As Lord Roberts’s army came nearer and nearer to the doomed capital, the excitement grew more intense and the air was filled with alarming rumors.
Continuing The Boer War,
with a selection from Blue Shirt and Khaki by James F.J. Archibald published in 1901. This selection is presented in 4 installments, each one 5 minutes long and another (the first one) half that. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in The Boer War.
Time: 1902 (ended)
Place: South Africa
If President Kruger had been a handsome, polished, and dignified man the world’s opinion of the Transvaal burgher would have been entirely different, for the descriptions of the typical Boer had had their origin in his personality. He was far from prepossessing; he was entirely lacking in polish or distinction of appearance. He wore a shabby frock coat that looked as if it never had been brushed or cleansed since the day it left a ready- made stock.
But all thought of the peculiar personal appearance of President Kruger was dispelled when he spoke, or even when he was listening to anything of importance; for he conveyed the impression of being the possessor of a great reserve force, and of a wonderful mental power which grasped a subject instantly and with precision. Once in touch with the workings of his great brain, his untidy appearance was forgotten, and you thought of him as a magnificent relic of the noble Dutch blood, one who had reclaimed a new continent from wild beasts and wilder savages; a man who had fought his way, foot by foot, into the great veld and into the mountains, and had built a home for thousands of contented followers, only to be driven out by a more powerful nation.
When the messenger-boy presented the greetings from the young Americans, the President was visibly worried and his mind was evidently occupied by other matters. Within a few hours he expected to move once more from the place where he had settled, as he had when he was a young man. But this time he was to go he knew not where, a fugitive from an overwhelming foe.
As Mr. Reitz translated the speech which little Jimmie Smith cleverly delivered when he presented the documents he carried, the President listened graciously and thanked the boy heartily for the expressions of sympathy conveyed in the message. Coming at that time, it must have given him so little hope that the first republic of the world would do something toward saving to the list of nations those two republics of South Africa.
A granddaughter of President Kruger told me that, after he left, Mrs. Kruger, who stayed in Pretoria, spent much time reading the book of American newspaper and magazine clippings regarding the Boer war which accompanied the message from Philadelphia. She was deeply gratified to note the sympathetic sentiments so strongly stated in the American press.
As soon as the presentation took place the President shook hands with everyone present, and then dismissed them politely, saying, “You must excuse me now, as matters of great importance concerning the State occupy my mind.” That night, just before midnight, the President and Secretary Reitz left Pretoria.
As Lord Roberts’s army came nearer and nearer to the doomed capital, the excitement grew more intense and the air was filled with alarming rumors. General Botha came back to Pretoria and established his headquarters there in order to reconstruct his forces, which were badly scattered, and to provision them from the government stores. Extra calls for burghers to rally to the cause were issued every day and were responded to by hundreds. Pretoria was the turning-point of the war, at which men were called on to decide for themselves whether they would continue the struggle to the bitter end, or leave on the last trains for Delagoa Bay and sail for Europe, or remain in the city and quietly allow the British to overtake them, thus being possibly over looked among the hundreds of peaceable citizens.
Arms were issued from the arsenal to all those who wished to continue the fight or who wished to cast their lot for the first time with the army of the two States. There were arms and ammunition in abundance for hundreds more men than came to take them, for the supply had been laid in with the idea of eventually arming every man and boy in the Transvaal. Many of the burghers exchanged their well-battered rifles for new ones; all filled their ammunition-belts, and took in other ways all they could besides.
Hundreds responded to the final call for arms. Many burghers collected their entire families and secured arms for them to assist in the struggle. It is not possible for anyone who did not see that army fighting in South Africa to realize how deadly was their earnestness. Some of the men were so old as to appear in capable of sitting in a saddle for a march of even a few miles, to say nothing of the marches they often made, covering several days. There were men in the prime of life, strong and sturdy; boys in knee- trousers, who did not look old enough to have sufficient strength to endure the hardships of war or to know how to do any real fighting. There were even women who followed their husbands or brothers through it all, attending the wounded, and cooking when necessary, but often going into the fighting line and matching the men with a rifle.
The Boer army entered the second year of the war a far more formidable force than that which fought through the first year, and especially during the first months of the war. At that time the army was filled with men who had been commandeered and who were compelled to go into the field, but who were not obliged to fight, and often did not fight. There were also many adventurers from other nations, seeking a little fame and perhaps fortune. But in the second year there was not a man in the field who was not there to fight, and when they went out of Pretoria they knew they were burning their bridges behind them. It was for this reason that fathers took their young sons with them, and it was for the same reason that the women followed the men.
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