Battle of Chrissiesmeer - (Bothwell) TVL 1901
6 February 2018
Battle of Chrissiesmeer
During the guerrilla phase of the Anglo-Boer War in the Eastern Transvaal the British tried desperately to counter the Boer movements along the eastern Highveld. Their sweeps had prevented General Louis Botha from invading Natal in force because in trying to evade the columns, Botha’s commandos had become somewhat scattered.
On the 5th February 1901, Maj Gen Horace Smith-Dorrien established a camp on the outskirts of the village of Bothwell, on the north side of a natural pan known as Lake Chrissie. This is the junction of the roads to Carolina, Ermelo and Swaziland. While there were several columns scattered about the Highveld, Botha decided to target Smith-Dorrien
Smith-Dorrien’s wagons, horses (including those of the 5th Lancers and Imperial Light Horse) and artillery were placed in the centre of the camp while the infantry were deployed around the perimeter. They included the Cameron Highlanders on the south of the camp, the West Yorks to the north-west and the Suffolk Regiment on the north-east. The guards were posted on the gentle slopes of the hill.
As the camp settled down and the men fell asleep, Botha rode along the road from Ermelo with about 2000 burghers, arriving on the outskirts of Bothwell at 02h50 on the 6th February 1901. The Boers opened a tremendous fusillade and then commenced their charge. The Suffolks and the West Yorks were overrun and within minutes the Boers were galloping furiously through the camp. The cavalry horses stampeded, heading towards the advancing Boers who turned them around creating even more confusion in the British camp to the accompaniment of thundering hooves as the horsemen charged straight through the encampment. To exacerbate matters for the British, it was a pitch black, misty night.
Botha was unable, however, to continue their charge to the opposite side of the rise and after a fierce battle that lasted until 04h30, Botha ordered a withdrawal and they disappeared into the night.
Smith-Dorrien tried to pursue the burghers but due to the thick mist, it was impossible to determine which route Botha had taken. At 06h00 on the 6th February, Colonel Henry discovered the trail of a commando that headed towards the north-west and his mounted troops followed it for 12 km towards Mooiplaats. The remainder of Botha’s force had scattered and eventually regrouped to the rear of Smith-Dorrien’s column as it resumed its march.
This was typical of the tactics used by Botha during the guerrilla phase of the war, but it had been a costly exercise. The Boers lost 80 killed and wounded and British casualties were 75. The biggest problem faced by Smith-Dorrien, however, was the loss of 300 horses that had either stampeded or been killed in the action, severely affecting his mobility.
Source : Ken Gillings