TRANSORANGIA & THE ORANGE RIVER SOVEREIGNTY(1845-1853)
The Battle of Berea
(20 December 1852)
British Order of Battle
Right Flank Column. Lt-Gen. The Hon. George Cathcart. (279)
Governor & Staff
1 x Tp 12th Lancers Lt. G. T. (George) Gough. (1 & 40)
1 x Tp CMR Ens. R. (Richard) Rorke. (1 & 25)
2 x Coys 43rd Regt. Maj. R. N. (Robert) Phillips. (7 & 212)
1 x Sect, No. 4 Coy/8th Bn. RA Capt. S. (Staplyton) Robinson, RA. (1 & 20). (2 x horse-drawn 12-pdr howitzers)
Central Column. Lt-Col. W. (William) Eyre, 73rd Regt. (539)
CMR detail Lt. T. W. (Thomas) Goodrich. (1 & 11)
NCO’s detail 12th Lancers Sgt. J. (Joseph) Nicholls. (0 & 11)
1 x Coy 43rd Regt. Capt. the Hon. P. E. (Percy) Herbert. (2 & 102)
Lt. the Hon. H. W. C. (Henry) Ward.
3 x Coys. 73rd Regt. Maj. F. G. A. (Frederick) Pinckney. (271)
1 x Coy (No. 9), 1st Bn. Rifle Bde. Lt. the Hon. L. (Leicester) Curzon. (2 & 90)
1 x Sect, No. 4 Coy/5th Bn., RA, Capt. the Hon. G. T. (George) Devereux, RA. (1 & 13). (2 x mule-borne 12-pdr rocket tubes)
Mfengu Drovers (40)
Note: Herbert’s company of the 43rd was regrouped from Eyre’s column to Cathcart’s early in the proceedings. This raised Cathcart’s column to 381 all ranks and reduced Eyre’s to 437.
Right Flank Column. Lt-Col. G. T. C. (George) Napier, CMR. (248)
2 x Tps 12th Lancers Maj. W. H. (William) Tottenham. (8 & 114)
2 x Tps CMR Maj C. H. (Charles) Somerset. (7 & 119)
Guard at the Drift. Capt. R. (Robert) Bruce. (200).
1 x Coy 74th Hldrs. (Bruce) (100)
1 x Coy 2nd (The Queen’s Royal) Regt. (100)
In Reserve at Platberg Mission. Lt-Col. J. (John) Macduff 74th Hldrs. (Minimum of 670).
1 x Tp CMR N/K
3 x Coys 74th Hldrs. Capt. F. H. L. (William) Hancock. (300)
3 x Coys 2nd (The Queen’s Royal) Regt. Maj. T. W. E. (Thomas) Holdsworth. (310)
1 x Sect, No. 4 Coy/8th Bn. RA Lt. W. J. (William) St. John. (2 x 6-pdrs).
Basotho & Bataung Order of Battle at Berea
C-in-C: Chief Moshoeshoe (the Basotho Paramount Chief) [now regarded as King Moshoeshoe I].
2IC: Prince Letsie (the paramount's 'Great Son').
Aide: General Makoanyane (Moshoeshoe's best friend).
Possibly Chief Molitsane, although whether he was present is by no means certain.
Mounted Vanguard: c. 1,800 mounted warriors, being a mixture of Basotho and Bataung, the former under Prince Molapo and the latter under the sons of Chief Molitsane.
Main Body: c. 4,200 mounted warriors in three divisions, left, centre and right. The paramount’s half-brother Job Lelosa, his fourth son Prince Mayara, and Prince Nehemiah Sekhonyana, the only son of his third house, were all leaders with the Basotho centre or right flank divisions. Prince David Masopha, the third son of the paramount’s senior house, would seem to be the strongest candidate as the principal leader of the left wing, although it is not possible to pin his position down with any degree of certainty.
Reserve: c. 2,000 warriors on foot, screened behind Thaba Bosiu mountain.
Otherwise internal organization and sub-division of the Basotho force is substantially unknown. They fought as 'feudal' followings, so to speak, of the major regional chiefs, most of whom were relations of Moshoshoe. The next level of chiefs down would also have had significant personal followings, grouped together within the same regional formation. The basic fighting unit was not based on national age-group regimentation, something after the fashion of the Zulus, but on regional circumcision lodges. Thus they straddled an age range and were much smaller than Zulu amabutho or regiments.
"Our position was, as his Excellency is aware, most critical."
Lt-Col. Wm Eyre's Official Report, dated Platberg, 23 December 1852.
THE OFFICIAL DESPATCHES
Col. A. J. Cloete’s Official Despatch for the Battle of Berea, dated Camp, Caledon River, 21 Dec 1852.
Of the three columns that marched on the 20th instant from the flying camp at the Caledon River, to chastise the Basuto Chief Moshesh, I have the honour to report the operations of that which was placed under your Excellency’s more immediate personal observation.
This force consisted of detachment 12th Lancers, under Lieutenant Gough; a demi-battery, twelve-pounder howitzers, under Captain Robinson, RA; two companies 43rd Regiment, under Major Phillips; detachment Cape Mounted Riflemen, under Ensign Rorke. Its object, by moving along the western and southern base of the Berea Mountain, the summit of which Lieutenant-Colonel Eyre’s column was to sweep, whilst Lieutenant-Colonel Napier with the cavalry would act round its northern and eastern faces, to prevent the escape of cattle from the mountain, and to form a junction with the two columns on the Thaba Bussiou [sic] plains.
The determination of the Basutos to defend their vast droves of cattle on the Berea Mountain was early indicated by their firing upon Captain Tylden and myself, when approaching the craggy cliffs in which they had posted themselves.
On rounding the southern angle of the Berea armed bodies of mounted Basutos were observed, formed in patches, closely observing our movements; and approaching one of them, your Excellency, advancing in person to give them an opportunity of a parley, was answered by a shot, upon which the cavalry was ordered to extend and advance, and the enemy retired amongst the rocky ground under the mountain. A couple of rounds of shrapnel having, with admirable effect, been fired into them, they fled and dispersed towards Thaba Bossiou [sic].
The infantry, which had been strengthened by a company of the 43rd Regiment from Lieutenant-Colonel Eyre’s force, under Captain the Honourable Percy Herbert, were now brought up, and the column advanced, crossed the deep mountain stream ‘Rietspruit,’ and were posted on a commanding knoll at the junction of this stream and the Little Caledon River, on the Thaba Bossiou plains, covering the approaches by which Lieutenant-Colonel Eyre’s and Lieutenant-Colonel Napier’s columns were to join.
Whilst in this position the enemy were collecting in fresh patches of horsemen in all directions; those approaching within distance were driven back. On the clearing away of a thunder-storm and rain the enemy suddenly displayed his whole force. Masses of horsemen were observed to move from the Thaba Bossiou Poort [sic - poort is the Dutch word for a saddle], to turn our right, whilst large bodies of them extended along our front. These movements were conducted with the utmost order and regularity.
Lieutenant-Colonel Eyre’s division joined at this time, 5 p.m., in possession of about 1,500 head of cattle, which it was necessary to secure, for which purpose some kraals in a commanding position were ordered to be occupied. The enemy, who had now mustered not less than 6,000 horsemen, made every effort to assail the troops moving into their bivouac, repeating their attacks upon both our front and rear, but were repulsed in every attempt by the gallantry and steadiness of the troops. Nothing could exceed the soldierlike bearing of the three companies of the 43rd Regiment, the cavalry detachment, and the valuable service rendered by the demi-battery under Captain Robinson, who by a round of cannister [sic] silenced the enemy’s fire, which had kept up until 8 p.m., when the enemy retired and disappeared from the field, having suffered severely.
Where the gallant conduct of every officer and soldier during this long and trying day has fallen so immediately under your Excellency’s personal observation, it is beyond my province to bring them especially to your notice, although I may be permitted to name Major Phillips, commanding the three companies 43rd Regiment, Captain Faddy, commanding Royal Artillery, Lieut. Gough, 12th Lancers, commanding detachments of cavalry, and to particularise the officers attached to my own department, Captain Wellesley, D.A.A. General [sic], who was wounded, and had his horse shot under him; Captain Lord Alexander Russell, D.A.Q.M. General [sic], Captain Tylden, and Lieutenant Stanton, R.E., who assisted me in my duties; all these officers having displayed qualities in the field as conspicuous as those they possess in the general knowledge of their profession.
The casualties of the portion of the force whose operations I have reported, upon this occasion are,
Captain Wellesley, D.A.A.G.
Lieutenant the Honourable H. Annesley, 43rd Regiment.
Privates, five, 43rd Regiment, severely. [One of them mortally as it transpired].
Privates, one, 43rd Regiment, slightly.
Nor can I omit to report especially the attentive care bestowed upon these by Staff Assistant Surgeon Dr. Campbell. I have, etc,
(Signed) A. J. Cloete, Colonel,
Lt-Col. Wm. Eyre to Col. A. J. Cloete, CB, KH, dated Camp, Platberg, 23 Dec 1852.
l have the honour to report, for the information of his Excellency the Commander of the Forces, that I marched at daylight on the 20th instant from the standing camp on the Caledon, with the forces as per margin…[12th Royal Lancers 11, Cape Mounted Rifles 12, Royal Artillery 13, 43rd Light Infantry 102, 73rd Regiment 271, Rifle Brigade 90, Total 499. Note that these figures reflect ‘Rank and File’ strengths only].…and proceeded to carry out my instructions, which had for their general object the capture of cattle, and to join the column under the personal direction of his Excellency in the plains of Thaba Bossigo. Having reached the foot of the Berea mountains I observed the Basutos drawn up in considerable force; some mounted, others on foot, behind the rocks and stones that crown the summit, evidently prepared to dispute my passage. A herd of cattle was apparently presented in view, as if to entice us on, while by their war shouts and gestures they evidently defied our arms. The ground they occupied was mountainous and rocky, and most difficult of access.
On the right I detached the light company of the 73rd under Lieut. Gawler, with directions to climb, if possible, the krantz which commanded the position of the enemy on that side, and, bringing his right shoulders forward, to turn the left flank of the enemy. To support this movement, I directed Lieut. the Hon. L. Curzon to advance with his company of the Rifle Brigade, and ascend the mountain a little on the left of the light company of the 73rd. These two young and promising officers led their companies in the most spirited manner up ground all but inaccessible, though opposed and immediately fired upon by the enemy above. Covering themselves as they advanced, they reached the summit with little loss, and drove the enemy before them in good style.
Simultaneously with these movements, I moved up with the remainder of my force along the regular but rugged path, which seemed to lead into the centre of the enemy’s position. The enemy fired, and attempted to oppose our progress, until we reached the crest of the heights, when they instantly dispersed and fled in all directions. I immediately pursued them with the few mounted men under Lieut. Goodrich, of the Cape Mounted Rifles, and we succeeded in capturing at least 30,000 head of cattle, with many horses having saddles on them. The enemy sustained some loss upon this occasion; thirty-eight were killed by the light company of the 73rd and the company of the Rifle Brigade alone, and several were found dead in other parts of the field; and so completely defeated did the enemy appear, that some were taken prisoners, and made to drive back their own cattle. We found it, however, quite impossible, with so few mounted men, to drive on such large numbers, and in the effort to do so many thousands were driven by the few mounted Fingoes attached to my division down the opposite side of the mountain to that which my instructions required me to take; I was therefore obliged to abandon them, and content myself with some 1,500, which were all we could manage to drive.
While thus engaged, at about one o’clock p.m., a number of mounted men, from 200 to 300, some with white caps on their heads, and bearing lances (which caused us to mistake them for his Excellency’s escort), suddenly appeared in our front. Before the mistake could be discovered, two or three of our party fell into the hands of the enemy; and I deeply regret to state that Captain Faunce, 73rd Regiment, Deputy Assistant-Quartermaster-General, an officer who has frequently distinguished himself during this war,* was of that number.
The enemy’s force now rapidly increased until we were opposed to at least 700 or 800 mounted men, who drew up in line in admirable order, and attempted several times to attack our front and left flank. As it was necessary to present a front, in order to protect our cattle and baggage, I formed three companies in skirmishing order, two in front, and one thrown back on our left, keeping one in close order in support. The enemy charged up to us several times within 200 or 300 yards, but, daunted by the coolness and steadiness of the men lying down to receive them, dared not approach nearer. As my instructions required me to proceed to Thaba Bossigo, I directed the cattle, under charge of a company, to be driven down a path on my right, intending to follow with the remainder of my force, but no sooner was this movement discerned by the enemy, than he cheered, and again charged us, on which we halted and reformed in skirmishing order, and again repelled him; Captain the Hon. G. Devereux at the same time made some good shots with the rockets, and the result was the total disappearance of the enemy, and we proceeded to descend from the heights without further opposition.
On reaching the plain below, I joined the column which had accompanied his Excellency, and I therefore need not report further the proceedings of the day, except the movements on the right flank, which occurred beyond the reach of his Excellency’s observation, and previously to our taking up ground for the night. The enemy appeared at this time, as his Excellency is aware, in great force, showing remarkable boldness, and attempting to surround us on all sides. Their numbers I should estimate from six to seven thousand mounted men.
Whilst attacking our front, a number of them stole up the krantz on our right, and took possession of the kraal, which we finally occupied for the night, from whence they kept up a brisk fire, while another party galloped round, and succeeded in getting behind some rocks at the base of the mountain from 200 to 300 yards in our rear. As it was necessary to drive them from these positions, I directed Major Pinckney to move up one company of the 73rd in extended order, with another in support, and attack the enemy on our right flank. Captain Bewes, at the head of the grenadiers, effectually performed this service, and our right flank was thus secured. Lieutenant Gawler, with the light company, charged the enemy in the rear, and drove them from the position they had temporarily occupied. Meanwhile, the Rifle Brigade held in skirmishing order the crest of the krantz in our front.
Having driven off the enemy on our right, and secured a good position on that side, I despatched two companies to our left, to reinforce the companies of the 43d Light Infantry, which under Major Phillips were warmly engaged, while escorting the guns up to the position occupied by our right; the enemy at the same time continuing to fire upon us until long after dusk. Our position was, as his Excellency is aware, most critical, but the coolness and steadiness of the men, though opposed to such an overwhelming superiority of numbers, at the close, too, of a long and most arduous day, during which we had not been able to halt once for refreshment, was all that a soldier need desire. The loss of the enemy, though impossible to estimate, I am convinced was considerable; several were taken prisoners and released.
On our side the casualties were as follows; viz., one serjeant and one private of the 12th Royal Lancers, one private of the 73rd, two privates of the Rifle Brigade, three privates of the Cape Mounted Rifles, and one Fingo, killed; one officer and six privates of the 43rd Light Infantry, and one officer and two privates of the 73rd, and one private of the Rifle Brigade (since dead), wounded; and one officer and one private 73d Regiment missing; total, 11 killed or missing, and 11 wounded.
Where all did their duty so nobly, it appears almost invidious to particularise; but I beg to return my thanks to the following; viz., to Major Pinckney, 73rd, commanding the brigade, Major Phillips, commanding the 43rd Light Infantry, Capt. Bewes, commanding the 73rd, Lieutenant the Honourable L. Curzon, commanding a detachment of the Rifle Brigade, Lieutenant Gawler, commanding a detached company, Captain the Honourable G. Devereux, RA, commanding the Rockets, Lieutenant Goodrich, commanding a detachment of Cape Mounted Rifles; Captain Faunce, 73rd, Deputy Assistant Quartermaster-General (whose fate I deeply lament), Lieutenant & Adjutant Reeve, Acting Brigade Major, and Lieut. Arthur Ponsonby, 43rd Light Infantry, my acting aide-de-camp. I received also much assistance from Mr. J Crouch, civilian, whose activity and gallantry were conspicuous.
I have the honour etc.,
(Signed) Wm. Eyre,
Lieutenant-Colonel, 73d Regt.,
* Note: Rather than literally meaning 'this war', i.e. with the Basotho, Eyre was actually referring to the concurrent 8th Cape Frontier War of December 1850 to March 1853, waged against the amaXhosa, abaThembu and Kat River rebels.
Lt-Col. G. T. C. Napier to Col. A. J. Cloete, CB, KH, dated Camp, Caledon River, 21 Dec 1852.
l have the honour to report to you that in obedience to instructions received from his Excellency the Commander of the Forces, I crossed the Caledon River yesterday at daylight, with the forces as per margin…[12th Lancers, under Major Tottenham – 114 Rank and File. Cape Mounted Rifles, under Major Somerset – 119 Rank and File]…and proceeded along the valley on the north-east of the Berea Mountain, for the purpose of intercepting any cattle driving in that direction.
About eight o’clock, perceiving a large drove going up a steep cattle-path to the top of the mountain, I sent Captain Monro, with a troop of the 12th Lancers, and Captain Carey, with a troop of the C. M. Rifles [sic], in pursuit, whilst I followed in support with the remainder of the force, giving Captain Monro strict orders not to fire unless his party was first fired upon. On reaching the top of the mountain, I found it covered with large droves of cattle, and at once commenced securing them, sending Major Tottenham, with the 12th Lancers, to the left, and Major Somerset, with part of the C. M. Rifles, to the right. Having collected a great number of cattle, I commenced driving them down the same cattle-path I had come up, Major Tottenham with a troop of Lancers and some Cape Mounted Rifles as a rear-guard.
The enemy up to this time had made little or no resistance; but when the cattle were about half-way down the mountain, a body of at least 700 mounted men suddenly attacked the rear-guard, who were forced to retire in order to save themselves from being cut off. I at once sounded the assembly, and collecting as many Lancers and Cape Mounted Rifles together as I could, formed up in support of the rear-guard, and kept the enemy in check until they had time to form again, which they did as soon as they got clear of the rocky ground. The enemy then tried to outflank me on both sides, but the steady front presented by the troops prevented them doing so; and as soon as the Lancers charged on the open ground, they at once fled up the mountain, and left us in possession of the cattle.
As soon as I came near the drift at the Caledon, I sent word to Captain Bruce, 74th Highlanders (who had charge of the camp), to send over a company of the 74th to protect the cattle whilst they were crossing. A large body of mounted Kafirs came from behind some rocks on his right, intending to cut off the rear of the cattle, but at once retired on perceiving the 74th, who advanced, under Capt. Bruce, in skirmishing order, and opened fire upon them with their Minié muskets [sic], with good effect.
The conduct of the troops throughout was admirable; and had it not been for the cool and steady behaviour of the officers and men, the enemy must have succeeded in recapturing the greater part of the cattle. I have great pleasure in bringing their gallant conduct to the notice of the Commander of the Forces.
I am greatly indebted to Major Tottenham, commanding the 12th Lancers, for the valuable assistance he rendered me, and beg most respectfully to bring his gallant conduct to the notice of his Excellency the Commander of the Forces.
I beg to enclose a report from Major Somerset, commanding Cape Mounted Rifles, and to draw the attention of the Commander of the Forces to his gallant conduct, as well as that of the officers and men under him.*
Captain Monro, 12th Lancers, made a splendid charge with his troop, and killed twelve of the enemy on the spot; Captain Carey, Cape Mounted Rifles, also distinguished himself greatly in a charge. Captain Knight, Cape Mounted Rifles, deserves great credit for the judicious position he placed part of his troop in, and prevented the enemy outflanking us; Lieutenants Whittingstall and Jary, and Cornets Baker and Brown behaved with great gallantry.
My best thanks are due to Lieutenant Whitmore, Cape Mounted Rifles, my acting brigade major, for his active and zealous services, as well as for his intrepid conduct. I am also much indebted to Staff Assistant-Surgeon George, 12th Lancers, for his unwearied attention to the wounded.
Owing to the overpowering force of the enemy opposed to me, and the rugged nature of the ground, my casualties have been very severe.
A great number of the enemy were killed, and 4,000 head of cattle, and 55 horses, besides a great many sheep and goats, were captured.
l have the honour etc.
(Signed) Geo. Napier,
* Note: If Somerset ever wrote such a report, it was not actually incorporated into the published official despatches.