~Where Are All the Horses?~

A long time ago, to be a properly equipped soldier, you had to be equipped with two to four … horses. 

Boer taught Brit very quickly the value of a highly mobile force with two horses to a man some 840 years later.

Due to poor Boer War preparations by the British, they deployed less than 15,000 cavalry from 1899-1900 in South Africa. The Boers scored many a victory due to their far greater mobility. Boer horses (and many captured British horses) fueled their riders’ resistance far beyond December 1900 when  British Field Marshal Lord Frederick Roberts declared victory prematurely.

Eventually, the British caught up. 

Eventually, they fielded a force of nearly a quarter million calvary.

Eventually, their blockhouses, their barbed wire fences, their many mounted men could consistently frustrate Boer attempts to cut supply and communication lines.

Capturing Boer horses hurt the Boer cause more than British burning of Boer homes according to Boer commando leader Jan Smuts.

Buying British cavalry to defeat the Boers came at high costs that rippled worldwide. 

£22 million spent amounted to 10% of the British’s tab for winning the war. The British War Office spent over 400,000 horses, mules, and donkeys from all over the world. The Basotho tribe neighboring the Transvaal(?) happily sold nearly 20,000 of their best horses to the British. These sales profited some Basothos, but drove prices up so dramatically that Basotho’s leaving their land doubled during the war. The Basotho horse stock quality and quantity never recovered after selling their best to the British and after losing much of the rest to diseases like rinderpest. 

Argentina, Australia, and Britain exported hundreds of thousands of horses to the South African front. 

Scandal broke in Russia, a nation largely sympathetic to the Boers and at odds with the British, when its people discovered that their port city Odessa had become a horse hub for the British right under their noses. Forty thousand British bought horses at wholesale prices flowed through Odessa before the Russian War Ministry did its best to “complicate and sabotage” these sales. New Orleans shipped nearly 200,000 horses and mules in 65 steamships making over 150 voyages each at the cost of nearly $600,000 per month to the British.

The British not having these horses sooner came at a high human cost for both they and their enemy as the war dragged on longer as a result. 

Buying these horses came at a great financial cost to the British.

Shipping these horses led to “a holocaust” in the words leading British military veterinarian Major-General Sir Frederick Smith. 

Perishing at a rate exceeding 60%, these horses met awful ends in the field or often even before the field. 

Traveling from New Orleans, horses made the voyage standing below decks with excrement reaching above their hocks (think “horse knees”) and temperatures eclipsing 114 degrees. 

Blinding and then craning these horses onto smaller vessels,  then craning them onto the pier at Port Elizabeth was a necessary, terrifying (for the horses) evil since the steamships couldn’t dock there.

Further reading available in the following sources:

Egorov, Boris. “Why Russia wanted but couldn’t save the Boers from the British.” Russia Beyond. Last modified January 17, 2020. https://www.rbth.com/history/331562-why-russia-helped-boers.

Homan, Philip A. “American Horses for the South African War, 1899–1902.” Environment & Society Portal, Arcadia (Spring 2016), no. 2. Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society. doi.org/10.5282/rcc/7418

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

The Oxford History of the British Army, edited by David G. Chandler and Ian Beckett, 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. In Chapter 1 THE ENGLISH MEDIEVAL ARMY TO 1485 by MICHAEL PRESTWICH.

Robinson, Peter. “THE SEARCH FOR MOBILITY DURING THE SECOND BOER WAR.” Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research 86, no. 346 (2008): 140-57. Accessed June 5, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/44231577.

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>