In the Battle of Blood River Poort
on September 17
a Boer commando led by Louis Botha
crushed a British force commanded by Major Hubert Gough
during the Second Boer War
In August 1901, the Boer leaders of the guerilla war determined to send forces south into Natal and the Cape Colony. By this strategy, the Boer leaders hoped to cause an uprising in the Dutch-majority Cape Colony or at least to gain recruits for their armies. Accordingly, a commando under Botha moved southeast toward Natal while another commando under Jan Smuts
raided south into the Cape Colony.
British Intelligence detected the plan, but Botha evaded the British intercepting columns. The cold spring rains made the march especially difficult for the horses. On September 14, Botha let his 1,000-man commando camp near Utrecht to permit his men's horses recover their strength. Meanwhile, Gough's 24th Mounted Infantry (MI) made a 500-mile move by train from Kroonstad in the Orange Free State to Dundee in Natal. Gough received intelligence that Botha and 700 Boers were nearby.
Gough led his MI from Dundee to De Jaeger's Drift, a ford on the Buffalo River. Dismissing the intelligence report as exaggerated, the British commander led three companies on a scout across the river. Through his field glasses, Gough spotted 300 Boers who dismounted at a farm near Blood River Poort. Leaving his colleague Lieutenant-Colonel H. K. Stewart with 450 MI in the rear, Gough moved forward into a plain in the early afternoon, planning to surprise the Boers at the farm. Unknown to the British major, Botha was moving around his right flank with 700 men.
Botha's mounted attack completely swamped Gough's outnumbered force. Lieutenant Llewellyn Price-Davies of the King's Royal Rifle Corps won the Victoria Cross for valiantly defending the field guns. Gough was captured, escaped, captured again and finally escaped on foot in the darkness. On the British side, four officers and 19 enlisted men were killed or mortally wounded, 2 officers and 19 men wounded, and 6 officers and 235 men captured. According to Boer policy, the captured were stripped of their weapons and any useful gear and allowed to walk home. The Boers seized two field guns, 180 rifles and a large quantity of small arms ammunition. The 200 captured horses turned out to be in poor condition and of little use to the raiders. Boer losses were light.
Botha was unable to exploit his victory because he found all the crossings of the Buffalo River blocked by the British. The Boers moved to the southeast, hoping to find a place to cross into Natal. On the Zululand border, Botha attacked a British camp named Fort Italia, believing it to be weakly defended. Instead, the Boers received a bloody nose when 56 of their men were killed or wounded. When Botha realized that British forces were approaching in overwhelming strength, he turned back into the Transvaal, his raid a failure.
- Pakenham, Thomas. The Boer War. New York: Avon Books, 1979. ISBN 0-380-72001-9