In the 19th century it was unusual for a regiment to have both its battalions serving in the same theatre of war but this was the case for the 24th Regiment during the Zulu War of 1879. The 1st Battalion had been in South Africa since 1875, campaigning in West Griqualand in 1875 and in the Galeka War of 1877-78. The 2nd Battalion which was raised in 1858 had seen service in Burma, the Andaman Islands and Madras. They arrived in Natal just in time to take part in Lord Chelmsford’s invasion of Zululand in January 1879.
Chelmford’s field force was initially divided into 5 columns, 3 of which would advance towards the main Kraal of King Cetshwayo at Ulundi. They were to be led independently and be supplied by their own transports. Both battalions of the 24th had companies in the 3rd column, led by Colonel Richard Glyn, an ex-CO of the 24th. Chelmsford and his staff accompanied Glyn’s column but both commanders were some miles away from the battle so avoided the fate that befell the men in the camp at Isandhlwana.
Rorke’s Drift, 22nd-23rd Jan 1879
The bulk of the 2nd Battalion accompanied Lord Chelmsford several miles away from the doomed camp at Isandhlwana but B Company was detailed to the less glamorous task of guarding the supply depot and hospital at Rorke’s Drift. The two main buildings, with kraals, were not fortified as an attack was not expected. The officer commanding B Coy was 35 year old Lieutenant Bromhead, but slightly senior to him was Lieutenant Chard RE who was responsible for building a pontoon bridge over the Buffalo River, a quarter of a mile away.
At around lunchtime on 22nd Jan 1879 the garrison became aware that something was happening at Isandhlwana and an hour or so later an officer of the Natal Native contingent rode up to tell them that the camp had been overrun by a huge Zulu impi and that they were on their way to destroy Rorke’s Drift. Chard and Bromhead immediately set everyone to building barricades with biscuit boxes and mealie bags. Mealie was corn used to feed animals and native troops. At first there were a large number of Natal troops who helped build the defences but most of them beat a hasty retreat leaving only 113 men of the 2nd/24th, 10 men of the 1st/24th, 4 men of the RA, 2 men of the RE, and 24 others, total: 153. Some of these were patients who were either capable of firing a rifle or too ill with fever.
Men were posted around the perimeter and six were placed in the hospital to help the patients. As the garrison was greatly depleted after the Natal troops ran away, the perimeter defences had to be reduced in size. The attack began after 4.30pm from the south, around the west end of the Oscarberg mountain. The men found that the charging Zulus were not deterred by their fellows falling dead besides them. Some Zulus took up positions on the side of the mountain and fired down on the defenders from the cover of a stone ledge. The area was completely surrounded and assaulted continuously up until 6pm. The Zulus broke into the hospital, killed some of the patients and set fire to the roof. The hand-to-hand fighting of the men in the hospital, and their saving of the patients is one of the more exciting parts of the Rorke’s Drift story and was reflected in the awards of VCs that went almost exclusively to the hospital detail.
The bravery of the men around the perimeter was no less remarkable. The bayonet was used frequently, especially as the Martini Henry rifles proved so difficult to use. The recoil was very heavy causing the men to suffer badly bruised shoulders, and in the words of Private Alfred Hook VC:
Three VCs of the 24th
‘I need hardly say that we were using Martinis, and fine rifles they were too. But we did so much firing that they became hot, and the brass of the cartridges softened, the result being that the barrels got very foul and the cartridge chamber jammed. My own rifle was jammed several times and I had to work away with the ram-rod till I cleared it. We used the old three-sided bayonet and the long thin blade that we called the lung bayonet. They were fine weapons too, but some were very poor in quality, and either twisted or bent badly. Several were like that at the end of the fight; but some terrible thrusts were given, and I saw dead Zulus who had been pinned to the ground by the bayonets going through them.’
The Zulus did not generally fight at night so there was a lull in the fighting as the night wore on. At first the burning hospital illuminated the attackers making it easier for the defenders to shoot them, but when the fire died down the attacks stopped and the men spent an uneasy night watching and waiting, but at daybreak the Zulus could see Lord Chelmsford’s column approaching and decided to withdraw. The Zulu force numbered about 4,000 according to Chard’s account. He counted 351 of their dead but later more bodies were found, and there was no way of knowing how many Zulus had died of wounds. The figure may be more like 400. The 24th lost 10 men killed plus two that died of their wounds, and 11 wounded.
|Dimensioni||8 × 11 × 3 cm|
The 39th Garibaldi Guard, raised by the Union Defense Committee of New York city, under special authority from the War Department, was accepted by the State May 27, 1861; organized and recruited at New York city under Col. Frederick George D’Utassy, and mustered in the service of the United States for three years at Washington, D. C., June 6, 1861,…