Magersfontein is an iconic battle, fought during the South African War of 1899-1902, also known as the Anglo Boer War.
Over 30 years of research informs this book, the first ever source referenced history about Magersfontein and other actions, fought in the lead up to this monumental clash between British and Boer forces. It details the Kimberly Siege and the intensity of combat fought at Belmont, Graspan and, in particular Modder River, an understated yet key battle during the opening months of the war. The history of the Belmont battle is completely re-written, as too Modder River and especially Magersfontein, the focus of this work.
No shortage of publications exists on the South African War and Magersfontein. Visits to offline or online bookshops testify, yet myths perpetuate, legends, ideologies, hand down errors, fabrications and sloppy research by self-appointed experts. Contemporary sources regurgitate without analysis, and many recent publications offer no references to sources, some proudly so. None consult the rich and extensive archives in the Kimberley and Bloemfontein museums, mostly mimicking each other, using stock standard sources, while ignoring Dutch and Afrikaans language survivor accounts, resulting in lopsided narratives.
To address this historical hole, the author used primary sources, never before published diaries, letters, photographs, maps, battle orders, official histories and reports, personal reflections, regimental histories of the war and survivor interviews, collected over 30 years. The originals being lodged in archives, libraries, museums and private collections in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Australia.
The archive of physical landscape weaves through the written archive. Having walked the killing grounds for over three decades, the author's insights into the archaeology and tangible record speak. Original artillery positions, British infantry, cavalry and Boer commando positions identified by the detritus of battle, as too, forgotten burial sites of human casualties, from all sides.
Original findings emerge. At Magersfontein the Boer forces never excavated a trench from unbroken ground, a mythology debunked. Rather, they adapted a rain water gulley to form a decisive defensive position. Areas of action, which existing narratives glide over, nor mention, include the almost successful British outflanking of Magersfontein Hill, attacking through the Boer horse lines, the three Boer Defensive Clusters and, importantly, the two Boer counter attacks which broke the Highland Brigade. The Boer forces were mobile participants in winning their victory, not passively parked in trenches, as most narratives present.
Insights into military commanders emerge, never before published. Importantly, the war between the Generals, which this work uncovers, relying on unpublished recollections of conversations between senior officers from both sides. The loathing between two prominent Boer generals emerge, as too the incompetence of the leading British General, glossed over for 122 years. Captured in this infighting, were loyal, efficient and brave British and Boer commanders and ordinary soldiers from both sides. Many of whose voices speak through this narrative for the first time, doing justice and testimony to their unique, yet terrifying experiences and observations of warfare, in Victory and Defeat on the South African Veld.