Anglo Zulu War of 1879 South Africa.

Set in a time when Britain was rapidly expanding her colonial interests, the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 remains one of the most dramatic in both British and South African history, and has been immortalised in at least two feature films, Zulu and Zulu Dawn. The area has seen more than its fair share of conflict with the Boer Zulu War of 1838 and many of the Anglo Boer War battles being fought here. The area is apptly known as the KwaZulu Natal battlefields region.

The Zulu kingdom had first emerged early in the nineteenth century, with its heartland lying along the eastern seaboard of southern Africa, north of modern Durban. Within a few years, British adventurers were attracted to Zululand in search of trade and profit, and by the 1840s a British colony - Natal - had sprung up on the southern borders of Zululand. By the 1870s, the British had begun to adopt a 'forward policy' in the region, hoping to bring the various British colonies, Boer republics and independent African groups under common control, with a view to implementing a policy of economic development.

The British High Commissioner in South Africa, Sir Henry Bartle Frere, believed that the robust and economically self-reliant Zulu kingdom was a threat to this policy. In December 1878 he picked a quarrel with the Zulu king, Cetshwayo kaMpande, in the belief that the Zulu army - armed primarily with shields and spears - would soon collapse in the face of British Imperial might. The war began in January 1879. Three columns of British troops under the command of Lt. Gen. Lord Chelmsford invaded Zululand. Almost immidiately, the war went badly wrong for the British.

On 22 January, the Centre Column, under Lord Chelmsford's personal command, was defeated at Isandlwana mountain. In one of the worst disasters of the Colonial era, over 1300 British troops and their African allies were killed. In the aftermath of Isandlwana, the Zulu reserves mounted a raid on the British border post at Rorke's Drift, which was held by just 145 men. After ten hours of ferocious fighting, the Zulu were driven off. Eleven of the defenders of Rorke's Drift were awarded the Victoria Cross. The British flanking columns also saw action that same day.

On the coast, the right flank column brushed aside Zulu resistence at the Nyezane river, before advancing to occupy the deserted mission station at Eshowe. The left flank column was also involved in heavy skirmishing around the Hlobane mountain. The British collapse at Isandlwana left the flanking columns exposed, however. The Zulus managed to cut Col. Pearson's right-flank column off from the border, and Pearson's men were besieged for three months at Eshowe. Only the left flank column remained operative.

The success at Isandlwana exhausted the Zulu army, however, and Cetshwayo was unable to mount a counter-offensive into Natal. This gave Lord Chelmsford time to regroup. British troops were rushed to South Africa from around the Empire. By the end of March the war was poised to enter a new phase. Lord Chelmsford assembled a column to march to the relief of Eshowe, and directed the commander of the Left Flank Column - Sir Evelyn Wood - to make a diversionary attack. Wood's men attacked a local Zulu stronghold - Hlobane mountain - on 28 March, but were surprised by the unexpected arrival of the main Zulu army, and scattered. The following day, however, the Zulu attacked Wood's camp at Khambula, and after several hours of heavy fighting, were driven off. Meanwhile Lord Chelmsford had crossed into Zululand, marching towards Eshowe.

On 2nd April he broke through the Zulu cordon around Eshowe at kwaGingindlovu, and relieved Pearson's column. The defeat of the Zulu king's forces in two actions, at either end of the country, and within days of each other, demoralised the Zulu, and proved to be the turning point of the war. Lord Chelmsford reorganised his forces, and in late May was poised to mount a new invasion of Zululand. This, too, began badly, when, on 1 June, the exiled Prince Imperial of France, Louis Napoleon, who was serving with the British in an unofficial capacity, was killed in a skirmish.

Nevertheless, British troops continued to advance towards the Zulu capital, Ulundi, which they reached at the end of June. On 4 July Chelmsford defeated the Zulu army in the last great battle of the war. Ulundi was put to the torch, and King Cetshwayo fled. Chelmsford resigned after the victory at Ulundi, but it took several weeks for the British to suppress lingering resistence in the outlying districts. King Cetshwayo was eventually captured and sent into exile at Cape Town. The British divided his country up among thirteen pro-British chiefs - a deliberately divisive move which led to a decade of destructive civil war.

Anglo Zulu War of 1879 - a summary of the main events / battles:

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The Battle of Isandlwana on the 22 January 1979 marks the beginning of the Anglo Zulu War
Isandlwana Battlefield
The Rorke's Drift Museum is set on the site of the Battle of Rorke's Drift
Rorke's Drift Museum

The Battlefields region includes the Boer Zulu War of 1838, Anglo Zulu War of 1879 and the Anglo Boer War's of


For more on the battlefields use the menu on the right

Anglo Zulu War 1879
» Introduction

» Ultimatum Tree

» Battle of Nyezane

» Battle of Isandlwana

» Fugitives' Drift

» Battle of Rorke's Drift
» Siege of Eshowe
» Ntombi drift
» Battle of Hlobane
» Battle of Khambula
» Battle of Gingindlovu
» Prince Imperial Memorial
» Battle of Ulundi
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