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Friday, 1 July 2011

Death of the Prince Imperial; Napoleon IV. (part one)

This story starts with the British defeat at Isandhlwana on the 22nd June, 1879. The British central column had crossed the Buffalo river at Rorke's Drift the day before. They stopped at Isandhlwana and camped for the night. Part of the column, under command of General Chelmsford, also overall commander of the British forces invading Zululand, left in the morning to find a camp site for the next days march. The remainder of the force, 1800 men, 950 Europeans and 850 men of the Natal Native Contingent, stayed behind under the command of Bvt. Lt-Col Henry Pullein. 

The British forces were armed with breech loading Martini Henry rifles and the had two cannon of the royal artillery. The Zulus were armed with their short stabbing asegai, the iKlwa, introduced by Shaka, founder of the Zulu nation, some sixty years before.

The iKlwa or Zulu short stabbing spear, the fighting shield was big enough to cover a man's body from head to toe. Each regiment had it's own distinct shield, colours and patterns differed and cattle were especially bred to provide just the right pattern and colour. In battle the Zulu warrior would use the left edge of his shield to pull his opponents shield away from him, thus leaving him open to a thrust from the spear under the left arm into the heart. The name iklwa come from the sound the spear made as it was withdrawn from the opponents body.

Martini Henry breech loading rifle. Rifle magazines were not yet in use so the rifle had to be reloaded after each shot. Companies would line up in two rows, the front row kneeling. A volley would be fired by the front row, and while they were reloading, the standing row would fire. The cartridges used black powder as a charge, which produced a cloud of smoke and fouled the barrel, causing the rifle to kick like a mule, after several shots.
Dabulamanzi kaMpande, half brother to the Zulu King Cetshwayo. Dabulamanzi commanded the Impi which attacked Rorke's Drift the next day. More about this in another post.

The Zulu forces numbered some 20,000 men under the command the inDunas (Princes) Ntshingwayo kaMohole Kozalo, Mavumengwana kaNdlela Ntuli and Dabulamanzi kaMpande, half brother of the Zulu King Cestshwayo, who would take over command if the first two were killed or wounded in battle. 

This was a war which the Zulus neither sought, or knew exactly why they were being invaded. The British government did not want this war either, but had their hand force on the issue by Sir Bartle Frere, Governor of the Cape. The Zulus were only defending home and hearth.

The Zulus attacked in their traditional head and horns formation and overwhelmed the British forces. This was the worst defeat by British forces till then by so called savages. The reasons for this defeat are still being debated by historians to this day and we won't go into them here. The main reason for this defeat was that they underestimated the fighting qualities of the Zulus.

Painting of the battle of Isandhlwana, by Charles Edwin Fripp. The Isandhlwana mountain in the background.

Badge 24th Regiment of Foot, note the Sphinx on the badge. Many visitors have commented on the eerie resemblance Isandhlwana mountain has to a Sphinx. 

Battle of Isandhlwana, from the London Illustrated News.

British forces at Isandlwana numbered about 1800 men, 950 Europeans and 850 natives of the Natal Native contingent. The 24th regiment lost 21 officers and 581 men. Royal artillery lost 68 men, Natal mounted police lost 26 troopers, Natal Carbinereers, still in existence today as a South African regiment, lost 22 men. Several hundred civilians in the employ of the military also died in the battle. By nightfall only 55 Europeans had recrossed the Buffalo River and survived, after a harrowing retreat. About 300 of the Natal Native Contingent survived. 

Isandhlwana today, the white stone cairns indicate mass graves where British troops were buried.

Out of the 20,000 Zulu attackers 2,000 died on the battlefield, how many of the wounded died later is not known. 

Monument to the Zulu dead at Isandhlwana. Zulu King Cetshwayo's comment after hearing of the losses in the battle was, " A spear has been thrust into the belly of the nation." 

After the defeat at Isandhlwana, which left the British nation in a state of shock, there was a call for volunteers and reinforcements to be sent to South Africa. Every young military man wanted to be in on the action and make a name for himself. One of these was the Prince Imperial of France and great nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Napoleon Eugene Bonaparte, Prince Imperial of France, and after his fathers death in exile, thought of by the Bonapartist in France as Napoleon IV.

More about him in the next post.

Pictures in this post are all from Internet sources.
Sources: Washing of the Spears; by Donald R. Morris. & the Internet.


Crystal Mary said...

I don't like war although I know we will always have them. When you think of the ages of these young men, they are on the brink of life, only to loose it. I felt so sad to see the pile of white rocks simblising the mass grave.Buried like nothing after fighting for their country. Sad.

e.m.b. said...

I love reading history, and am looking forward to the next post!


@Crystal the British brought this upon themselves, Zululand was a sovereign state and still the British felt the need to encroach and colonise in the name of the Empire. The Zulus were protecting what is rightfully theirs