Chrissiesmeer – Battle of Chrissiemeer

Although the official history and the contemporary histories of the Anglo-Boer War shed little real light on the overall plan of the British strategy, it seems clear that the British had given the Eastern Transvaal their first priority, in an attempt to capture General Louis Botha and his forces operating in the Eastern Transvaal. By the beginning of February, a number of British columns with a total effective force of some eight thousand men under General Sir John French were poised in an arc to the west of Ermelo and another column, under General Horace Smith-Dorrien, was operating with a force of four thousand men between Wonderfontein and Carolina. If British forces could reach Meppel, to the east of Ermelo, the trap would have been closed. Botha and half of the remaining forces of the South African Republic would have been trapped, outnumbered six to one. The Anglo-Boer War would have been over. But the greatest weakness of the British Army in those days was its lack of adequate cavalry because, in mobile warfare, the British Army could only advance as fast as the cavalry could scout the land.

By the afternoon of February 5, Smith-Dorrien’s column had reached Chrissiesmeer, known as the town of Bothwell in those days, and the next day he planned to march on Meppel when the trap would have been closed. Louis Botha must have seen the danger created by Smith-Dorrien’s movements and the need to stop Smith-Dorrien’s advance.

In the afternoon of February 5, Botha left a token force screening Ermelo while he marched with about two thousand men to Chrissiesmeer. At about 2:30am on the morning of February 6 the Suffolks, forming Smith-Dorrien’s north and eastern defensive lines, came under intense fire drawing attention away from the real target of Botha’s attack. While the British concentrated on the defense of the north-east flank Botha sent groups of commandos to creep through the West Yorkshire Regiment forming Smith-Dorrien’s north and western defensive lines. Once inside the British camps these commandos cut the ropes picketing the cavalry horses when, in the confusion that followed, the British cavalry horses stampeded and they were driven out of the British camp. By 4:30am the job was done, Smith-Dorrien’s cavalry was paralysed as an affective fighting force until new horses could be obtained and Smith-Dorrien advance had been halted in its tracks. The estimates of the Boer casualties vary, but at the cost of between forty and seventy casualties Botha had defeated the British plan to trap him, he had defeated the objective of the British columns numbering some twelve thousand men.The Boers capitalised on the San’s knowledge of the terrain and attacked at 02:50 in pitch darkness. The burgers achieved initial success, but could not gain a foothold on the slopes and were not able to open direct fire on the main camp situated on a plateau. At 04:30, covered by thick morning mist, Botha ordered them to retreat. The Boer commando suffered about eighty casualties and the British seventy-five. About 300 horses of the British force were killed or stampeded. Despite heavy losses on the Boer side the British advance into the eastern Transvaal was delayed by the loss of their horses, which gave the Boer commandos time to re-group.