Thursday, February 22, 2024

The Anglo-Zulu War

The Anglo-Zulu War, also known as Zulu War, was fought in 1879 between Britain and the Zulus and it is notable for several bloody battles, as well as for being a landmark in the timeline of colonialism in the region.

In 1874, Lord Carnarvon, Secretary of State for the Colonies, who had effectively brought about federation in Canada in 1867, thought that similar political effort, coupled with military campaigns, might succeed with the African kingdoms, tribal areas and Boer republics in South Africa. Carnarvon, in an attempt to extend British influence in 1875, approached the Boer states and tried to organize a federation of the British and Boer territories, but the Boer leaders turned him down.

In 1877, Sir Bartle Frere was made High Commissioner for Southern Africa by Lord Carnarvon. Carnarvon appointed Frere with the understanding that he would work to enforce his confederation plan and in return, Frere could then become the first British governor of a federated southern African dominion. Frere was sent to South Africa as High Commissioner to bring this plan but was met with some obstacles such as, the presence of the independent states of the South African Republic, the Kingdom of Zululand and its army.

Without the approval of the British government and with a probable intent of instigating a war with the Zulus, Frere presented an ultimatum on Dec. 11, 1878, to the then Zulu king, Cetshwayo asking to disband his army and abandoning key cultural traditions. Cetshwayo rejected the demands by not responding and a concession was granted by the British until Jan. 11, 1879, after which a state of war was deemed to occur.

The invasion
A British force led by Lieutenant General Frederick Augustus Thesiger, second Baron Chelmsford still without authorization by the British Government soon invaded Zululand. Chelmsford had under him a force of 5,000 Europeans and 8,200 Africans while Cetshwayo’s army numbered about 40,000 men. A force of 3,000 Africans were engaged in guarding the frontier of Natal, another force of 1,400 Europeans and 400 Africans were stationed in the Utrecht district. Three columns were to invade Zululand, from the Lower Tugela, Rorke’s Drift, and Utrecht respectively, their objective being Ulundi, the royal kraal.
On January 22, the centre column, which had advanced from Rorke’s Drift was encamped near Isandlwana. Earlier that day, Chelmsford split his forces and moved out, leaving the camp in charge of Colonel Pulleine. The British were outmaneuvered by the Zulu army nearly 20,000 strong led by Ntshingwayo kaMahole Khoza. Chelmsford’s refusal to set up the British camp defensively and ignoring information that the Zulus were close at hand were decisions that all were later to regret. Chelmsford was lured eastward with many of his centre column by a Zulu diversionary force while the main Impi attacked his camp. The resulting Battle of Isandlwana, was the first major encounter in the Anglo-Zulu War between the British Empire and the Zulu Kingdom and was also the greatest victory that the Zulu kingdom would enjoy during the war. The British centre column was wrecked and its camp annihilated with heavy casualties being 806 Europeans and 471 Africans as well as the loss of all its supplies, ammunition and transport. The defeat left Chelmsford no choice but to quickly retreat out of Zululand.
Furthermore, in the battle’s aftermath, some 4,000 Zulus mounted an unauthorized raid on the nearby British army border post of Rorke’s Drift and were driven off after 10 hours of ferocious fighting.

Afterwards, Chelmsford realized that he would need to account to the government and to history for the disaster hence, quickly fixed blame on Colonel Anthony Durnford, who had arrived later with five troops of the Natal Native horse and a rocket battery. Chelmsford claimed that Durnford disobeyed his orders to fix a proper defensive camp. Although, there is no evidence that such an order was issued and he left Pulleine in charge of the camp under orders not to entrench the camp, as it was meant to be temporary.
While the British central column under Chelmsford’s command was engaged, the right flank column on the coast, under Colonel Charles Pearson, crossed the Tugela River, fought with a Zulu impi that was attempting to set up an ambush at the Inyezane River and advanced as far as the deserted missionary station of Eshowe. On learning of the disaster at Isandlwana, Pearson made plans to withdraw back beyond the Tugela River. However, before he had decided whether or not to put these plans into effect, the Zulu army managed to cut off his supply lines, and the siege of Eshowe began.

Meanwhile, the left flank column at Utrecht, under Colonel Evelyn Wood, had originally been charged with occupying the Zulu tribes of north-west Zululand and preventing them from interfering with the British central column’s advance on Ulundi. To this end, Wood set up camp at Tinta’s Kraal, just 10 miles south of Hlobane Mountain, where a force of 4,000 Zulus had been spotted. He planned to attack them on January 24, but on learning of the disaster at Isandlwana, he decided to withdraw back to the Kraal. Thus, one month after the British invasion, only their left flank column remained militarily effective and it was too weak to go to battle alone.

On the other hand, Chelmsford used the next two months to regroup and build a fresh invading force with the initial intention of relieving Pearson at Eshowe. The British government rushed seven regiments of reinforcements to Natal, along with two artillery batteries.

On March 12, an armed escort marching to Luneburg, was defeated by about 500 Zulus at the Battle of Intombe, the British force suffered 80 killed and all their supplies were lost. On March 29, a column, under Lord Chelmsford, consisting of 3,400 British and 2,300 African soldiers, marched to the relief of Eshowe. Additionally, Chelmsford ordered Sir Evelyn Wood’s troops to attack the abaQulusi Zulu stronghold in Hlobane. Lieutenant Colonel Redvers Buller, led the attack on Hlobane on March 28. However, as the Zulu main army of about 20,000 men approached to help their besieged tribesmen, the British force began a retreat which turned into a rout and were pursued by 1,000 Zulus of the abaQulusi resulting to about 225 casualties in the British force.

The next day, Zulu warriors attacked Wood’s 2,068 men in a well-fortified camp at Kambula without Cetshwayo’s permission. The British held them off in the Battle of Kambula and after five hours of heavy attacks, the Zulus withdrew with heavy losses but were pursued by British mounted troops, who killed many more fleeing and wounded warriors. British losses amounted to 83 (28 killed and 55 wounded), while the Zulus amounted to about 2,000 killed. The effect of the battle of Kambula on the Zulu army was severe. Their commander Mnyamana tried to get the regiments to return to Ulundi but many downhearted warriors simply went home.

While Woods was engaged, Chelmsford’s column was marching on Eshowe and on April 2, the main camp was attacked at Gingindlovu (In the Zulu language it means Swallower of the Elephant, for the British foreigners it was “Gin, Gin, I love you”). Their losses were heavy, estimated at 1,200 while the British only suffered two dead and 52 wounded. They evacuated Eshowe on April 5, after which the Zulu forces burned it down.

Defeat of the Zulu
By mid-April almost all the reinforcements had arrived totaling about 16,000 British and 7,000 native troops causing Chelmsford to reorganize his forces. The first division, under major-general Crealock, advanced along the coast belt and was to act as a backing to the second division under major-general Newdigate, which with Wood’s flying column, an independent unit, was to march to Ulundi from Rorke’s Drift and Kambula. Due to hitches of transport, it was the beginning of June before Newdigate was ready to advance.

Cetshwayo, knowing that the newly reinforced British would be a formidable opponent, attempted to negotiate a peace treaty. Chelmsford was not open to negotiations, as he wished to restore his reputation before Sir Garnet Wolseley relieved him of command and he proceeded to the royal kraal of Ulundi, intending to defeat the main Zulu army. On July 4, the armies clashed at the Battle of Ulundi, which was the last major battle of the Anglo-Zulu War, within a mile of Ulundi, the British force, formed in a hollow square, was attacked by a Zulu army and Cetshwayo’s forces were decisively defeated.. The battle ended in a decisive victory for the British, whose losses were about 100, while of the Zulus, about 1,500 men were lost to the battle.


After the battle of Ulundi, most of the leading chiefs tendered their submission, the Zulu army dispersed and Cetshwayo became a fugitive. Wolseley, having relieved Chelmsford after Ulundi, took over operations. On August 28, Cetshwayo was captured and sent to Cape Town and his removal was formally announced to the Zulus. Also, Wolseley wasted no time in discarding Bartle Frere’s confederation scheme and drew up a new scheme which divided Zululand into thirteen chiefdoms headed by compliant chiefs which ensured that the Zulus would no longer unite under a single king and made internal divisions and civil wars inevitable.

In 1883, Cetshwayo was brought back from exile owing to Lady Florence Dixie, a correspondent of the London Morning Post, who wrote articles and books in his support. This, along with his gentle and dignified manner, gave rise to public sympathy and the sentiment that he had been ill-used and shoddily treated by Bartle Frere and Lord Chelmsford. That same year, the British tried to restore Cetshwayo to rule at least part of his previous territory but Chief UZibhebhu, an opposition, started a war contesting the succession and on July 22, 1883, led by a troop of mounted Boer mercenary troops, he made a sudden descent upon Cetshwayo’s kraal at Ulundi, which he destroyed. Cetshwayo, wounded, escaped into Nkandla forest and after appeals from the Resident Commissioner, Sir Melmoth Osborne, he moved to Eshowe, where he died soon after.

Ayo Obafemi

Ayo Obafemi

Ayo, the Chief Editor of Africa360 Degrees, boasts a robust background in Data analysis. Ayo is adept at discerning patterns in global politics, especially those impacting Africa. His passion for geopolitics, cultivated since his childhood in Nigeria, aligns with his belief in the transformative power of information. Ayo has the drive to deliver accurate and impartial analyses of Africa's political landscape. In his role at Africa360 Degrees, Ayo synergises his Data analysis prowess with his geopolitical interests, producing engaging, well-researched content. His commitment to effecting positive change through reliable information establishes him as a respected voice in the dialogue surrounding Africa's evolving political scene.

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