; his [orderly] had forgotten to put in his revolver that morning. ‘Shoot them, shoot them!’ Gough (Goff) shouted, with the impotence of a man … in a nightmare. Lieutenant Price-Davies, … drew his revolver, but was shot in the shoulder at point-blank range. … Gough (Goff) threw himself off his horse and tried to use it as a shield. … But Botha’s men had overrun them completely. The nightmare of humiliation passed soon into farce. Gough (Goff), stripped of his helmet, field-glasses, coat, riding-boots and gaiters, played hide-and-seek with his captors under cover of darkness. He … grabbed someone else’s boots, five sizes too large, and with only a shred of a bootlace.” It gets worse for Gough (Goff)before it gets better. Gough (Goff) desperately hid in a giant ant hole … only to be dragged out by the Boers. But when the night grew dark, he escaped with blistered feet to a nearby British patrol.


 The telegraph lines hummed the next day with the embarrassing stats … 20 Brits dead, 24 wounded, and … 241 Brits captured. September 17th went down as the most humiliating day for the British since Clement got crushed at Nooitgedacht (Noit-HHeh-dawcht) 9 months earlier. Botha’s force captured 180 rifles, 30,000 rounds of ammunition, 200 hundred horses, 2 field guns, and over 200 Brits. But this victory felt … hollow in the way. The field guns were useless to Botha. Gough’s (Goff’s) mounted men had already almost ridden the 200 horses to death. And all Botha could do with the British captives … is strip them and send them walking away … to eventually be reclothed and re-equipped by whatever British force they ran into. Botha’s men still hadn’t found a way to drive deep into Natal like they’d hoped … at least, not a way not already blocked by British forces. Then Botha blundered. He tried to strike Fort Itala and Fort Prospect, British camps along the Zulu frontier. Local burghers said these camps would be easy targets because they lacked trenches. This time, Botha … not the British … relied on what proved to be terrible intelligence. Both Itala and Prospect sat surrounded by strong trench systems. Botha’s Boers threw themselves at these camps and suffered about 100 precious casualties, and … achieved nothing. Then … they all had to flee back into the Transvaal when 15,000 more Brits flooded the region. 


So what came of Smuts’s plan to “invade” Natal and the Cape Colony simultaneously? Smuts argued that more than farm burning … keeping fresh horses out of Boer hands really crippled the guerrillas. … By the standards Smuts set for these invasions .. the joint invasions … completely failed to meet their goals. No road now lay open for De La Rey to lead a larger invasion of the Cape Colony. Natal looked impervious. And very few … new Afrikaners in the Cape joined the rebellion. And who could blame them? The Boer resistance looked too small to achieve anything but pen pricks against the quarter million Brits occupying southern Africa. Kitchener’s tactics, however cruel or crude, had whittled the Boer forces down to about 25,000 … about half of the number of rebels in the field when Lord Roberts left for Britain. 


Spur of the moment plug for A) getting me sending me any questions about these wars… enough questions gets a Q & A episode B) tagging me in social media posts of podcast episodes to be entered into a contest.



For further reading, check out:


Bossenbroek, Martin. The Boer War, translation edition. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2018.



Nasson, Bill. The Boer War: The Struggle for South Africa. Stroud, United Kingdom: The History Press, 2011. 



Pakenham, Thomas. The Boer War. London: Abacus, 1979.


Pretorius, Fransjohan. The A to Z of the Anglo-Boer War.  Lanham, MD:  The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2010.



Reitz, Deneys. Commando: A Boer Journal of the Boer War. Kindle Edition. Create Space Independent Publishing Platform, 2016. 



Episode 41: Sorry Bob … It Ain’t Over


(1:23) Battle of Bergendal: Lord Roberts in Pretoria and General Buller in Natal & eventually the southeastern Transvaal had wanted something for weeks… to unite their forces somewhere and finish the Boers off … at least in the Transvaal. Railways that Boer guerrillas had savaged all over the Transvaal, especially the railway linking Natal with Pretoria suddenly had finally grown safer to repair as more Boers fled the field. Reopening these railway lines made Lord Roberts’s supply lines much more speedy and sure. Not only that … but General Buller and Lord Roberts met face to face in Pretoria on July 7th because of these newly repaired railway lines. The leader of the India Ring and 2nd in command of the Africa Ring acted civilly, but Lord Roberts couldn’t have avoided looking with loathing on the man he believed responsible for his son Freddy’s death. 


After Prinsloo (Prinz-lue-uh) and 4,500 men laid down their arms by early August 1900, Buller’s lines of communication with the Free State grew more secure.  Lord Roberts and General Buller met again on August 25th at Belfast. Lord Roberts was about to direct a combined attack on Louis Botha’s army. General Buller grumbled about how slowly Roberts had made his way over; Buller argued that he could have captured Kruger’s fleeing staff if Roberts hadn’t made him wait around. Whatever the merit of Buller’s complaints, the final chapter in the war’s book of set-piece battles was about to end with the ongoing battle … of Bergendal (BearGGen-doll)


 (3:59) Bergendal continued: Botha’s approximately 7,000 men and 20 guns faced off against Roberts and his 19,000 men & 82 guns. Many skirmishes-occurring over the course of a week … composed this battle. The beginning of the end came when Buller decided that the key to Botha’s 20-mile defense line … lay in a big red kopje near a farm called Bergendal (BearGGen-doll). Botha put 60 of his elite warriors inside this jumble of boulders to hold off the British. The 60 men … were Zarps … members of the Johannesburg Police … the infamous force that shot Tom Edgar and thus helped bring about great Uitlander protests that brought on this South African War. The British brought down armageddon on these boulders that Zarps held. These Zarps experienced more intense artillery fire than anyone in the war had … save for a few during the battles of Vaal Kraans (Fall crawnz) and Pieter’s Heights. Pakenham writes, “Down crashed the thunderstorm of lyddite (lih-dight) on that single, isolated red nob of boulders: a 3-hour broadside of naval guns, howitzers and field-guns-forty guns, grinding and hammering that strong-point to powder. And the Zarps … took it on the jaw like Tommies. ‘No ordinary Dutchman would have held on like that,’ said [General] Lyttlelton admiringly. It must be a ‘perfect inferno.’” 


Then Lyttelton sent four battalions of infantry to take the kopje (coh/awp-ea). No bullets greeted these battalions at first. It seemed that the Zarps were crushed. Then as infantrymen went over the skyline, the Zarps … stopped holding their fire. They lit up the oncoming British with pom-pom and rifle fire. But the Zarps couldn’t hold off the British. When the British finally burst into that sloppy ring of boulders, 14 Zarps lay dead and 19 Zarps remained … 8 of them wounded. The other wounded Zarps had already been evacuated. Lyttelton swelled with pride in what his men had done. Why? The British taking this kopje (coh/awp-ea) set off a chain reaction. Without this kopje (coh/awp-ea) in hand, the Boer line was untenable. So the Boers retreated … again. The British suffered almost 400 casualties during that weeklong battle of Bergendal (BearGGen-doll). The Boers suffered nearly 80. 


(6:32) After Bergendal: Afterwards, President Steyn and his officials along with President Kruger and his officials discussed what to do. What they did … was throw Kruger as a Hail Mary to Europe .. to get more foreign intervention. They also decided that the Transvaal forces needed to follow suit with their Free State brothers. No more set piece battles. The Transvaal forces needed to dissolve into smaller guerrilla units from now on. Kruger stepped aboard a Dutch cruiser in September to fulfill his mission to secure foreign help. Kruger … never saw South Africa again. He died in Switzerland in 1904. About 6 months after Kruger sailed away to Europe, Jan Smuts wrote this reflection: “As soon as we sent President Kruger out of the country, and his money-grabbing, traitorous hangers-on out of the way, the whole tone and aspect of things were altered for the better.” Many other Boer leaders showed no sadness to see Kruger leave … as they blamed Kruger’s greed and mediocre leadership for the struggling war effort. Steyn– on the other hand– fled back into the Free State. 


On September 13th, Lord Roberts declared the war effectively over. Botha split his remaining men between himself and a remarkable man. General Benjamin Viljoen (Fill-yune) served competently and bravely throughout this Boer War … so much so that he eventually became assistant commandant-general. One of the first Boers to use guerrilla warfare in the Transvaal, he evaded capture until January 1902. Shipped to St. Helena as a prisoner of war, he wrote his memoirs of the war in 1902. Now this is where it gets really interesting. After this war was over, Viljoen set up a Boer settlement in … northern Mexico. Then he moved to La Mesa, New Mexico and attained American citizenship. But before long, Viljoen (Fill-yune) was back in action … in Mexico. Viljoen (Fill-yune) helped Francisco Madero overthrow Porfirio Diaz … a crummy dictator who’d ruled Mexico for 30 years. Viljoen returned to the US in 1913, and died in La Mesa, New Mexico in 1917. So … back to our war. Botha and Viljoen ran different directions with their respective groups of warriors … trying make their armies tougher to capture. But Botha had a problem. Nasson writes, “Saddled with almost 3,000 unwarlike commandos and foreign volunteers who were desperate for a way out of continuing hostilities, Botha decently pushed them off towards Komatipoort (Koe-maw-tee-poo/ort) and a choice between being interned by the Portuguese colonial administration or being taken prisoner by the British. Irish and other foreign nationals were combed out and repatriated to Europe and America. Yes … you heard that right. There were several thousand foreigners who served in Boer ranks throughout the war; in addition to Irishmen and Germans and various Scandinavians and Americans you’ve heard about in previous episodes, there were also Australians, Italians and Russians who took up arms for the Boers. That’s not to say though there weren’t foreign volunteers fighting on the British side either. Anyway … Botha let hundreds of these volunteers walk away after Bergendal (BearGGen-doll). Lord Roberts, on the other hand, proclaimed the annexation of the Transvaal in the last weekend of October. Then in the last weekend of November, as mentioned in a prior episode, Lord Roberts left Lord Kitchener in charge of a war … that Roberts kept saying was over. But was it? 


(10:27) Churchill’s ascent:  Another British man’s star continued its ascent in October 1900. His escape, his heroics, his connections, and ultimately his book sales helped propel his stardom. Winston Churchill’s book From London to Ladysmith via Pretoria and then his book Ian Hamilton’s March sold very well after they were published in 1900. Winston would finally stash away thousands of pounds and finally afford to run for a seat in the House of Commons in the Oldham (Old-em) district. Salisbury, Chamberlain, Churchill and company painted their liberal opposition as pro-Boer. For example, Chamberlain ran with the slogan “Every seat lost to the [Conservative] government was a seat gained by the Boers.” Churchill used the following slogan in one of his posters in Oldham (Old-em): “Be it known that every vote given to the radicals means 2 pats on the back for Kruger and 2 smacks in the face for our country.” Winston and the rest of the Conservative party cruised to victory in these khaki elections across Great Britain … winning 2.4 million votes nationwide compared to about 2 million votes for Liberals and their allies, so … about 4 million pats on the back for Kruger using Churchill’s math 🙂 The Conservative majority in the House of Commons increased to 134 seats more than the seats held by Liberals and Irish Nationalists. So the Conservative party now had up to six more years to stay the course in South Africa.  British MPs made no salary for serving in Parliament, so Winston knew he had to strike the iron while it was hot. He spoke 29 times across Great Britain after the khaki elections, then…  If you disregard differences in time zones, Winston Churchill began his speaking tour in his mother’s maiden country … a year to the minute that he escaped his Pretorian POW camp. Winston began his American speaking tour around 8:30PM on December 12th, 1900 in New York City by being introduced by Mark Twain. Mark Twain must have made Churchill a little nervous at first, by first voicing his opposition to the war in South Africa as well as the United States’ war in the Philippines. He said the British and Americans were now “kin in sin”, and that his heart for one was with the Boers. But then… Twain warmly introduced Churchill as a great blend of America and England. Churchill started his speech, his tails of South Africa nervously at first, but eventually spoke as smoothly as he had before in Britain. Churchill used humour effectively to ease tension at various stops on his American tour when pro-Boer groups (many Irish-Americans) would jeer him. Churchill also made sure to voice respect for the Boers courage and humanity. Churchill spoke much more freely in Canada where far fewer pro-Boers raised their voices. 


(13:35) Descending into small fights: Throughout October, the Boer guerrillas continued to strike supply columns, to attack isolated British contingents, to take small towns, and to strike British telegraph lines … thus forcing the British to rely more on more easily-deciphered heliograph signalling. President Steyn met with Botha, De la Rey, and Smuts in the end of October in a hideaway near Pretoria to plot strategy. They faced a growing scorched earth campaign and … more & more of their women and children being swept into concentration camps. The scorched earth policy– by design– made it difficult for the Boers to replenish themselves if they continued to use hit and run tactics behind enemy lines. So what were they to do? Nasson writes, “The only way to ease the pressure would be a strategic initiative to distract the British. … The Boers hit on a fresh campaigning solution, almost … a grand design: it was to carry the war on a guerrilla basis back … into British territory.” In Natal … in the Cape …you see, the Boer leaders knew that it would be politically difficult … perhaps politically suicidal for the British to use scorched earth tactics against people who were technically on the British side. But before this dual-colony strike, Smuts proposed a 3-step plan. First, Boer guerrillas would raise enough hell in the Boer republics to draw British forces away from Johannesburg. Step 2 … after drawing those British away from Johannesburg …throw a 12,000-man Boer force …theoretically this large force would be lying in wait somewhere … into an attack on gold mines and on all mining property in the Witwatersrand (Vit-vaw-terz-rond). Step 3 … Taking advantage of the ensuing chaos resulting from this mine strike … Louis Botha would lead an invasion force into Natal while De Wet & De La Rey would drive into the Cape Colony. Smuts argued that destroying the mines this time would be different since the mines were now in British hands, since destroying these was not “one tenth” as bad as the British farm-burning and herding of Boer families, and since destroying these mines could decisively change the future of the war. But De Wet didn’t reach the assembled Boer leaders before … they intercepted a British telegram betraying plans to raid Kosters (coast-oRRs) valley. Ironically, intercepting a telegram threw their coordinated invasion plans … into the trash heap. 


(16:16) Bothaville: If you were ever caught napping while on watch duty in De Wet’s commandos, you paid pretty severely. Imagine looking out for the British for hours one night or even one day, and waking up to be yelled at and told to go lie down. You pace as directed until you are told to stop. Then you’re told to lie down. The problem is … you’re being told to lie down in the middle of tiny hills teaming … with ants. You lie down and the ants crawl all over you. Then … the ants begin to torture you. But you know that if you move, you will be shot. So you lay there suffering, until … your field cornet, commandant or De Wet himself decide that you’ve learned your lesson. This ant-heap punishment wasn’t enough to keep men of De Wet’s sentries from falling asleep or performing with gross incompetence. It wasn’t enough to keep a 600-man British detachment from sneaking up on De Wet and Steyn’s 800-man commando 20 minutes after dawn. A sentry had just reported to De Wet that everything was fine when … the British struck. Many burghers were literally asleep when the British struck. In the ensuing … humiliating chaos … De Wet tried desperately to beat his men into staying and not fleeing the scene. But as soon as he’d beat one group into staying … another out of his reach would flee. Major-General Charles Knox’s main column moved too slowly to fully capitalize on the surprise though. So Steyn managed an escape, as did De Wet. But the commando’s rear guard that made escape possible, was trapped … 155 of them. 25 men in this rear guard lost their lives and 30 sustained wounds and 100 lost their freedom, but … Steyn & De Wet lived to fight another day. The British only suffered 38 casualties at Bothaville.


(18:15) De Wet fights on: But De Wet didn’t stay down. On November 23rd, he attacked a British garrison at Dewetsdorp … his hometown. After three days of fierce fighting, the British garrison surrendered. De Wet continued on. There was no time for gloating for he or any other commandos who scored victories for that matter. The British grew more & more mobile, and better & better supplied … while the Boer warriors’ resources and horses grew more scarce. De Wet caused enough chaos to draw enough British … to make a way for General James Hertzog (hairt-sock) and General Piet Kritzinger (Curt-sin-er) to lead 2,000 commandos across the Orange River into … the Cape Colony on December 17th. Just a week before, Sir Alfred Milner saw Lord Roberts off while feeling that Lord Roberts was getting celebrated too much for a general who was leaving “in the middle of war.” Also in December, De la Rey and Smuts combined their forces and attacked a lightly guarded British convoy outside Rustenberg (Rust-en-berg/k). They bagged, wounded, or killed 120 British soldiers, flogged or executed 20 African drivers, torched 115 wagons, and … carried off as much medical supplies, clothing, boots, and food as they could. 


(19:39) Another Boer win: Then on December 13th, Nooitgedacht (Noit-HHeh-dawcht) happened. In the Magaliesburg (Mah-Hah-lees-berGG) mountain range between Pretoria 

and Rustenberg (Rust-en-berg/k), many Boers hid in ravines and used other cover & harassed British columns that marched through this mountain range by sniping those British columns. Just 10 days before, Koos de La Rey had captured a British convoy at Buffel’s Poort (Bufflez poo/ort). Now Major-General Ralph Clements and 1,500 troops, 9 guns, a pom-pom, and a huge bank of supplies sat at the southern base of the mountain. General Clements didn’t take the known Boer threat in the area seriously, so he didn’t gather basic intelligence or set up a strong picket line … that’s an outer defensive line that can help warn the main force of an oncoming attack and help slow down an attack initially. Clements paid for this. De La Rey and General Christiaan Beyers’ (Bay-yor’s) men would attack General Clements’ force from the west. Commandants Jan Kemp & E. Marais (Mah-ray) would attack from the north. General Jan Smuts would cut off Clements’ escape route from the southeast. At least that was the plan. The Boers struck at 3:45AM– notice a common theme here? They successfully took the British position on the summit and fired down on Brits below the summit. But Smuts did not manage to take Vaalkop (Fall-koh/awp)… the hill that was key to Clements’ escape route. The Boer generals did not stay on the attack and press their numeric advantage or take advantage of the fact that the British had no trenches at their positions. Or … you could say that the Boer generals could not press their advantage. Many  of their men had no interest in continuing the pursuit of Clements’ force when food and loot lay in front of them. Instead, Clements managed to escape with about 800 men after 3PM. But … the attack cost the British 640 casualties and the Boers less than 80 casualties. The Boers also bagged 120 mule carts and ox wagons filled with food and vital supplies to keep the Boer resistance around the Transvaal going. After less than a month of stepping into Lord Roberts’s shoes, Lord Kitchener had another reminder that resistance in the Transvaal remained a real threat. 


(22:08) 4-pronged push: As the 20th century turned, as more Boer women & children were swept into concentration camps, the Free Staters and Transvaalers still did not get on one coordinated page in 1901. That’s not to say they didn’t try. De Wet urged guerrilla leaders into a 4-pronged attack, but a four-pronged attack that lacked many things … not the least of which were sufficient numbers. Beginning January 27th, De Wet headed south for the Cape Colony. De Wet hoped to unite and enforce some discipline over Boer forces operating in the Free State and … Cape Afrikaners (Aw-free-Kawners) yet to rise up against the British. General James Hertzog (hairt-sock) was already leading an “invasion” of the Cape Colony cutting westward across the colony’s northern region beginning in mid-January. Hertzog (hairt-sock) hoped to open Lambert’s Bay for a shipment of European munitions and maybe even more European volunteers. This hope turned out to be a fantasy. De Wet aimed to meet Hertzog’s (hairt-sock) force and then march southwest towards … Cape Town. Piet Kritzinger (Curt-sin-er) was leading a 1,000 man strong force as the third prong of this attack into the Cape Colony’s midlands where he sought to harass loyalist blacks and whites, and inspire more Afrikaners to join the struggle. Fourth, Louis Botha could lead 1,000 men into … Natal to attack Dundee and snap the spine of the British supply network in the Transvaal. Kitchener showed no surprise though when he sent General French and 21,000 troops, after Botha. French fired everything behind Botha, and didn’t hesitate to dynamite Botha’s own house. Botha’s force found fresh horses and food increasingly more scarce, and the British noose around their necks getting too thick to snap. What’s more, at least 10,000 assegai (Ass-uh-hi) & rifle wielding Zulu formed part of that noose … blocking any easy escape through Zululand. Not only did Botha get pushed back, but the British also shoved Hertzog (hairt-sock) and Kritzinger (Curt-sin-er) back towards the Orange Free State thanks to increasingly fleet-footed … mounted columns. 


(24:26) Milner strategy: The Boer guerrillas also could not have known that Hertzog (hairt-sock)  and Kritzinger’s (Curt-sin-er’s) drive into the Cape Colony was both what Sir Alfred Milner feared, but also … ironically … needed. Finally, Milner convinced the Cape Colony Prime Minister Gordon Sprigg as well as the colony’s general and state attorney to resort to martial law and to call loyal colony inhabitants to arms. 10,000 militiamen came out of the Cape Colony’s woodworks, and just like that … the Boer invasion fizzled. Milner proposed a plan first to Lord Roberts then to Kitchener that arguably made great sense. Pakenham explains the plan like this: “It was a plan for progressive reconquest of the two new colonies [the Free State & Transvaal] by ‘gradual securing of each district before tackling the next, and slowly occupying the country, bit by bit, rather than rapidly and repeatedly scouring it’. Milner believed (and … Buller shared this view) that Roberts’s fatal mistake … had been his failure to garrison and police each district before marching on to the next one. ‘What the bulk of the people [in the new Orange River Colony] require is protection … not punishment,’ he told Kitchener in October. ‘I do not mean to say that they do not all hate us. They do. But they love their property more than they hate the British and … would be glad to see the back of the Guerrillas.’ As well as being the most efficient way of ending the war, this system would have two other vital advantages. First, it would avoid the need to further devastate the country, with all the legacy of bitterness that would create. Second, the key to the Transvaal was, of course, to get the wheels of the gold-mines turning. And the moment Johannesburg was made a protected area, the mines could begin to reopen and the Uitlanders, howling in the refugee camps of the Cape, could be allowed back up the railway to their homes in the Rand.” 


Instead, Milner kept paying steeper and steeper costs for Kitchener taking the complete opposite course. Milner also worried in February when Kitchener looked like he might hammer out a negotiated peace with Botha that would help Boer leaders save face and develop a separate identity and political force after the war. Milner certainly wanted peace, but something closer to an unconditional surrender that would break Afrikanerdom in South Africa forever. How did the British try to get through to leaders of the Boer resistance? By enlisting prominent Boers who longed for peace and feared complete destruction of their people and land. Brilliant Boer leaders like Piet De Wet tried to get through, but ex-heroes like him got the cold shoulder at best from … the Afrikaner Bond Party and from the prominent Dutch Reformed Church in the Cape. At worst, if these former Boer warriors reached their brothers still in the field, these former warriors forfeited much more. Jan Smuts was one of many resistance leaders who greeted these emissaries with court-martials and … death sentences … for being “traitors.” General Froneman (Frui-neh-mawn) flew into a violent fit of rage, flogged, and then shot dead an peace emissary to De Wet’s laager (Law-her). The Secretary of the Burgher Peace Committee, Meyer de Kock (Mayor de Cohk) faced execution for his efforts. So the British then sent people too frail or old to be brutally executed. Hendrina (Hen-dree-nuh) Joubert, the old widow of Piet Joubert, brought a written appeal to Botha that urged Botha and company to think of how helplessly outnumbered they were and to think of the women & children suffering while they fought on. Botha and AH Malan (Mah-lahn) and other resisters pointed out the bitter irony that it was they … the progressives who had opposed war as long as possible in the first place who were fighting in the field while … so many of the peace emissaries had been in Kruger’s war-mongering party. But in late February, Annie Botha tried her hand at mediating peace talks again in February 1901. Kitchener told her everything except the annexation of the Boer republics was up for discussion. Kitchener anticipated discussing the following points with Botha. First, he wanted to confirm the inferior legal status of the black Africans. Second, he would offer to pay Boers for war damage. Third, he would reassure Boers that they would not be ruled by capitalists. Kitchener wrote on this point: “They are I believe absurdly afraid of getting into the hands of certain Jews who no doubt wield great influence in their country.” Kitchener here certainly was thinking of the Werner & Beit mining giants. Fourth, Kitchener was willing to offer amnesty even to Boers in Natal & the Cape Colony who’d fought against the British. 

Kitchener and Botha did meet at Middelberg (Middle-BearGG) on the final day of February. Milner seriously disagreed with Kitchener about giving colonial rebels amnesty but feared Kitchener’s threat that “our soldiers can’t be trusted not to surrender on the smallest provocation, and that consequently disaster is not even now impossible if the Boers stick it out.” Kitchener’s 4-points transformed into 10-points not too different from his original four. One I’ll mention is that Dutch and English languages were to be used in schools and courts moving forward. British cabinet accepted most of the points, BUT took Milner’s side on the amnesty question. However, London disagreed with Milner and Kitchener’s racially charged 10th point of the peace proposal. “As regards the extension of the franchise to Kaffirs (cah-firs) in the Transvaal and Orange River Colony, it is not the intention of His Majesty’s Government to give such a franchise before a representative government is granted to those colonies.” British cabinet, especially Chamberlain, argued that the peace proposal should guarantee similar legal & voting rights to blacks as the Cape Colony already was. You’ll recall very few blacks and coloureds had the vote in the Cape Colony, but … much more than zero. Chamberlain wrote “We cannot consent to purchase a shameful peace by leaving the coloured population in the position in which they stood before the war, with not even the ordinary civil rights which the Government of the Cape Colony has long conceded them.” They passed on these modified peace terms to Botha on March 7th. But just as Kitchener feared, Botha rejected the modified peace terms days later. Botha would not accept anything less than independent Boer republics. 


(31:54) Kitchener tries to brutally force peace: Kitchener was frustrated. He’d had his successes. But Clements’ failure at Nooitgedacht (Noit-HHeh-dawcht) on December 13th, 

General Viljoen’s (Fill-yune’s) successful surprise attack and bagging of over 200 British POWs at Helvetia (hell-veh-chee-uh) on December 29th, De Wet failing to gain any Cape Afrikaner recruits but … succeeding in breaking back into the Orange Free State, and now Botha rebuffing a peace offer that Kitchener would have preferred to be more generous … all of this frustrated Kitchener. Kitchener’s Field Intelligence told him that 20,000 Boer warriors still remained spread across the field. Kitchener’s 200,000 forces were bagging about 1,000 Boer warriors a month. At that rate, the war wouldn’t be over until at least October 1902. The country was just too big, too spacious, too easy for Boers to escape capture in … even if they were outnumbered 10 to 1!  Brodrick, the Secretary of State for War & Cabinet urged Kitchener to keep the waging of war as efficient as possible. Kitchener already carried a strong reputation for performing wars on the cheap. But this war had already cost far more than they originally projected, even before Kitchener took charge. This desire to wage war on the cheap partially explains why Kitchener and company didn’t care too much about properly feeding and supplying the inmates at their concentration camps. One official estimate placed the cost for killing each Boer warrior in 1901 at £140 … that was the cost of … a literal ton of bullets. In Kitchener’s mind, something had to change. 


(33:52) Blockhouses: Kitchener decided to double down … no! … to systematize something that was being done on a small scale across South Africa. If Kitchener couldn’t get Botha or other Boer leaders to agree to peace, Kitchener would have to herd these guerrillas. But how? By using two of the most modern innovations of his time! … Wait for it … barbed wire and block houses. Kitchener at first authorized block houses to be built at railway stations and train bridges to help protect those links in their supply lines. Major-General Elliot Wood designed these blockhouses to be built using corrugated iron or stone & cement. Originally these four sided structures could stand at 2-3 stories high with a couple lines of openings to allow defenders to fire on anyone attacking the blockhouse. Then trenches were dug about 4 feet deep around these blockhouses to provide an additional layer of protection. The General Wood’s blockhouses took around 3 months to build. This would not do. Major SR Rice designed simpler blockhouses with two rows of corrugated iron filled with gravel. They came in octagonal or circular shapes. Sometimes a really small version of Major Rice’s were mounted onto wagons … thus making a mobile, mini-fortress … think of a very primitive precursor to a tank. So where did barbed wire come in?  Barbed wire with alarm rifles, bells or empty tins formed an additional barricade outside the trenches. The idea that came to Kitchener was this. Why not leave permanent structures all over South Africa to help funnel Boer guerrillas into zones where they’d be more easily captured? Then, connect these permanent structures with barbed wire barricades. But this idea would cost money. By the war’s end, 8,000 blockhouses dotted South Africa covering over …3,700 miles. That is a lot of barbed wire. To put that in perspective, a bird would “only” have to fly about 2,800 miles from the continental United States’ easternmost point to its western most point. The United Kingdom is only 600 miles from north to south. The British erected these blockhouses in zigzagging lines. For each blockhouse and corresponding trench & fieldworks, the British stationed somewhere between 12 and over 30 men … depending on the blockhouse type and whether the blockhouse was multi-story. So around 60,000 British forces manned this blockhouse system. That doesn’t account either for the 3 or 4 black or coloured guards that beefed up security at some of the blockhouses; Pretorius estimates that at least 25,000 blacks & coloureds served in these roles. Just building this system of blockhouses cost the British £1 million. But … building a blockhouse system didn’t even amount to 1% of the total cost of this war to the British. What did Boers think of this blockhouse system? It depends who you asked. Christiaan De Wet broke through these blockhouse lines on more than one occasion, and didn’t find the blockhouse system insurmountable. But maybe that says more about … the spirit of Christiaan De Wet and many other bitter-enders. Louis Botha said that this blockhouse system weighed heavily on Boer morale because of how much it restricted their movement. Many Boers guerrillas must have felt more and more like starving, caged animals as this system forced Boers to fight in zones more easily controlled by the British and … made it harder and harder to perform hit and runs on formerly easy targets. So how would the Boer guerrillas respond-in real time-to this blockhouse system, and … to the knowledge that thousands and thousands of their women and children were suffering in British concentration camps? Tune in next episode.




For further reading, check out:


Bossenbroek, Martin. The Boer War, translation edition. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2018.


Nasson, Bill. The Boer War: The Struggle for South Africa. Stroud, United Kingdom: The History Press, 2011. 


Pakenham, Thomas. The Boer War. London: Abacus, 1979.


Pretorius, Fransjohan. The A to Z of the Anglo-Boer War.  Lanham, MD:  The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2010.



Churchill’s Elections” https://winstonchurchill.org/resources/reference/churchills-elections/ Accessed June 21, 2021.



Episode 40: Part 3 on Concentration Camps


(1:20) Intro: A British MP delivered a speech in the Welsh town of Bangor (Bang-goRRR) on April 11th, 1900 to a hall that was crowded both inside and out. Outside the hall, angry mobs sang patriotic songs while police tried to keep order. This British MP had opposed war with the Boer republics from the beginning. He continued to forcefully denounce this war for an hour while the mobs outside shattered windows of this Bangor (Bang-goRRR) building. He had many criticisms; some of them were arguably a little too sweeping. But many of them rang true and rang rhetorically strong. Among many other arguments, he stated that £60 million and 4,000 Britons’ lives had already been spent on this war. The money could have been spent to give every elderly man in Britain a pension. Thousands of Boers were being wiped out, and they had much less people to lose. On his way out of the hall, a man from the crowd emerged and swung a stick with all his might … striking the brash MP in the head … leaving the MP dazed for a few seconds. The MP was whisked away to hide out in a nearby cafe until it was safe to re-emerge. And re-emerge David Lloyd George did on April 24th in another Welsh town … to speak words that rang partially true. “We are embarking on a war of annexation which might become a war of … extermination. Where is that war, which is costing between 6 and 8 million pounds a month, going to end? We cannot exterminate the Boers, and when Pretoria has been captured … it will take 50,000 troops to occupy the two republics.” 


(4:00) Caldwell, Private Bowers & debates: Colonel Charles Caldwell wrote the book Small Wars: Their Principles & Practice in 1896. Colonel Coldwell made many analogies to previous wars … previous “asymmetric encounters” to instruct military leaders on how to conduct irregular warfare. He argued that to win an irregular war, the British sometimes would have to use methods that may “shock [the] humanitarian.” British military academics at the time had to read Caldwell’s Small Wars. But this book didn’t stay solely academic. When Caldwell himself led a mobile column during the Anglo-Boer War, he put his book’s theories to work … as he burned down Boer farms in the Transvaal. One Private Bowers recounted something that was all too common still in October of 1900 as British scorched earth tactics continued. “We sat down and had a nice song round the piano. Then we just piled up the furniture and set fire to the farm. All columns were doing it … The idea was to starve the [Boers] out.” Members of the British Army like Private Bowers destroyed 30,000 homes … and left dozens of towns in ashes. Some soldiers stole ovens from families. Others bayoneted pigs for some nice meat later on. Some sadistic soldiers even took pleasure in burning a herd of sheep alive. Some families had time to pack their necessities. Some women bolted back into burning homes to grab necessities. Some families had to drag wagons with their loaded belongings by hand … because their animals had been shot. African homes often weren’t spared either … with the familiar logic being that if the Brits didn’t burn it down, the Boers would rob the Africans not willing to supply them. When reports of farm burning filtered back to Britain, members of Parliament began to grill the War Office. The War Office at first … just denied that farm burning was happening. As activists and liberal MPs continued to press 

the Salisbury (Sawls-Berry) cabinet, the always honest Secretary of State for Colonies … Joseph Chamberlain maintained that no British soldiers could be slandered, that this farm burning thing was being totally exaggerated, that the few farms being burned were those of civilians who evidently were cooperating with Boer warriors, and that the government would be foolish to handicap the military in this war. … Later that  year, the S-word was dropped. Just a couple months after getting attacked outside a Welsh meeting hall, MP David Lloyd George had more to say in July. The British were doing what the … Spanish had done to Cuba just a couple years before. “This war will brutalise the people, and the savagery which must necessarily follow will stain the name of this country.” I wish I could tell you listeners that history would prove Lloyd George wrong. Months after Lloyd George’s remarks, MP Samuel Smith alluded to Spanish General Weyler (Vigh-ler) saying the British were committing atrocities approaching Weyler’s (Vigh-ler’s) magnitude. Smith said, “[We are] storing up for ourselves a heritage of hatred [to] last for generations. Future historians would look upon our present action as one of the most deplorable blunders that this country had ever made.” Some British newspapers took a different position. For example, the Pall Mall Gazette called for the British to embrace reconcentration, but to avoid starving civilians. The St James Gazette recommended that they send Boer captives to St. Helena or Ceylon (See-lawn). 


The government used a familiar 20th century weapon: propaganda. They hired celebrity writers like Rudyard Kipling … like Sir Arthur Conan (Coe-nun) Doyle to promote the war. After volunteering at a hospital in Bloemfontein and writing his account of the war’s first phase, Doyle defended British scorched earth tactics in his second book on the war … released in 1902. 


But citizens still continued to write British newspapers predicting that the same starvation and epidemics that hit Cubans in reconcentration camps would hit Boers if scorched earth tactics and concentration camps were embraced. Some British officers looked at a future beyond the war and worried that this scorched earth policy would keep commandos in the field longer. One officer wrote, “The Burgher out on Commando is bound always to his farm … by burning it and sending his family packing, we are only making him a roving desperado, consumed with hatred.” British Captain Francis Fletcher-Vane wrote at the end of the war, “… if farms had not been burnt … the war would have been sooner over.”


(9:18) Escalation: On August 14th, 1900, Lord Roberts proclaimed that any Boers who hadn’t sworn neutrality .. would be detained as POWs. Boer families who didn’t inform British of hostile elements would be considered guilty of cooperating with Boers. By September, the British started taking as POWs any males of military age that were encountered near active commandos … whether those males were serving in the commando or not. 


What the British government called “refugee” camps began to emerge in September 1900. Lord Roberts and company placed those Boers who’d voluntarily laid down their arms into two of these camps … in Pretoria and in Bloemfontein … to protect those surrendered Boers from being pulled back into commandos or harmed by other Boers. But after Lord Roberts & company determined that just dumping Boer women and children refugees near commandos wasn’t really working, Lord Roberts and company syphoned these women and children into the “refugee” camps as well. These “undesirables” … these women, children and old men who’d watched their homes go up in flames soon outnumbered the original refugees. The British tried to paint these camps as necessary to “protect” Boers from starvation and … from African natives … from “sexual savagery of the black man towards the white woman.” The General Kelly-Kenny you’ve heard of in previous episodes argued early for … concentration camps. Kitchener (Kitch-eh-nur) argued to Secretary Brodrick in December 1900 that QUOTE “Every farm is an intelligence agency and supply depot so that it is impossible to surround or catch [the enemy]” … writing in 1901, Kitchener said that “women left in farms … give complete intelligence to the Boers of all our movements and feed the commandos in the neighborhood.” Kitchener and Roberts saw the camps as hostage sites that could pressure men into leaving their commandos so they could reunite with their families … trapped in these camps. The British command had some experience building camps for separating people. While managing India, they’d built famine camps for Indians displaced and marginalized during famines that broke out in the 1870s and the 1890s. Whats more … the British built plague camps in response to … the bubonic plague striking parts of India from 1896-1897. Two British officers who used their experience managing camps in India while in southern Africa were Captain Trollope (Traw-lup), Chief Superintendent of the Orange River Colony’s camps, and Major de Lotbiniere (Lot-bin-yair), director of camps for native Africans. The months ahead would prove whether their experience had any value. One woman would do more to deliver a verdict on these “refugee” camps than anyone in the world.


(12:39) Emily Hobhouse: Pakenham writes about this perpetually single 41-year old woman from the English town of Cornwall who lived with her invalid father. Then … Pakenham writes, “Her first taste of freedom came at thirty-five, when she vanished into the wilds of Minnesota, where she laboured to convert Cornish miners to temperance. Then she went back to England (after being jilted by a fiance in Mexico), just as the war-clouds gathered. Her political patron was her uncle, Lord Hobhouse, a distinguished Liberal of the old school and a friend of the ‘pro-Boers’…. So it was natural that she would fling herself, head and heart, into the work of the ‘pro-Boers’ relief fund, the South African Women and Children Distress Fund. She organized a women’s protest against the war. Many British saw her as a traitor. At a Quaker organized meeting in July, she and the other speakers had to dodge some hostile audience that rushed the stage and … chairs that audience had thrown just before. But Emily Hobhouse … would not be shaken. She soon told her family the plan to personally distribute the money from the Distress Fund by traveling to South Africa. Emily’s brother worried that she would get slandered in England or catch a disease from those Boers. Emily’s reply … “Life has no attractions, Death a good many; so the argument has no weight.” She sailed in second-class for the Cape of Good Hope that December of 1900. She wrote four days after landing in Cape Town of a soldier who claimed to have burned down 600 farms himself and about 8-year old boys being taken as if they were captured soldiers. She would just have to see things for herself. She managed to meet Sir Alfred Milner. She made many requests and reported on at least 11 camps she’d already heard of. When she demanded one vehicle to transport food and another to transport clothes, Milner explained that she could not go to any camp without Lord Kitchener’s permission. You see, Lord Roberts had thought the war virtually over. So Lord Roberts placed his South African command fully into Lord Kitchener’s hands and accepted Sir Garnett Wolseley’s position as commander-in-chief at the War Office in late November. Kitchener, by the way, liked using these Boer camps .. for retribution … to pay back the Boers for their continued resistance. He argued that wives of men who still insisted on resisting the British “forfeited their right to considerate treatment”. He intentionally transferred thousands of Boer families to camps far away from their homes. But back to Hobhouse. As instructed … Emily Hobhouse made her requests to Kitchener. Lord Kitchener allowed her to travel as far as Bloemfontein with one truck, but no interpreter. Hobhouse took a train and eventually saw her first concentration camp two miles outside Bloemfontein. In the blazing veld (southern African grassland) lay rows of round tents. Each family at the camp got one tent. In the future, the camp would get so crowded that new arrivals had to sleep in wagons or railway carriages. Not a single chair available in camp meant that Hobhouse and one of her first Boer interviewees had to roll up blankets to use as stools. The two women spoke as flies buzzed inside and outside the tent … transforming anything on the floor into black carpets. While they spoke, a deadly poisonous puff adder snake crept under the tent wall. Hobhouse struck at the snake with her umbrella until someone else struck the snake with a mallet. Hobhouse met another woman who had been separated from her husband and… her five children. The woman carried a sixth child, but she still had to sleep on the ground in the last weeks of pregnancy. 


Hobhouse reported this was all too normal. The more Hobhouse interviewed refugees and prisoners, the more she learned of water shortages, the absence of soap, the spread of measles, children with typhoid, husbands shipped away to Ceylon as punishment, corpses remaining in tents long enough to rot. This camp had about 2,000 “residents” with half of them being children. Hobhouse believed the head of the camp wanted to make life bearable, but Hobhouse also said, “Do what you will, you can’t undo the thing itself which is odious. … to keep these camps going is … murder to the children.” Hobhouse called for trained nurses and for river water to be boiled to stop the raging typhoid epidemic. Many British soldiers and officials thought her a fool or resented her for being a “traitor.” A new, much less friendly captain took charge of the camp, and sought to monitor Hobhouse much more … despite her making a scene about this surveillance that she wouldn’t accept unless it came on direct orders from Sir Alfred Milner. The captain ignored her when she demanded milk for malnourished children or for something to be done about children who were dying. She wanted to punch him. When a censor refused to approve her letter describing the wretched camp conditions, she waited for someone she could smuggle letters with. Hobhouse heard of dozens of camps. She wanted to see them all with her own eyes. All the while, Hobhouse felt ostracized and unnattractive, and self-conscious as she spoke broken Dutch with camp residents. 


As she traveled to other camps, she rarely sat in a comfortable place on a train and rarely knew where she would sleep next. She spent one night on the floor in a borrowed room of a hotel inside a circle … of bug repellant. She consumed nothing but jam and cocoa many days in a row. Hobhouse was happy to see that conditions at the Aliwal North and Norvals Pont (Norvawls Poent) camps weren’t as crowded and the water much cleaner, but … The tents grew so hot  in the South African summer that it was useless to even test for fevers; the tent temperatures reached 110 degrees! The head of the Norval Pont camp ignored condemnation and bought clothes for refugees who needed them. The Aliwal (Ahl-ee-vawl) North camp’s leader tried to demilitarize the camp by not posting any camp guards and by allowing the camp residents and nearby town residents to mix freely. He provided more food rations and larger families got a second tent. The town had created  a committee before to prepare for the over 2,000 detainees to fill the camp. Hobhouse still had to buy soap and supply it to the camp, and wondered how the Boers could be accused of being filthy when they weren’t initially provided with anything for hygiene. 


When Hobhouse made it back to Bloemfontein, she demanded changes that would at least bring its camps up to par with Aliwal (Ahl-ee-vawl) North and Norvals Pont (Norvawls Poent). When the concentration camps began being turned over to civilian rather than military administration, the British army didn’t provide nurses anymore. Hobhouse wasn’t impressed by the nurses who did travel from the Cape to Bloemfontein, and the nurses weren’t well supplied regardless. Hobhouse resented that the British called these camps “refugee camps.” She argued the British intentionally made the camp inmates homeless as part of their war strategy, and treated the inmates like POWs. She believed the recent Hague Convention bound the British government to take care of its POWs. Hobhouse resented the British soldiers she saw trading and selling sewing machines, chairs, jewelry and other items they looted from homes they burned down. Such a bitter irony to see these items being sold to camp detainees. Imagine having to buy back something a soldier stole from your home or your neighbors’ home! 


Meanwhile, mostly children still died daily. The dead children were transferred at dawn … not through Bloemfontein … around the town to a mass grave where they were deposited. Hobhouse saw another camp in Springfontein where Boers lived without shoes, socks, … even underwear. The camp residents got meat, grain and coffee, but hardly any coal … which is a huge problem if you’re trying to consume meat, grain, and coffee. Through the transition from military to civilian leadership of camps, Hobhouse did start to see one awful practice start to dissipate: the providing of reduced rations to families who had relatives still fighting in a commando. Hobhouse later traveled to Kimberley and asked General Pretyman (Pret-ih-men) there for permission to work in Kimberley and for a return pass to Bloemfontein. At this request, General Pretyman (Pret-ih-men) made an argument I find despicable but that Hobhouse also found all too familiar. Maybe if these Boer families weren’t so unsanitary and didn’t use stupid folk remedies, their children wouldn’t be dying in droves at these camps! Hobhouse angrily retorted that maybe having to sleep on the ground when you have measles and not having any doctors around with pediatric experience has more to do with these Boer children dying in droves! 


Petty Pretyman (Pret-ih-men) instead sent Hobhouse to Cape Town with the hope that she could turn around from there. She did turn around from Cape Town and got as far as Mafeking’s concentration camp. One thing that really stuck with Hobhouse though was when she watched “the clearing of the town of Warrenton.” Here Hobhouse watched in horror as women were herded into open coal trucks and sent away from their homes. Pitzer (Pit-sir) recounts the following statement by Hobhouse: “Flocks and herds of frightened animals bellowing and baaing for food and drink, tangled up with wagons and vehicles of all sorts and dense crowds of human beings, combined to give a picture of war in all its destructiveness, cruelty, stupidity and nakedness.” When Hobhouse got back to Bloemfontein, the camp population … had doubled … from 2,000 to 4,000. She heard rumors of maggoty food and Boers going for days without food at various camps. Sir Alfred Milner refused again to let Hobhouse go further north … to observe the Transvaal camps. She could only wonder what she wasn’t being allowed to see. After four months in southern Africa, Hobhouse knew full well that her relief fund’s aid barely exceeded a drop in the ocean … a drop into an ocean of humanity that overwhelmed these concentration camps. She believed her only chance to improve camp life … was to go raise hell in England. So she headed back to Cape Town on May 1st, 1901. She stopped in Springfield on the way to see some of the same Boer refugees at the train station before … who still hadn’t been placed in a camp. She saw a mother sitting against a wall with a covering pulled diagonally down from the wall. Hobhouse sat with the mother while the mother helplessly watched her malnourished baby … die. Hobhouse so happened to find space on a ship carrying Sir Alfred Milner … soon to be Lord Milner … back to England. 


(25:09) Bllack camps and Hobhouse ignoring them: But there were several camps that Hobhouse did not have to travel hundreds of miles to see or overcome military prohibitions to see. She simply refused to see them. Many of you sadly can probably guess which camps I’m talking about. Another camp housing 500 residents sat on the edge of Bloemfontein. Hobhouse did tell the Local Ladies League to look into this other camp. Hobhouse wrote to her aunt in March 1901 wondering if the British knew about these sorts of camps. Hobhouse reported hearing that lots of sickness and death reigned in these camps, and that the Quakers or the Aborigines’ Protection Society or somebody should look into these camps. But Hobhouse wrote, “I cannot possibly pay any attention to them myself.” When Alfred Milner accepted his appointment as South AFrica’s high commissioner and the Cape Colony’s governor in 1897, he spoke of his two most important goals. First, he wanted Boers and Brits to have good relations again. Second, he wanted to protect African natives from oppression. But before the Boer war even broke out, Milner decided “you have only to sacrifice ‘the nigger’” to achieve the first goal … of reconciling Boers and Brits. When black Africans initially fled to British “refugee” camps, they initially were trying to flee Boer raids. Before long though, British soldiers lit up black homes and farms too. At first, the British placed blacks in the same camps as Boers. As more black and white refugees sought shelter, the British started establishing separate camps for blacks … eventually administered by the Native Refugee Department. Blacks who didn’t walk into these camps took their chances hiding on the veld (southern African grassland) , served some role in a Boer commando, or acted as servants in Boer camps. Black men who did end up in these camps had to work in some sort of support role for the British military if those men wanted any shot at their families surviving in camp. By in April 1902, some 13,000 blacks worked for the British military around these camps. Some black camps had fields nearby that the blacks could work and keep about ⅔’s of the crop yields to feed themselves. The other third went to feeding the British military. These black camps didn’t get tents; they just had to make do with whatever scraps lay around or mud they could muster. With few exceptions,  blacks did not get free rations like the Boers. The male head of a household had to work for any food for his family. Since British administrators decided that blacks had “different nutritional needs”, blacks got half the food rations of Boers … go figure. The British administrators spread rumors of great gratitude blacks showed for the opportunity to earn money and have shelter, but … missionaries who made their way onto these camps painted a very different picture … much like missionaries who would work in Herero camps a couple years later. Reverend WHR Brown wrote of the plight of these black refugees saying, “They are in great poverty and misery. Many are dying from day to day-what is to become of the survivors I cannot think.” Pitzer reports some more heartbreaking details about these black concentration camps. “One early report from Heidelberg (High-del-bergk) reported that camp residents had nothing to eat but the corpses of diseased cattle. In another black camp, residents managed to raise pigs and sow a crop only to watch British troops trample the field and seize their animals. The loss completely ruined the holdings of some six hundred Africans in the camp, an official report noted, but ‘the Natives themselves admitted such losses were incidental in wartime.’ Those in black camps found themselves likewise tormented by Boers on commando duty.


 Night raids at Potchefstroom (Potch-off-strew/um) and Taaibosch (Tie-boesh) led to the death of one native, as well as the loss of money and clothes along with hundreds of cattle and sheep. In response, the British armed squads of pickets-blacks from camp-to stand guard. Despite an incident in which guerrillas shot thirteen picketers, as well as worries that arming natives would only provoke new raids and bloodshed, 850 black Africans served as armed guards in black concentration camps. Trench latrines and overcrowding led to filth and disease. Dysentery, typhoid, chicken pox, measles, and pneumonia afflicted the refugees. At Victoria Nek, the doctor refused to visit the camp, demanding that invalids see him in town. Many camps had no hospital and no nurses. When typhoid swept through these communities, … no effort was made to quarantine the sufferers, despite the highly contagious nature of the disease. As with Boer mothers … black mothers got the brunt of blame when their children died, with one inspector suggesting that they were eating food meant for their sick offspring. ‘Natives,’ he wrote, ‘do not seem to care for their children until they reach a useful age.’” … Solid work man! … As a new father, I can’t imagine being blamed for having to helplessly watch my son starve … because of a sick system like this. It’s deeply … depressing. … About 115,000 blacks wound up in these concentration camps … camps that the British military managed for the whole of their existence. Missionaries tried to raise awareness about these camps, but could not get the attention or the funds to fix anything systemically. The superintendent for native affairs in the Orange River Colony wrote to London about high death rates in November 1901, but didn’t think the death rates were “excessive.” The next month, the death rates hit a new record and reached higher heights than death rates in Boer concentration camps. Of those 115,000 blacks who lived in about 70 concentration camps, there are 14,000 we know of who died. Historian Elizabeth van Heyningen (Hay-ning-en) says that most official records of the camps … were destroyed. So we will never know how many more blacks died in these death camps … or pardon me … refugee camps. We do know that according to official reports that blacks died in their camps at rates at least 15% higher than Boers did in their concentration camps.


(32:22) David Lloyd George/Bannerman raise hell in the UK: Meanwhile in British Parliament, Liberal MPs attacked British war policy and cast doubt on official reports about British “refugee” camps. They pointed to other reliable sources that painted a very different picture than the official British reports. These Liberals even disputed the names for these camps. Camp proponents called them refugee camps while opponents referred to them as camps of detention and the residents as reconcentrados … alluding back to Cubans who suffered under Spanish camps. David Lloyd George remarked “There is no greater delusion in the mind of any man than to apply the term ‘refugee’ to these camps. They are not refugee camps. They are camps of concentration, formed by the military as the result of military operations in the field.” Lloyd George warned early in 1901 that the British risked other European power intervening in this war the way some had when the British lost its American colonies. Prime Minister Salisbury retorted that the Boers should have thought of what would happen before invading Natal and the Cape Colony. The skeptics also cited Emily Hobhouses’s letters as evidence of something dark going on in these camps. They also wondered aloud why the British administrators in southern Africa wouldn’t let Hobhouse see the camps further north. When Hobhouse made it back to Britain to report her findings, many praised her work. One paper said that Hobhouse had “turned the light of day upon a hell of suffering deliberately created for expediting a policy of conquest.” Hobhouse’s reports compelled the War Office to at least make noises about considering her recommendations. More noise was made abroad about British policy in southern Africa. For example, a Swiss political cartoon paired British secretary of state for the colonies Joseph Chamberlain with [King] Herod, the genocidal king mentioned in the Christian gospels. They were paired as partners in baby killing in the cartoon. But in the cartoon, Chamberlain looks down on Herod for taking a bumbling, less-effective baby killing approach. One British satirist (Sat-er-ust) suggested a new military decoration for this war of arson. Why not award some soldiers “The Order of the Torch?” Leader of the Liberal Party at the time, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman (Banner-men) made the following remark in a June 14th speech in London: “When is a war not a war? … When it is carried on by methods of barbarism in South Africa.” Lloyd George attacked the Salisbury government again, 3 days after Campbell-Bannerman’s (Banner-men’s) “methods of barbarism” remark. Lloyd George accused the government of attempting an indirect “policy of extermination” against women and children. “I say that this is the result of a deliberate and settled policy. It is not a thing which has been done in twenty-four hours, for it has taken months and months to do it. The military authorities knew perfectly well it was to be done, and they had ample time to provide for it. They started clearing the country about six months ago, and it is disgraceful that 5 or 6 months after that … children should be dying at the rate of hundreds per month.” Why attack women and children when men were their enemies? These barbarous methods would only lengthen the war. “We want to make loyal British subjects of these people. Is this the way to do it? Brave men will forget injuries to themselves much more readily than they will insults, indignities, and wrongs … to their women and children. … When children are being treated this way and dying, we are simply ranging the deepest passions of the human heart against British rule in Africa. … It will always be remembered that this is the way British rule started there, and this is the method by which it was brought about.” But all this Liberal rhetoric could not get the conservative government replaced. When a vote was called, 149 voted in favor of Lloyd George’s motion while 252 stood behind the Salisbury government. … 


On a smaller scale, some also ripped into the War Office and British cabinet for their management of the black concentration camps. For example, the Pilot wrote “This was the war of humanity that was to lift the Boer yoke from the neck of the blacks, yet … the blacks are dying faster in our camps than both Boers and British combined in the field. [this was no exaggeration by the way] … If we are not to be disgraced forever, the thing … must … stop.” Bowing to mounting pressure to address the British concentration camps, the War Office appointed a Ladies Committee-also known as the Fawcett Committee-to visit the camps. They made damn sure not to include Hobhouse on this committee. So Hobhouse decided she would take matters into her own hands again and sail for Cape Town on October 5th, 1901 … this time to work with those deported to coastal towns. Milner, and Chamberlain for that matter, remained queasy about these concentration camps and punishing women and children for the fight of commandos. But Milner and Kitchener would take no chances. They wouldn’t allow Hobhouse ashore this time. Then Hobhouse got sick aboard her ship. When nurses from Cape Town came to inspect her, Hobhouse worked enough magic to get these nurses to return without inspecting her. The Cape Colony’s medical officer would not be denied though. He had Hobhouse carried off the ship and placed on the next passenger liner to England. However, the British government didn’t get off easy when the Ladies Committee presented their eyewitness accounts in December. This committee had witnessed women having to wash their clothes in water contaminated by shit at the Mafeking camp. That camp’s callous supervisor ignored their recommendations for preventing a typhoid outbreak, and months later presided over an outbreak that killed 400 people per month. So I’m sure many of these women who originally arrived predisposed to give the British the benefit of the doubt-because they did believe the war itself was just-left southern Africa ready to unload some righteous anger on the powers that were. They raked the government over the coals for mortality rates that had increased since Hobhouse had visited the first time. They made recommendations consistent with Emily Hobhouse’s, and … went even further. They demanded nurses, increased food rations, more coal rations, wood for makeshift beds, water boilers for purifying drinking water, and vegetables. The Ladies Committee decried the suggestion that these deaths were out of the British administration’s control. But this committee definitely criticized the hygiene of Boer mothers too … when compared to QUOTE “intelligent and careful” British parents they met on their trip. Regardless of any prejudices these committee members had, they were sure about one thing: “It is a huge object-lesson to the world in what not to do! For if the children had not been so massed together, the death rate from those terrible infectious diseases would not have been so great. We brought the women in to stop them from helping their husbands in the war and … by doing so we have undoubtedly killed them in thousands as much as if we had shot them on their own doorsteps, and anyone but a British General would have realized this long ago.” 


Historian Peter Warwick notes that when the South African War of 1899-1902 finally finished, about twice as many people died in these concentration camps as … all men who died in battle. More than 100,000 Boers sent to concentration camps and roughly the same number of blacks sent to concentration camps. About 10% of the southern African population … was wiped out in these camps. About 28,000 Boers died in these camps. Why did so many Boers die in these camps. Fransjohan Pretorius sums it up like this. “First, the war had inevitably brought unhygienic conditions, and pollution of air, water and soil were sources of disease. Second, the unhygienic habits of some inmates, and their backwardness and superstition, added by a stubborn refusal to undergo hospital treatment, contributed to their deaths. The third and most important reason was poor camp administration.” We will never know how many blacks actually died in their camps, but it was likely at least 20,000. About 80% of those who died in these camps … were children. Most of those died from completely avoidable outbreaks of the measles and typhoid fever. People still argue today about whether or not these concentration camps actually accomplished what the British wanted. Did the camps bring the war to a close faster by killing Boer morale? A reason the debate still rages on is that the evidence is somewhat mixed, and I don’t know enough to give you a definitive answer. Many Boer warriors could not bear it anymore to let their women and children suffer in the camps, so some Boers did surrender. But other Boers … embittered by this British cruelty .. fought on. Many Boer women in the camps expected nothing less of their men, and wouldn’t think of their husbands as men anymore if their men had surrendered. Yet still others suffered long months wondering when their men would leave them and the children alone no longer to suffer in these camps. … Emily Hobhouse returned to South Africa in 1905 and set up a spinning and weaving school for Boer women. She focused on expanding educational opportunities for Boer youth in Pretoria … just as German Southwest Africa opened their own concentration camps. 

For further reading, check out:


Bossenbroek, Martin. The Boer War, translation edition. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2018.


Forth, Aidan, and Jonas Kreienbaum. “A Shared Malady: Concentration Camps in the British, Spanish, American and German Empires.” Journal of Modern European History / Zeitschrift Für Moderne Europäische Geschichte / Revue D’histoire Européenne Contemporaine 14, no. 2 (2016): 245-67. Accessed June 14, 2020. doi:10.2307/26266238. 


GARCÍA, GUADALUPE. “Urban Guajiros: Colonial Reconcentración, Rural Displacement and Criminalisation in Western Cuba, 1895—1902.” Journal of Latin American Studies43, no. 2 (2011): 209-35. Accessed June 14, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/23030619.

Godby, Michael. “Confronting horror: Emily Hobhouse and the concentration camp photographs of the South African War.” Journal of Cape History 32, no. 1 (2006): 34-48.


Grobler, Jackie. “State formation and strife, 1850-1900.” IN A History of South Africa, edited by Fransjohan Pretorius, Pretoria: Protea Book House, 2014.


History.com editors. “Philip Sheridan.” https://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/philip-sheridan Accessed June 2, 2021. 


Khilko, Ivan, Angel Rabasa, Lesley Anne Warner, Peter Chalk, and Paraag Shukla. “The Philippines (1899–1902).” In Money in the Bank–Lessons Learned from Past Counterinsurgency (COIN) Operations: RAND Counterinsurgency Study–Paper 4, 7-16. Santa Monica, CA; Arlington, VA; Pittsburgh, PA: RAND Corporation, 2007. Accessed June 15, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/10.7249/op185osd.9.


Lucking, Tony. “SOME THOUGHTS ON THE EVOLUTION OF BOER WAR CONCENTRATION CAMPS.” Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research 82, no. 330 (2004): 155-62.


Nasson, Bill. The Boer War: The Struggle for South Africa. Stroud, United Kingdom: The History Press, 2011. 


Pitzer, Andrea. One Long Night: A Global History of Concentration Camps. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2017.


Pretorius, Fransjohan. The A to Z of the Anglo-Boer War.  Lanham, MD:  The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2010.


Rintala, Marvin. “Made in Birmingham: Lloyd George, Chamberlain, and the Boer War.” Biography 11, no. 2 (1988): 124-39. Accessed March 30, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/23539369.


Rowland, Peter. David Lloyd George: A Biography. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. 1975. 



Van den Bergh, GN. “The British Scorched Earth and Concentration Camp Policies in the Potchefstroom Region, 1899-1902.” Scientia Militaria, South African Journal of Military Studies, Vol 40, Nr 2, 2012, pp. 72-88 doi: 10.5787/40-2-997. Accessed June 7, 2021.






Episode 39: Concentration Camps’ Origin Story-Part 2


(1:17) Spanish-American peace: It wasn’t a fair fight. Though the United States hadn’t emerged as the ultimate superpower that it is today, Spain was no match. In just four months of combat over Cuba, the Spanish lost their hold on the island … forever. But before the Spanish and American forces, allied with Cuban insurgents, clashed in Cuba, the US Navy dominated Spain’s Pacific fleet on the opposite side of the globe … in the Philippines. In just 7 hours of battle, Admiral George Dewey secured Spain’s surrender of their Pacific fleet. Filipino rebels welcomed American forces and weapons. Some US officials made verbal promises of independence … or at least a lot of autonomy to these Filipino rebels. Less than a year after declaring war on Spain, money changed hands. These Filipino freedom fighters only got verbal promises in part, because the US leaders were still deciding what they wanted to do with the Philippines while they drove the Spanish out. President McKinley reported kneeling, praying and agonizing over what to do with the Philippines on more than one evening. Would he give the Philippines back to Spain? Would he just leave the Philippines ripe for some other foreign power to take? Would he make the Philippines a colony? Ultimately, the United States paid $20 million to Spain for Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, some other West Indies islands, and … the Philippines. The US officially emerged as … an empire. Ultimately, the Filipinos were judged too backward to govern themselves. So the US “did those natives a favor” and made the Philippines an American colony. Many American soldiers who sailed to Cuba hoping to liberate the island wound up in the Philippines … probably furious that they were trying to keep another people from freedom. By January 1899, the US army in the Philippines … had a rebellion on its hands. 


(4:20) US Filipino campaign: The first military governor tried winning the Filipino rebels over with the carrot … with “humanitarian aid and goodwill.” This failed. The US replaced him with a second military governor. He tried using the stick. He failed. The Filipino insurgency held a 100,000 to 40,000 troop advantage at the war’s beginning. The insurgents tried to fight the US using more conventional tactics and … rapidly lost their numerical advantage. Then in 1900, the Filipino insurgency switched to guerrilla warfare tactics. Would it prove too late? Now the US was trapped in an ironic situation. They were the colonial overlords dealing with a guerrilla war.  The US War Department decided they needed to get tougher in the face of increased ambushes and assassination attempts. Thirty-five years earlier, with the Confederacy on the rails, Ulysses S Grant … the commander of Union forces … ordered General Philip Sheridan’s 40,000-man force to turn the Shenandoah (Sheh-nun-dough-uh) Valley into  a “barren waste.” Sheridan’s force of 40,000 … fired crops and barns while confiscating livestock. General Sherman would do the same thing just weeks later in his scorched earth campaign across Georgia. Serving as a cavalry officer under Sheridan while turning the Shenandoah Valley into a barren waste … was Adna Chaffee (Add-nuh Chay-fee). Adna Chaffee (Add-nuh Chay-fee) rose through army ranks over the decades to where he arrived in the Philippines as Major General Adna Chaffee (Add-nuh Chay-fee) …. US’s third military governor over the Philippines. The US continued building roads, schools, sanitation systems and hospitals as they tried to pacify the Philippines. The insurgents also helped build good will between some Filipinos and the US by … demanding high taxes in insurgent controlled areas while also destroying homesteads and executing people who sided with the US. But Chaffee (Chay-fee) and company believed the US needed to keep a very big stick on hand. Then … September 28th happened. Andrea Pitzer explains what happened that day writing, “But any half measures were obliterated on September 28th, 1901, after a Filipino police chief killed a sentry, triggering an orchestrated massacre of American troops at Balangiga (Bah-lahn-gee-guh). Guns smuggled past checkpoints in children’s coffins were used to kill 48 US soldiers in the most lethal incident of the war. The disaster was shocking on many levels-supposed allies had been part of the elaborate plot, and the bodies of the dead were … mutilated horribly.” Ten unarmed Filipinos were executed in a wave of mass retribution. General Chaffee (Chay-fee) decided it was time to unleash the dogs. Most US commanders in the Philippines-including the father of the famous General MacArthur-carried experiences in unconventional tactics from wars against Native American tribes. They remembered using reservations to separate civilians from native insurgents. Many of these American officers carried experiences from the US Civil War with them. Jacob Smith sustained a gun wound to the hip during the American Civil War and took a bullet to the chest in Cuba in 1898. But Jacob Smith wasn’t just brave, he was reckless. He speculated with money owed as signing bonuses to African American army recruits, defaulted on creditors and those he gambled with, and was court martialed for insubordination among other offenses. Somehow he arrived in the Philippines as Brigadier General Smith. He openly vowed to turn his sector of the Philippines  into a place where “not even a bird could live.” 


(8:41) General Smith initiates reconcentration: You’re about to be hit with deja vu. General Smith ordered all civilians into designated camps inside American controlled towns on the Filipino island of Samar (Sah-mar). Anyone found outside those camps would be shot on sight. Food was rationed so “precisely?” that sharing food with any insurgents who seeped in … was unthinkable. Anyone suspected of “anti-American activities” was latched into stockades. Within days of Smith’s new policies, a pro-Washington newspaper in Manila reported that Smith’s “policy of reconcentration is said to be the most effective thing of its kind ever seen in these islands under any flag.” Some of Smith’s subordinates reported that he encouraged cruelty and told one officer to “kill and burn; the more you kill and burn the more it will please me.” He told one brigade to shoot Filipino boys as young … as ten years old. Smith’s men burned down homes and crops. They took hostages. They used the “rope cure” … partial lynching to rip out military intelligence. They used the “water cure” … forcing salty or dirty water into a helpless prisoner’s mouth or nose until one of two things happened: either the prisoner vomited involuntarily because his stomach could simply hold no more water … OR … they kicked the prisoner to force him to vomit, and then … repeated the sadistic process. And so it went on the island of Samar (Sah-mar). 


Brigadier General J Franklin Bell arrived in the Philippines with US Civil War experience of his own. General Bell once charged 7 Filipino insurgents on horseback and captured 3 of them single handedly. The following colourful account sounds pretty rich to me, but some of his subordinates even claimed that he charged these 7 Filipino insurgents while riding naked on his horse! But General Bell was not a liability to his superiors, not like General Smith. General Bell arrived on the Filipino island of Luzon (Lue-zawn) and met his officers in the town of Batangas (Buh-tawn-gus),  and explained his plan to his officers in very disciplined language that accorded with approved US military tactics. He voiced support for benevolence to the natives, but also said that since the enemy was “cunning, unscrupulous, and conscienceless” … that enemy had to be handled severely. Andrea Pitzer (Pit-sir) records the following: “Henceforth, he announced, the policy of Batangas (Buh-tawn-gus) would rely on General Order 100, the Lieber (Lee-bur) Code set forth during the US Civil War, permitting retaliation and executions– though he did not want summary executions undertaken without his approval. If Bell was playing both sides of the fence, demanding that officers implement more drastic tactics while paying lip service to restraint, he understood perfectly the risks of not qualifying his orders. The year before, when a colonel filed reports that could be construed as endorsing torture and arson, Bell had written a letter urging him to be more cautious. Bell explained that he was sympathetic to the need to torch a suspect’s home or string him up by the neck to get him to talk, but should these kinds of tactics become a matter of public knowledge, he would not be able to protect the officer involved. … A week after meeting with his officers, he issued Telegraphic Order No. 2, instructing his officers to establish … reconcentration on the outskirts of towns, with garrisons built to support them. Framing them as ‘zones of protection,’ Bell explained the sectors as havens for ‘peaceably inclined’ citizens, places to keep them from being preyed on by insurgents. His next order came the following day, laying out the goal of making the populace miserable enough that they would yearn for peace. [Bell wrote] ‘It is an inevitable and deplorable consequence of war … that the innocent must generally suffer with the guilty.’ Bell would continue to argue that by adopting reconcentration-which he later insisted did not exacerbate hunger among civilians or increase mortality in the region-US forces were protecting [peaceful] civilians from insurgents. But it is clear from his orders that, like Weyler (Vigh-ler), [Bell] believed that all civilians should be treated as prisoners in the absence of actions that publicly, positively bound them to US interests.” Just as the Spanish did in Cuba, both Bell and Smith sought to leave insurgents starving and without shelter. If civilians in these reconcentration zones suffered, so be it. However, Bell did send smallpox vaccination teams through his camps and vaccinated-by force if necessary-almost 300,000 camp inhabitants. Those inhabitants had to take an oath of allegiance to the United States, and sometimes former insurgents … had to help fight insurgents. Rudyard Kipling wrote poetry about the South African War of 1899-1902. But Kipling also wrote after the first month of the United States’ fight against Filipino insurgents. Kipling described the US effort to “civilize” the Filipino natives as … “The White Man’s Burden.” I wonder what he would have penned poetically about the descent into scorched earth and reconcentration zones.


(14:40) Critics and deniers of US misconduct in Philippines: What we do know is that many American soldiers wrote with disgust about the atrocities committed against the Filipinos. Some wrote to Congressmen and newspapers, hoping that their letters would somehow spark change. American newspapers did not miss the historical irony. The Baltimore American wrote, “We have actually come to do the thing we went to war to banish.” The Detroit Free Press alluded to General Weyler (Vigh-ler) saying, “Weylerism (Vigh-lerism) is Weylerism (Vigh-lerism), whether it manifests itself in Cuba or the Philippines.” The Columbus Evening Press wrote, “Our honor will be clouded with shame if we allow our colonial armies to be officered by a man who adopts Butcher Weyler’s (Vigh-ler’s) barbarous policy of reconcentration.” US Senators less than 5 years before had criticized Weyler’s (Vigh-ler’s) brutal tactics against insurgents and civilians by condemning Spain for her “extermination of the Indian” … a hilarious charge for anyone remotely familiar with what the US government did to Native Americans. President McKinley cited Spain’s reconcentration camps as a reason the US had to fight the Spanish. But now … US generals were using reconcentration camps in the Philippines. One political cartoonist in the US portrayed a gleeful President Teddy Roosevelt preparing to tip a bucket of water labeled “civilization” down the throat of an unwilling Filipino prisoner. The US Senate Committee on the Philippines forced an investigation beginning in January 1902. For several months, more atrocities, more reconcentration policies, … more officially sanctioned cruelty came to light. Just before testifying to this committee, the governor general of the Philippines made the most narrow promise possible … “there has never been any thought of establishing ‘concentration camps’ in the ordinary acceptance of the term.” Whatever the hell that meant! William Howard Taft … a future US President made those remarks. Actors you wouldn’t necessarily predict made other bizarre arguments. For example, Pitzer writes that a northern senator made the case for “torturing Filipinos to a southern senator. [The southern senator] noted that white southerners were not allowed to lynch … but the practice was apparently condoned overseas.” Many American southerners resented the American tactics in the Philippines because it reminded them of scorched earth policies that General Sherman and others had used against the South.  When US Army Major Edwin Glenn faced trial for using the “water cure”, his defense  was this … the water cure is okay because the Spanish used it, the insurgents used it, policemen in American cities used it, and … the water cure doesn’t really hurt … it’s just uncomfortable. In the end, Major Glenn was “nailed” with a $50 fine and a suspension … of one month. General Smith, the loose cannon general, only got convicted for “conduct unbecoming an officer” and received no prison time. Cheering crowds welcomed him back in Ohio, but … he had a “complete nervous collapse” shortly afterward. General Bell, the careful calculating general, perpetrated his war crimes through his subordinates with enough personal separation … that he faced … no official rebuke. Less than five years later, Bell won confirmation as chief of staff of the US Army! In the end, something over 100,000 civilians lay slain after the American pacification of the Philippines. American concentration camps are blamed for about 11,000 of those dead. When the US considered going to war with Cuba in 1906, government officials considered bringing back … concentration camps. Those camps had worked so well in the Philippines. But ultimately, Roosevelt deemed the camps unnecessary. 


While the United States used reconcentration camps at the turn of the 20th century, Lord Roberts waged war against Boer guerrilla warriors. What may surprise you is … Lord Roberts requested intel on how the US was running its reconcentration camps in the Philippines. What cannot be proved definitively is whether Lord Roberts actually used the American reconcentration camps in the Philippines or Weyler’s (Vigh-ler’s) reconcentration camps in Cuba as precedent for what Lord Roberts and company would eventually resort to in southern Africa. He and other British generals’ written records … are silent on this. What these British generals and administrators presided over in southern Africa was deplorable. But did it have precedent … in southern Africa itself?


(20:05) Basotho burning: The year is 1854. The British have decided it’s not worth the fight. They and the Basutho (Bah-sue-too) had been fighting intermittently for several years over the eastern portion of the Orange River Sovereignty. In 1854, the British withdrew and handed control over to … the Voortrekkers (F/war-treck-ers) who’d settled there. These Voortrekkers renamed this land: the Orange Free State. Now the Voortrekkers (F/war-treck-ers) were the ones facing pressure from the Basutho (Bah-sue-too) over the eastern part of their Free State. But these Voortrekkers had not only the knowledge of the land … they had the will to keep this territory … their own. Orange Free State President … Josias (Yo-see-us) Hoffman … wanted this territory, but also worked hard for … good relations with the Basutho (Bah-sue-too) chief. Hoffman made many good will gestures, but one got him in big trouble with … his own people. He gifted the Basotho (Bah-sue-too) king Moshoeshoe (mow like mow the lawn) with … a small barrel of gunpowder. This gesture upset Hoffman’s Boers so much, they forced him to resign in 1855. The Boers didn’t think it was safe to let firearms fall into the hands of black people. The British and Cape Colonists felt the same way a couple decades later when they fought the “Gun War” … hoping to disarm the Basutho (Bah-sue-too) in their midst. The irony is that some Orange Free State Boers had smuggled gun powder to the Basutho because of Boer resentment against British rule in the area. But anyway, the next president of the Orange Free State couldn’t make any lasting peace over the eastern Free State either. In 1858, the Free State declared war on the Basutho. Both sides raided the others’ territory. When Basutho warriors plundered farms deep in the Free State, the Free State president called for help from the Cape Colony governor and the Transvaal. Cape governor Sir George Gray eventually mediated a peace that basically reverted things back to the status quo between the Basutho and the Free State. But less than a decade later, the Basutho and Boers faced off again. Though the Basutho had a heavy numerical advantage, the Free State Boers had more than a couple advantages of their own. This time …some Transvaal Boers did come to their aid. Second, the Free State Boers had the far superior breech-loading rifle whereas the Basutho over the years could not keep up in terms of firearm technology, gun powder, and therefore … had much less accuracy against their Boer foe. Additionally, Moshoeshoe’s (mow like mow the lawn) sons were fighting over who would succeed their father king; so the Basotho kingdom was not united. But even still, the Boers could not take the Basutho mountain fortress of Thaba Bosiu (Taw-baw Boe-see-you). So Free State forces took an aggressive measure: they burned all the crops in Basutoland that they possibly could … hoping to bring the Basotho to their knees. At almost the exact same time that General Sherman and company used scorched earth tactics to finish off the American South, the Free State Boers did the same to the Basutho. Moshoeshoe (mow like mow the lawn) … did fall to his knees in 1866. The Free State won the rights to much of the most fertile land formerly held by the Basutho. Then the Boers and Basutho fought again. This time it was Moshoeshoe (mow like mow the lawn) who begged for intervention. In 1868, the British via the Cape Colony declared the greatly reduced Basutoland … a British protectorate. 


(24:03) British scorched earth: Colonel Charles Caldwell’s guidebook Small Wars illustrates the British tendency at the time to make analogies to previous conflicts and apply those lessons from “asymmetric encounters” to the South African War. Citing precedents in French Algeria, the Dutch Indies and Spanish Morocco, he concluded that success in irregular warfare called for measures that “may shock [the] humanitarian.” His book was required reading for British military academics at the time. Colonel Caldwell implemented these theories as an commander of a mobile column that burned Boer farms in the Transvaal. 


The year is now 1900. The British have finally captured or beaten to surrender … most of the Boer armies. But thousands of Boers … will … not … quit. Lord Roberts had already authorized farm burning in very specific instances in March 1900. At least officially, if Boer snipers fired on British troops under cover of a white flag, their homes were liable to be lit aflame. In episode 1.37, you heard about Lord Roberts making some proclamations in June … declaring the right to burn down more Boer farms and homes …. Boer farms & homes anywhere near where acts of vandalism & destruction against British held property were carried out. Lord Roberts declared “collective responsibility” to be borne by nearby civilians. Lord Roberts … needed to make an example out of someone. The Boer warrior who’d done the most damage to British controlled telegraph lines and railways and other property … was undoubtedly Christiaan De Wet. De Wet so happened to lead another spectacular raid on the Roodewal (Rude-eh-vaul) railway station … near his farm that first week of June. On June 16th, Lord Methuen led the burning of De Wet’s farm. When it was finally safe for De Wet to return to his farm, he must have been heartbroken to see “the work of a lifetime” reduced to ashes. Christian’s three oldest sons rode with his commando. Cornelia and the younger nine children had to roam the countryside for months and eventually take shelter in a laager. Many Boers on the fence at that point finally saw what they thought was definitely the writing on the wall. If the Free State’s commandant general’s farm wasn’t safe, what hope did anyone else have? Cornelia and her children faced some of the same challenges faced by Boer families caught in the path of the British. The British army wasn’t just taking food as they needed, or burning down only farms. The British were dynamiting or setting fire to Boer homes and ensuring refugees in the process. The British burned farms and homes increasingly indiscriminately to where many families watched their homes go up in flames even though they had no one fighting alongside or supplying Boer guerrillas. Most of the time, Boer victims of scorched earth had to wander like Cornelia and her children … they had to wander to find abandoned shelter, commando laagers that welcomed them in, or even the occasional friendly black homestead. Beginning in July, Lord Roberts ran an experiment. He shuttled around 2,500 women and children from Johannesburg and Pretoria along the British controlled railway … then dumping them near Boer forces retreating towards Delagoa (Dell-uh-go-uh) Bay. This could serve the purpose of weighing down commandos with non-combatants to feed, of making families “pay” for aiding the Boer resistance, and maybe even shake the morale of some Boer warriors … seeing these destitute women and children. Botha and company complained to Roberts that this was a cruel act of making women and children bear the cost of war in order to coerce Boer warriors into surrender. Lord Roberts argued that he couldn’t afford to keep feeding these women and children of the enemy … the enemy that he argued were ultimately responsible for the plight of their women and children. The stream of surrendering Boers continued into July. But other Boers reacted differently … defiantly. They grew all the more determined to fight … to the bitter end. … September showed shuttling to be insufficient. The British realized that more needed to be done than simply dump these families close to Boer commandos. Boer commandos struggled enough to feed themselves, so they couldn’t feed these hundreds of women, children, and old men too. So commandos had to leave these refugees behind. That had to be gut-wrenching. So in September, as British scorched earth policy grew more systematic and widespread, something new emerged in Pretoria and Bloemfontein. By December, more than 40 of these dotted South Africa. 




For further reading, check out:

Atmore, Anthony, and Peter Sanders. “Sotho Arms and Ammunition in the Nineteenth Century.” The Journal of African History 12, no. 4 (1971): 535-44. Accessed June 4, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/181011.


Forth, Aidan, and Jonas Kreienbaum. “A Shared Malady: Concentration Camps in the British, Spanish, American and German Empires.” Journal of Modern European History / Zeitschrift Für Moderne Europäische Geschichte / Revue D’histoire Européenne Contemporaine 14, no. 2 (2016): 245-67. Accessed June 14, 2020. doi:10.2307/26266238. 


GARCÍA, GUADALUPE. “Urban Guajiros: Colonial Reconcentración, Rural Displacement and Criminalisation in Western Cuba, 1895—1902.” Journal of Latin American Studies43, no. 2 (2011): 209-35. Accessed June 14, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/23030619.

Grobler, Jackie. “State formation and strife, 1850-1900.” IN A History of South Africa, edited by Fransjohan Pretorius, Pretoria: Protea Book House, 2014.


History.com editors. “Philip Sheridan.” https://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/philip-sheridan Accessed June 2, 2021. 


Khilko, Ivan, Angel Rabasa, Lesley Anne Warner, Peter Chalk, and Paraag Shukla. “The Philippines (1899–1902).” In Money in the Bank–Lessons Learned from Past Counterinsurgency (COIN) Operations: RAND Counterinsurgency Study–Paper 4, 7-16. Santa Monica, CA; Arlington, VA; Pittsburgh, PA: RAND Corporation, 2007. Accessed June 15, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/10.7249/op185osd.9.


Nasson, Bill. The Boer War: The Struggle for South Africa. Stroud, United Kingdom: The History Press, 2011. 


Pakenham, Thomas. The Boer War. London: Abacus, 1979.


Paterson, Thomas G. “United States Intervention in Cuba, 1898: Interpretations of the Spanish-American-Cuban-Filipino War.” The History Teacher 29, no. 3 (1996): 341-61. Accessed June 2, 2021. doi:10.2307/494551.


Pitzer, Andrea. One Long Night: A Global History of Concentration Camps. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2017.

Pretorius, Fransjohan. The A to Z of the Anglo-Boer War.  Lanham, MD:  The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2010.




Episode 38: Concentration Camps’ Origin- Part 1 


(1:52) Start with German South-West Africa camps: In January of 1904, Samuel Maharero (Mah-hah-rairo) led an uprising in southern Africa … in the colony of German Southwest Africa. This Herero (Hair-rairo) chief sabotaged railway lines to the coast about 100 miles away and scored several early victories against the colony’s settlers & rulers. Samuel and many Herero (Hair-rairo) had had enough mistreatment from German traders. The governor of the colony, though, held optimism that he could reach a peace settlement. German Southwest Africa’s governor, Theodor Leutwein (loot-wine) had … after all … bribed & played rival tribal leaders off of each other quite effectively for years. But Kaiser Wilhelm II and his German High Command would not tolerate a settlement. They told governor Leutwein (loot-wine) to get nothing short … of unconditional surrender. Leutwein (loot-wine) started to worry that German High Command’s real plan … was to exterminate the Herero (Hair-rairo). Leutwein told his superiors not to listen to those “fanatics who want to see the Herero destroyed altogether” and to remember that they needed the natives for the colony’s economy. His words fell on deaf ears. Then his words were muted three months later when he was relieved of his command.


 A new man set foot on German Southwest African ground. Someone willing to do whatever it took to achieve his results. General Lothar von Trotha (low-thaw fawn Toe-tuh) brought previous experience from Africa and from China. General von Trotha (fawn Toe-tuh) also brought a propensity … for brutality. For his first two months on the ground, von Trotha (fawn Toe-tuh) planned an offensive … “a mousetrap.” von Trotha (fawn Toe-tuh) crushed most Herero’s (Hair-rairo’s) forces in August at Waterberg (Vaw-ter-BairGG) … taking no prisoners … at least officially. Then von Trotha (fawn Toe-tuh) issued this uniquely brutal proclamation: “I, the Great General of the German troops, send this letter to the Herero (Hair-rairo) people. The Herero are no longer … German subjects. They have murdered and stolen, … they have cut off the ears, noses and other body-parts of wounded soldiers, … now out of cowardice they no longer wish to fight. I say to the people … anyone who delivers a captain will receive 1000 Mark. Whoever delivers Samuel [Herero] (Hair-rairo) will receive 5000 Mark. The Herero people must however leave the land. If the populace does not do this … I will force them with the Groot Roor (Grout Rew-er) [Cannon]. Within the German borders … every Herero, with or without a gun, with or without cattle will be shot. I will no longer accept women and children. I will drive them back to their people or I will let them be shot at. These … are my words to the Herero (Hair-rairo) people. The great General of the Mighty Kaiser.” This … was not going to end well. 


(5:55) Herero in German concentration camps: General von Trotha (fawn Toe-tuh) “graciously” clarified afterward saying that he did not intend for his troops to shoot women and children … just to shoot .. over their heads to scare them away. But he also wrote this familiar sounding rhetoric later, These tribes “yield only to force. It was and remains my policy to apply this force by unmitigated terrorism and even cruelty.” And cruel he was. Von Trotha’s (fawn Toe-tuh’s) soldiers hung Herero (Hair-rairo) tribesmen … right in front of their women. Those Herero not caught up in these mass executions died in the desert. Only 1% of South-West Africa could even be farmed. 


But Bernhard von Bülow (Bairn-heart fawn bue-low), the German chancellor at the time did not think these mass executions were a good idea, and persuaded the Kaiser to pull back on these two months after von Trotha’s (fawn Toe-tuh’s) proclamation. Instead, the Kaiser ordered limited executions and forced labor for the rest of the Herero(Hair-rairo) . Herero who defied long odds and survived these previous months started to trickle back into German settlements … submitting themselves to the labor. At first, those Herero (Hair-rairo) found their reward for returning in the form of getting arm, leg and neck irons fastened around them. But the German Chancellor soon got this policy dropped too. But … von Bülow proposed another idea: the Herero (Hair-rairo) should be placed in Konzentrationslager (Cone-sen-tah-si/ewn-slah-gah). The Herero (Hair-rairo) should be guarded around the clock and required to work in … concentration camps. 

General von Trotha (fawn Toe-tuh) loved the idea … maybe as much as he loved Lord Horatio Kitchener. Von Trotha held great respect for what Kitchener did in South Africa … less than 5 years earlier. 


The Germans considered every Herero (Hair-rairo) that entered their concentration camps … as prisoners of war. Each Herero wore metal tags … each of the tags was stamped. Each Herero ushered into cramped shelters … many of the shelters were skin-and-rag huts … like the huts that blacks were herded into during the South African War a few years earlier. Many children worked as slaves for German officers. Adults worked hard labor for private companies and on military projects. The concentration camps at Windhoek (Vint-hook) held around 7,000 people. To give you an idea of how crammed this was … only 2,500 people lived in German South-West Africa’s capital. The Herero (Hair-rairo) showed up to camp … nothing like the colonial capital’s residents would have. The Herero showed up after months of seeking refuge in the unforgiving desert. They showed up in rags … or even completely naked. Some missionaries described them as skeletons with hollow eyes. That is how these Herero (Hair-rairo) showed up to camp. While performing hard labor, they were given no blankets … sometimes no clothing and slept on the marshlike ground. Missionaries who initially lured these Herero out of hiding … eventually tried to mitigate the Herero’s (Hair-rairo) suffering in these camps. But only so much could be done. These missionaries treated many skeletal prisoners for wounds dealt by rawhide whips from concentration camp guards. Despite the missionary presence, starvation savaged the Herero (Hair-rairo). Some saw 10 or more Herero dead carried out of camp. One South African newspaper reported the following about camp labor: “The loads … are out of all proportion to their strength. I have often seen women and children dropping down, especially when engaged on this work, and also when carrying very heavy bags of grain, weighing a hundred or more pounds.” Diseases like dysentery that often accompany starvation … ran rampant. What was worse? Women were raped routinely. So sexually transmitted diseases like venereal typhoid joined the cocktail of camp diseases. When the Nama people rose up the next year, they too were thrown into these half-dozen camps that dotted South-West Africa … swelling the concentration camp population to 17,000. Shark Island sat just off the colony’s coast. The concentration camp here earned a nickname from the German troops… Death Island. Here too … prisoners were beaten by day … women and girls violated by night. Sick natives avoided the medical tent. Missionaries reported that those who went to the medical tent … never came back. This gets darker. Some of those who died on Shark Island, then had their heads … cut off. Those severed heads sent offsite … where German doctors could conduct experiments and develop race theories linking Africans the closest to apes. Word of Shark Island began to spread. One Protestant evangelist reported one account of a Herero (Hair-rairo) man hearing he was being sent to Shark Island and deciding to commit suicide … by ripping open his neck with his bare hands. Soon, German authorities forbade anyone from telling the natives which camp they were being sent to … in order to avoid revolts or escape attempts. Missionaries desperately tried to save hundreds of Herero & Nama by appealing that they be transferred from Shark Island. The new colonial governor denied this request. He gave this cold rationale, “Those prisoners transferred to Shark Island through trickery will not likely forget their time of imprisonment on the island any time soon. [If] they are let loose … they will spread their stories of hate and mistrust against us.” Then, a new man took charge of the colonial army …Ludwig von Estorff (Loot-wick* fawn estorf). Estorff visited Shark Island, and was horrified. He fought to transfer Shark Island detainees, but faced stiff resistance. Estorff fought for almost two years before he could shut the Shark Island camps down, and that … wasn’t until the native uprisings finally ceased. The death toll … was staggering. Between the war, the mass executions, and the concentration camps with their 45% death rate(!!!), 60,000 Herero and 10,000 Nama lost their lives. The Nama population … slashed in half. The Herero (Hair-rairo) … just a hair’s width from extermination. When the German government resisted Estorff’s efforts to shut down Shark Island earlier, they reminded Estorff that “Britain has allowed 10,000 women and children to die in camps in South Africa.” 


(13:42) Definition of concentration camps: When I mention anything about the Boer wars to people in person or on social media platforms, what I hear more than anything is some variation of this … “Oh! The British invented concentration camps during those wars.” Is this true? The interwoven stories of this episode and the next … will prove this “British invented concentration camps” assertion as truth or myth. Before we shift to our next string of stories, let’s define something of central importance … concentration camps. I think author Andrea Pitzer  (Pit-sir) uses sufficient nuance when she cites political philosopher Hannah Arendt (Air-rint). Arendt (Air-rint) put concentration camps into three …  camps: … Purgatory, Hades, & Hell. From internment camps in the Netherlands, labor camps of the Gulag, to Nazi death camps. Pitzer  (Pit-sir) writes, “But nearly all concentration camps share one feature: they extract people from one area to house them somewhere else. … Camps require the removal of a population from a society … with all its accompanying rights, relationships, and connections to humanity. This exclusion is followed by an involuntary assignment to some lesser condition or place, generally detention with other undesirables under armed guard. Of these afterworlds, Arendt (Air-rint) writes, ‘All three types have one thing in common: the human masses sealed off in them are treated as if they no longer existed, as if what happened to them were no longer of interest to anybody, as if they were already dead and some evil spirit gone mad were amusing himself by stopping them for a while between life and death.’”  


(15:41) Spanish general to Cuba in the 1890s: On February 10th, 1896, a man standing a mere five feet tall stepped onto Cuban soil at Havana. Looking fiercely around with flared muttonchop sideburns to bare, this forty-seven year old arrival from Madrid would earn infamy. He traveled 4,000 miles from Spain to cheering crowds … to streamers and garlands … to red blankets hoisted from windows … to assume command of Spanish forces in Cuba … to be the viceroy who the cheering crowds hoped would bring an end to the war … to be the harbinger of peace in Cuba. Before leaving Europe, this general did his due diligence. He had learned all he could from veterans of this ongoing war … a war which began a year earlier by Cubans declaring independence from Spain. He settled on a strategy … one he knew would be controversial, but … one he thought would win the war … in less than two years. This new governor-general had a reputation. Newspapers in the Americas and in Europe predicted that he would bring “bloodshed and mayhem.” They were more right than they probably wanted to be. 


Cuban rebels this time raised money and foreign sympathy to great effect before and during this war. At first, General Arsenio Martinez Campos led Spanish forces. He seemed like the right fit. He’d fought for five years in the previous war. In that previous war, he had secured a peace as colonial governor that eventually led to the abolition of slavery. General Martinez Campos served afterwards in Morocco and Mexico, and led a coup that restored the monarchy in Spain. But all his experience and success before, did not propel him to success in this current war with Cuban rebels. The rebels had immunity to malaria and yellow fever. Spanish forces did not. The rebels used guerrilla warfare tactics to perfection. Martinez Campos kept trying to set up a showdown on the battlefield … a decisive showdown that never came. The insurgents used outdated weapons to snipe fear into Spanish columns. They burned down homes and crops of those “too loyal” to the Spanish. They dynamited Spanish supplies and infrastructure. Yet these Cuban insurgents also would nurse wounded Spanish soldiers who fell into insurgent hands back to health and return them to the Spanish. Martinez Campos saw a route to victory … a route he was unwilling to take. He detailed what this route would take. Then he offered to resign as colonial governor … because he could not bring himself to take this … dishonorable route. General Martinez Campos wrote, “I cannot, as the representative of a civilized nation, be the first to give the example of cruelty and intransigence.” What … WHAT did General Martinez Campos find so cruel?… Reconcentracion


Even after Cuban insurgents committed to totally destroying all plantations, General Martinez Campos would not launch … reconcentracion. Months later, crowds gathered at train stops all along General Martinez Campos’s route to Madrid. They gathered … to hurl insults at him. The Spanish government had recalled Martinez Campos in disgrace. 


Meanwhile, in Cuba, a man who … as a boy … watched with great fascination while his father performed surgeries and autopsies in the Spanish medical corps … that man completely burst the mold of Martinez Campos. Captain General Valeriano Weyler y Nicolau (Vigh-ler ee Nee-coh-lou) cast Martinez Camposs reservations aside. Ironically, Martinez Campos wrote his superiors earlier saying that of all the Spanish generals willing to use reconcentracion “only Weyler (Vigh-ler) also has intelligence, valor, and an understanding of war.” General Weyler (Vigh-ler) had fought in Cuba decades before. He’d even won the lottery in Cuba, but … then caught yellow fever. Weyler (Vigh-ler) recovered enough to return to Cuba in 1868 and lead a band of Spanish loyalist volunteers in the Ten Years’ War. Weyler (Vigh-ler) won accolades for his bravery, but …stories of his troops’ savagery also spread … stories of killing civilians, stories of executions and beheadings, … stories of rapes. Weyler (Vigh-ler) won the rank of brigadier general by the time he left Cuba. Weyler returned to Spain and fought rebels in the new Spanish republic. He slaughtered civilians in Catalonia … in Spain! His reputation took a temporary hit. But he was deployed again across the Spanish empire a couple more times, and brought back to fight dissenting anarchists and unionists in Spain. Now in Cuba for a third time, Weyler(Vigh-ler) would stay true to character. Weyler demanded authorization to do whatever it took to win this war. Spanish authorities … gave Weyler (Vigh-ler) that blank check. General Weyler (Vigh-ler) would aim to isolate the Cuba insurgents by herding all noncombatants into towns under Spanish control … that way the Spanish could control these noncombatants … in reconcentracion camps. The day after he landed in Cuba, Weyler (Vigh-ler)made his first speech to Cuban inhabitants, and blamed … civilians for the insurgents’ success. Women and children weren’t neutral! They were informing for Cuban insurgents. He later announced nearly 20 more categories of people who could be put on trial and … be given the death penalty. Weyler (Vigh-ler) announced reconcentracion in a second proclamation. Everyone living in the countryside near Sancti Spiritus, Santiago, and Puerto Principe (Preen-see-peh) had to present themselves with identification papers to military authorities in the nearby cities. From then on, these country residents could not move from city to city without permission. Finally, Weyler (Vigh-ler) declared that any insurgent captured in battle … would be executed. The path that Martinez Campos knew … but wouldn’t take … was finally being marched upon. 


US newspapers continued their aggressive criticism of Weyler (Vigh-ler). The New York Times ran with the headline “Weyler’s Draconic Laws.” We will get to US criticisms of Weyler later in our string of stories though. Weyler (Vigh-ler) did assemble a coterie (coe-ter-ree) of officers … a coterie capable of cruelty. Then, 3 months into his tenure, Weyler proclaimed that farmers had 20 days to deliver all of their grain to the Spanish army. Four days later, Weyler’s (Vigh-ler’s) officials demanded all cattle be turned over, but … promised two months of rations for civilians in Spanish controlled towns, unless … unless you were born to or married to an insurgent … then you could starve for all the Spanish cared. These policies … cut the Cuban insurgency at the knees. Previously friendly civilians grew more fearful and less helpful to the insurgency. The rebels grew more desperate for scarcer bullets and food. The rebels resorted more to terrorism and theft. The insurgents set ablaze many towns in the province of Pinar del Rio … thus driving more peasants into the arms of the Spanish … into the reconcentracion zones. Some insurgent leaders made the cruel calculation that these rural residents that insurgents drove towards reconcentracion zones would hurt the Spanish cause. These insurgent leaders reasoned that these refugees would hurt the Spanish cause by draining resources away from the Spanish war effort. They were wrong.These insurgents also had less to plunder because … Weyler (Vigh-ler) and company began burning everything outside reconcentracion zones that the insurgents hadn’t already burned. If the insurgents wanted to burn and devastate, Weyler would go way further. Then in October, Weyler (Vigh-ler) tightened the screws on … civilians. Transferring food without permission from the military authorities was forbidden. If you moved food from barbed wire reconcentracion zone to reconcentracion zone without permission, you died. Weyler (Vigh-ler) decreed that anyone outside the reconcentracion zones would … in 8 days … be considered a rebel and thus … “treated” like a rebel. Weyler (Vigh-ler) extended this proclamation to the rest of Cuba by January. Some civilians didn’t hear of these proclamations until after the prescribed 8 day allowances to move. Spanish troops appeared at many homes, giving a few hours notice or no notice at all. Then they would force everyone out at bayonet point towards their assigned reconcentracion zone. 


Ironic to some of you, though not surprising to some of you, US-based businesses supplied munitions and supplies to both the Spanish and the insurgents as this war raged on. 


The Spanish drove 300,000 civilians into their reconcentracion camps. Local authorities in these reconcentracion zones were supposed to build accommodations and set aside cultivation zones for these refugees. But for the most part … cultivation zones weren’t arable and accommodations were non-existent. So what about the original residents of these towns inside the reconcentracion zones? These residents typically did not welcome these peasants who very well may have supported insurgents before. Those forced into the reconcentracion zones slept in overcrowded barracks, in abandoned structures, or just on the ground. If they’d managed to bring personal items with them, city residents or Spanish soldiers often “confiscated” these possessions as the price for “protection” or “shelter.” These refugees faced starvation, open sewage, and mosquitos carrying malaria. The refugees had the legal right to find employment, but few found any work. Some refugees risked getting shot … to look outside the barbed wire zones for food. 


American journalist Richard Harding Davis toured three reconcentracion zones. What he found must have wrecked him. It wrecks me more than 100 years later … but as a new father. Harding saw unwalkable slums, “ankle-deep in filth.” Pitzer  (Pit-sir) writes that Harding found “hundreds of reconcentrados huddled inside warehouses that straddled pools of sewage, with fungus growing up their walls. Dead bodies lay by the roadside. He saw babies ‘whose bones showed through as plainly as the rings under a glove,’ covered in sores that made their mothers’ touch excruciating.” Yellow press outlets ( exaggerating American news sources)  took the tragedy up a fictitious notch to sell even more papers. “Blood on the roadsides, blood in the fields, blood on the doorsteps, blood, blood, blood! The old, the young, the weak, the crippled, all are butchered without mercy.” What bothered Weyler (Vigh-ler) were these exaggerations and fictions spread by American newspapers. What didn’t bother Weyler was what he actually was doing to lead thousands to suffer and die horribly. But Weyler’s (Vigh-ler) waging of war … was indeed winning the war, the costs be damned. What actually was happening in Cuba… was making the government in Madrid nervous and the US government & public more inclined to intervene. Suddenly, someone was assassinated. Antonio Canovas (Caw-no-vas) del Castillo relaxed at a spa one day, until an Italian anarchist murdered this conservative prime minister of Spain. A more liberal government formed in Spain. Weyler heard rumours across the Atlantic that his command would be stripped away. Weyler (Vigh-ler) demanded confirmation of his command or to otherwise be immediately relieved of his command. While he waited, Weyler sought to “finish war with war” … to avoid concessions & treaties and completely break the insurgency. Weyler (Vigh-ler) cited General Sherman’s scorched earth policy in the American South as a necessary part of the road to Union victory in that American Civil War. Three weeks after Weyler demanded a decision regarding his command, the new liberal government in Spain … recalled Weyler (Vigh-ler). 


Captain General Ramon Blanco replaced Weyler (Vigh-ler). General Blanco made declarations aiming to be … or at least look more humane. But reconcentrados continued to “die in swarms.” The insurgents only worsened these poor peoples’ plight by torching any cultivation zones they could reach. US citizens spent weeks gathering millions of pounds of food to send to the starving. The American Red Cross with the famous battlefield nurse Clara Barton went to distribute aid and care for the reconcentrados … these long-beleaguered concentration camp victims. Some concentration camp victims survived long enough to see this aid arrive … only to die from eating simple meals. Tender, intentional care had to be given before simply feeding these starving reconcentrados. People cursed General Weyler (Vigh-ler) long after he left Cuba. Many Spanish loyalists though … saw him as a hero who would have finally defeated the insurgents … if the Spanish government and the humanitarians could have stayed out of the way. Officers who supported Weyler destroyed the printing press of the newspaper El Reconcentrado in Cuba. Voicing concern for the safety of US citizens in Cuba, the McKinley administration sent the USS Maine to dock outside Havana … just in case things got out of hand. Some were surprised when Havana did not riot. The USS Maine’s captain tried to ease tension by allowing townspeople aboard for tours, by hosting mutual toasts to the health of both Spain and Cuba,  and by hosting the secretary general of Cuba along with other Spanish officials aboard. Then February 15th happened. Fifty thousand people lined the parade route on the day of the funeral that followed. Some reconcentrados asked to carry the coffins of the dead American soldiers. Instead, 400 of these reconcentrados were only allowed to walk behind the funeral procession. “Remember the Maine, to hell with Spain!” rang out across the United States. Few knew then … why the USS Maine exploded and sank that February 15th. But Spanish treatment of reconcentrados, Spanish waging of war against insurgents had primed the American public for a war with Spain. Blaming the Spanish for the sinking of the USS Maine made it all the easier for Congress to declare war on Spain. When President McKinley called for war with Spain, he made sure to highlight the reconcentracion zones … the Spanish concentration camps. “The unfortunates, being for the most part women and children with aged and helpless men, enfeebled by disease and hunger, could not have tilled the soil without tools, seed, or shelter for their own support or for the supply of the citizens. Reconcentration, adopted avowedly as a war measure in order to cut off the resources of the insurgents, worked its predestined result. As I said in my message last December, it was not civilized warfare. It was … extermination. The only peace it could beget was that of the wilderness and the grave.” On April 25th, 1898, the US declared war … on Spain. 


By then, tens of thousands of men … women … children … and babies … had already starved to death in the Spanish concentration camps. Some estimates placed the death toll as high as half a million, though current estimates place the number of those dead men, women, and children at around 150,000. The mortality rates of these Spanish concentration camps ranged between 25% and 40%. 


(34:00) The First Concentration Camps-Cuba 1870’s: Now lest you think that General Weyler (Vigh-ler) was the first to use concentration camps, … think again. About twenty five years earlier, the Spanish fought Cuban insurgents for years. So many years, that this war is known as the Great War or … the Ten Years War. After this war broke out in 1868, the Spanish struggled to find success against insurgents … for years. Then … Brigadier General Jose Maria Velasco suggested an economizing idea. Why not concentrate the rural population into several camps so that more Spanish troops could be freed up from patrolling all over Cuba. Instead, far fewer Spanish could be allocated to guarding these reconcentracion zones, and then far more Spanish could be devoted to finding and fighting insurgents. By reconcentrating these rural civilians, the insurgents would have less people to recruit … less people to spy for them … and less people to cultivate food for them. The Spanish government adopted Brigadier General Velasco’s suggestions in early 1872. Rural civilians were reconcentrated … for the first time. More pieces fell into place before the Spanish could finally declare victory against Spanish insurgents in this Ten Year War. But a precedent of reconcentracion was set. As a side note, can you imagine being someone who survived the first reconcentracion policies of the Ten Years War … only to have to face reconcentracion AGAIN in the rebellion that came about twenty years later. That is a hard life!


… In the final clash between the Spanish and the Cuban insurgents, … both the Spanish and the insurgents waged total war. But the Spanish, with about ten times as many soldiers in the field, did the most harm. This horrible harm to Cuban civilians paved the road to the Spanish-American War. Most of you not familiar with the Spanish-American War that followed probably deduced quite easily that the United States emerged victorious. What I doubt you would predict … is the feeling of deja vu that will wash over you when you hear how the Philippines … were won.

For further reading, check out:

Bossenbroek, Martin. The Boer War, translation edition. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2018.


Forth, Aidan, and Jonas Kreienbaum. “A Shared Malady: Concentration Camps in the British, Spanish, American and German Empires.” Journal of Modern European History / Zeitschrift Für Moderne Europäische Geschichte / Revue D’histoire Européenne Contemporaine 14, no. 2 (2016): 245-67. Accessed June 14, 2020. doi:10.2307/26266238.

GARCÍA, GUADALUPE. “Urban Guajiros: Colonial Reconcentración, Rural Displacement and Criminalisation in Western Cuba, 1895—1902.” Journal of Latin American Studies43, no. 2 (2011): 209-35. Accessed June 14, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/23030619.

Khilko, Ivan, Angel Rabasa, Lesley Anne Warner, Peter Chalk, and Paraag Shukla. “The Philippines (1899–1902).” In Money in the Bank–Lessons Learned from Past Counterinsurgency (COIN) Operations: RAND Counterinsurgency Study–Paper 4, 7-16. Santa Monica, CA; Arlington, VA; Pittsburgh, PA: RAND Corporation, 2007. Accessed June 15, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/10.7249/op185osd.9.


Nasson, Bill. The Boer War: The Struggle for South Africa. Stroud, United Kingdom: The History Press, 2011. 


Pakenham, Thomas. The Boer War. London: Abacus, 1979.


Pitzer, Andrea. One Long Night: A Global History of Concentration Camps. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2017.


Pretorius, Fransjohan. The A to Z of the Anglo-Boer War.  Lanham, MD:  The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2010.


 Ziegler, Vanessa M. “The Revolt of “the Ever-faithful Isle”: The Ten Years’ War in Cuba, 1868-1878.” Dissertation for University of California (December 2007): 1-324. http://www.latinamericanstudies.org/1868/Ten_Years_War.pdf

Episode 37: Fighting on, Diamond Hill & POW’s

(1:24) Surrender talks between Presidents and commandants: May turned into June. Brits closed on Pretoria. 20,000 Boers had already laid down their arms. A mere 7,000 could be mustered to defend Pretoria … the capital of the Transvaal … the South African Republic. Pretoria possessed much more internal fortifications, a Siemens field telephone system, all the reserve ammunition stores, and all the republican currency reserves. Jan Smuts voiced faith in the commandos still staying loyal to the republican cause. But several Boer commanders did not share the same hope. 

Many commandos who hadn’t given up the fight yet were trickling into Pretoria and getting drunk and looting their own republic’s capital. With most of Pretoria’s police force serving somewhere on the battlefield, many black and white Pretoria residents took advantage of the situation to loot government buildings in broad daylight. … Commandant-General Louis Botha and General Benjamin Viljoen, one of the few Boer officers who showed interest in military theory before the war, approached President Kruger in the beginning of June. They and several other Boer commanders proposed surrendering at Pretoria. They argued that Boer armies had disintegrated too much and those commandos left were too exhausted. To continue fighting, they argued, would only bring more death and destruction to their republic. Botha forcefully emphasized the helplessness of several thousand men holding off Roberts’ tens of thousands. Only Koos De La Rey dissented from the senior military leadership. He promised to bring his best commandos westwards and keep fighting there … if the Transvaal officially surrendered. President Kruger cabled Free State president Steyn about surrender. The response dismayed some and inspired others. Pakenham writes, “Smuts, who was one of the first to see a copy of Steyn’s telegram, said later that Steyn ‘practically accused the Transvaalers of cowardice.’ After the [Transvaal] had involved the Free State and colonial rebels in ruin, Steyn said, they were now ready, as the war reached [the Transvaal’s] own borders, to conclude a selfish and disgraceful peace. … Steyn’s reply was characteristically blunt. We shall never surrender. … Steyn’s reply was the most important telegram of the war.” After Steyn’s cable, Botha and others decided to fight to the death … rather than surrender as traitors in the eyes of many Boers eager to keep the struggle alive. 

The Transvaal krijgsraad (Krakes-rod) settled on a fighting retreat … rather than surrender. Men were sent to negotiate with Roberts to negotiate a peaceful takeover … of Pretoria. This could delay Roberts’ advance by a few days and allow the Boer warriors to extract as much as they could from Pretoria. On June 5th, deja vu struck again for many of Roberts’ troops. They marched into Pretoria at 2PM greeted by cheering crowds of blacks standing on the pavement … pavement where they “didn’t belong”. Many British journalists were disappointed by yet another “petty triumph”, by yet another city taken without any signs of war. President Kruger rode by railway to Delagoa Bay and eventually sailed away to Europe … thus fulfilling words you heard Koos De La Rey utter nearly 20 episodes ago. You’ll recall he and others argued with Kruger about making concessions with the British to avoid war, and then Kruger accused De La Rey of cowardice. To this, Koos De La Rey said the following: “You will see me in the field fighting for our independence long after you and your party who make war with your mouths have fled the country.” Now, not even a year later, De La Rey’s words came to fruition. But before Kruger sailed away, he tried to inspire whatever hope or fear that he could in Boers to keep the fight alive. He promised “God’s” support if they kept fighting on … that they would be like the biblical Gideon’s 300 who would slay tens of thousands … that their property would be confiscated if they abandoned the fight … that they would be guilty … of murder if they stopped fighting now. 

(7:00) Churchill’s bad luck on trains: Thousands of Boers remained in Pretoria. Those who kept fighting referred to these thousands with contempt. These “hansuppers” stayed in Pretoria to accept Roberts’ neutrality-oath. Winston Churchill witnessed this capital’s surrender, and watched with satisfaction as British POWs finally walked free from their POW camp, took their Boer sentries captive, and raised the Union Jack. Now for a quick diversion, Churchill had another … experience with trains on his way from Pretoria to Cape Town. Just before Kroonstad (Crew-in-stawt), Churchill’s train stopped … abruptly. Just after Churchill stepped off the train to see what was going on … a bomb went off. … One hundred meters ahead … Churchill could see that the railway bridge was on fire. British soldiers streamed off the train, … but no officer emerged to bark orders. So Churchill … in the midst of a brutal moment of deja vu… took charge. He ordered the train to travel backwards and the soldiers back on to the train. Then he fired his pistol several times at oncoming Boers, … and stepped back on the train … and this time … Churchill escaped capture. 

(8:22) After the Brits take Pretoria: Now back to June 5th, 1900, Pretoria was now in British hands again for the first time in nearly twenty years, since before the Transvaal took back its independence in 1880. Then Roberts made a costly calculated guess. He sent Major-General French to block a Boer retreat northwards from Pretoria. But the Boer weren’t retreating northwards. Nasson writes, “To the north lay strategically barren terrain, lightly populated with Boers, notoriously unhealthy, and poorly provided for foraging. It would have been folly for Boer forces to go into such unprotected country.” The Boers retreated east toward Delagoa Bay where supplies and communication could flow in … if they would flow in at all. So French went to close the wrong back door. Had Roberts sent French to block the correct back door towards Delagoa Bay, the Boers by even Jan Smuts’s own admission, would have been finished. Before Boer leaders handed Pretoria over to Roberts, Christiaan De Wet received a letter from Louis Botha. De Wet felt demoralized from many retreats. Botha’s letter gave De Wet a needed spark. “What I desire from your Honour, now that the great force of the enemy is here, is to get behind him and break or interrupt his communications. We have already delayed too long in destroying the railway behind him.” The very next day … De Wet struck a convoy of supplies heading for General Colvile. Without firing a shot, De Wet captured 56 food wagons and 160 British  prisoners. Two days later, Christiaan went after an even bigger prize. Just a day after Lord Roberts paraded into Pretoria, Christiaan split his 800 available men into three raiding parties. General Steenkamp