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The Battle of Isandlwana on 22 January 1879 was the first major encounter in the Anglo–Zulu War between the British Empire and the Zulu Kingdom. Eleven days after the British commenced their invasion of Zululand in South Africa, a Zulu force of some 20,000 warriors attacked a portion of the British main column consisting of about 1,800 British, colonial and native troops and perhaps 400 civilians.[12] The Zulus were equipped mainly with the traditional assegai iron spears and cow-hide shields,[13] but also had a number of muskets and old rifles[14] though they were not formally trained in their use.[15] The British and colonial troops were armed with the state-of-the-art[16] Martini-Henry breech-loading rifle and two 7 pounder artillery pieces as well as a rocket battery. Despite a vast disadvantage in weapons technology,[17] the numerically superior Zulus ultimately overwhelmed the poorly led and badly deployed[18] British, killing over 1,300 troops, including all those out on the forward firing line. The Zulu army suffered around a thousand killed.[19]

The battle was a decisive victory for the Zulus and caused the defeat of the first British invasion of Zululand.[20] The British Army had suffered its worst defeat against a technologically inferior indigenous force.[21] Isandlwana resulted in the British taking a much more aggressive approach in the Anglo–Zulu War, leading to a heavily reinforced second invasion[22] and the destruction of King Cetshwayo's hopes of a negotiated peace.[23]


Following the imperialist scheme by which Lord Carnarvon had brought about federation in Canada, it was thought that a similar plan might succeed in South Africa. In 1874, Sir Henry Bartle Frere was sent to South Africa as high commissioner to instigate the scheme. One of the obstacles to such a plan was the presence of the independent states of the South African Republic and the Kingdom of Zululand.[24]

Sir Bartle Frere, High Commissioner of southern Africa for the British Empire, on his own initiative, without the approval of the British government[25][26] and with the intent of instigating a war with the Zulu, had presented an ultimatum on 11 December 1878, to the Zulu king Cetshwayo with which the Zulu king could not comply.[27] Cetshwayo did not comply and Bartle Frere sent Lord Chelmsford to invade Zululand.[28]


Lord Chelmsford

Lord Chelmsford, the Commander-in-Chief of British forces during the war, initially planned a five-pronged invasion of Zululand composed of over 15,000 troops in five columns and designed to encircle the Zulu army and force it to fight as he was concerned that the Zulus would avoid battle. Lord Chelmsford settled on three invading columns with the main centre column, now consisting of some 7,800 men comprising the previously called No. 3 Column and Durnford's No.2 Column,[29] under his direct command. He moved his troops from Pietermaritzburg to a forward camp at Helpmekaar, past Greytown. On 9 January 1879 they moved to Rorke's Drift, and early on 11 January commenced crossing the Buffalo River into Zululand.[6]

The backbone of the British force under Lord Chelmsford consisted of twelve regular infantry companies: six each of the 1st and 2nd battalions, 24th Regiment of Foot (2nd Warwickshire Regiment), which were hardened and reliable troops.[30] In addition, there were approximately 2,500 local African auxiliaries of the Natal Native Contingent many of which were exiled or refugee Zulu. They were led by European officers but considered generally of poor quality by the British as they were prohibited from using their traditional fighting technique and inadequately trained in the European method as well as being indifferently armed. Also, there were some irregular colonial cavalry units, and a detachment of artillery consisting of six field guns and several Congreve rockets.[31] Adding on wagon drivers, camp followers and servants, there were more than 4,000 men in the Number 3 Column,[32] not including Durnford's Number 2 Column. Because of the urgency required to accomplish their scheme, Bartle Frere and Chelmsford began the invasion during the rainy season. This had the consequence of slowing the British advance to a crawl.[33]

Cetshwayo, c. 1875

The Zulu army, while a product of a warrior culture, was essentially a militia force which could be called out in time of national danger.[34] It had a very limited logistical capacity and could only stay in the field a few weeks before the troops would be obliged to return to their civilian duties.[35] Zulu warriors were armed primarily with assegai thrusting spears, known in Zulu as iklwa, knobkierrie clubs, some throwing spears and shields made of cowhide.[36] The Zulu warrior, his regiment and the army drilled in the personal and tactical use and coordination of this weapons system. Some Zulus also had old muskets and antiquated rifles stockpiled, a relatively few[14] of which were carried by Zulu impi. However, their marksmanship was very poor, quality and supply of powder and shot dreadful, maintenance non-existent and attitude towards firearms summed up in the observation that: "The generality of Zulu warriors, however, would not have firearms – the arms of a coward, as they said, for they enable the poltroon to kill the brave without awaiting his attack."[37] The British had timed the invasion to coincide with the harvest, intending to catch the Zulu warriors dispersed. Fortuitously, the Zulu army had already begun to assemble at Ulundi, as it did every year for the First Fruits ceremony when all warriors were duty-bound to report to their regimental barracks near Ulundi.[38][39]

Cetshwayo sent the 24,000 strong main Zulu impi from near present-day Ulundi, on 17 January, across the White Umfolozi River with the following command to his warriors:

"March slowly, attack at dawn and eat up the red soldiers."[40]

On the 18th, some 4,000 warriors were detached from the main body to attack Pearson's column near Eshowe. The remaining 20,000 Zulus camped at the isiPhezi ikhanda. On the 19th the main force arrived and camped near Babanango Mountain, then moved the next day to a camp near Siphezi Mountain. Finally, on the 21st they moved into the Ngwebeni Valley, from where they planned to attack the British on the 23rd, remaining concealed until their discovery by a scouting party on 22 January. Under the command of Ntshigwayo kaMahole the Zulu army had reached its position in easy stages. It marched in two columns within sight of each other but few miles apart to prevent a surprise attack. They were preceded by a screening force of mounted scouts supported by parties of warriors 200–400 strong tasked with preventing the main columns from being sighted.[41] The speed of the Zulu advance compared to the British is marked. The Zulu impi had advanced over 80 km (50 mi) in five days while Chelmsford had only advanced slightly over 16 km (9.9 mi) in 10 days.[42]

The British under Chelmsford pitched camp at Isandlwana on 20 January,[6] but did not follow standing orders to entrench. No laager (circling of the wagons) was formed. Chelmsford did not see the need for the laager, stating, "It would take a week to make."[39] But the chief reason for the failure to take defensive precautions appears to have been that the British command severely underestimated the Zulu capabilities. The experience of numerous colonial wars fought in Africa was that the massed firepower of relatively small bodies of professional European troops armed with modern firearms and artillery, and supplemented by local allies and levies, would march out to meet the natives whose ragged, badly equipped armies would put up a brave struggle, but in the end would succumb. Chelmsford believed that a force of over 4,000, including 1,000 British infantry armed with Martini-Henry rifles, as well as artillery, had more than sufficient firepower to overwhelm any attack by Zulus armed only with spears, cowhide shields and a few firearms such as Brown Bess muskets. Indeed, with a British force of this size, it was the logistical arrangements which occupied Chelmsford's thoughts. Rather than any fear that the camp might be attacked, his main concern was managing the huge number of wagons and oxen required to support his forward advance.[43]

Once he had established the camp at Isandlwana, Chelmsford sent out two battalions of the Natal Native Contingent to scout ahead. They skirmished with elements of a Zulu force which Chelmsford believed to be the vanguard of the main enemy army. Such was the overconfidence in British military training and firepower that he divided his force, taking about 2,500 men, including half of the British infantry contingent, and set out to find the main Zulu force with the intention of bringing them to battle, so as to achieve a decisive victory. It never occurred to Chelmsford that the Zulus he saw were diverting him from their main force.[44]

Chelmsford left behind five companies, around 70–80 fighting men in each, of the 1st battalion and one stronger company of around 150 men from the 2nd battalion of the 24th to guard the camp, under the command of Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Henry Pulleine. Pulleine's orders were to defend the camp and wait for further instructions to support the general as and when called upon. Pulleine also had around 500 men of the Natal Native Contingent and approximately 200 local mounted irregulars. He also had two artillery pieces, with around 70 men of the Royal Artillery. In total, some 1,300 men and two guns were left to defend the camp.[45]

Pulleine, left in command of a rear position, was an administrator with no experience of front-line command on a campaign. Nevertheless, he commanded a strong force, particularly the six veteran regular infantry companies, which were experienced at colonial warfare. The mounted vedettes, cavalry scouts, patrolling some 11 km (6.8 mi) from camp reported at 7:00am that groups of Zulus, numbering around 4,000 men, could be seen. Further reports arrived to Pulleine during the early morning, each reporting movements, both large and small, of Zulus. There was speculation among the officers as to whether these troops were intending to march against Chelmsford's rear or towards the camp itself.[46]

Around 10:30am, Colonel Anthony Durnford arrived from Rorke's Drift with five troops of the Natal Native horse and a rocket battery. This put the issue of command to the fore because Durnford was senior and by tradition would have assumed command.[47] However, he did not over-rule Pulleine's dispositions and after lunch he quickly decided to take to the initiative and move forward to engage a Zulu force which Pulleine and Durnford judged to be moving against Chelmsford's rear. Durnford asked for a company of the 24th, but Pulleine was reluctant to agree since his orders had been specifically to defend the camp.[46]

Chelmsford had underestimated the disciplined, well-led, well-motivated and confident Zulu. The failure to secure an effective defensive position, the poor intelligence on the location of the main Zulu army, Chelmsford's decision to split his force in half, and the Zulus' tactical exploitation of the terrain and the weaknesses in the British formation, all combined to prove catastrophic for the troops at Isandlwana. In contrast, the Zulus responded to the unexpected discovery of their camp with an immediate and spontaneous advance. Even though the indunas would lose control over the advance, the training instilled in the warriors allowed the Zulu troops to form their standard attack formation on the run, their battle line deployed in reverse of its intended order.[48][49]


Dabulamanzi kaMpande

The Zulu Army was commanded by inDunas (Princes) Ntshingwayo kaMahole Khoza and Mavumengwana kaNdlela Ntuli. The inDuna Dabulamanzi kaMpande, half brother of Cetshwayo, would command the Undi Corps after kaMapitha, the regular inkhosi, or commander, was wounded.[50]

While Chelmsford was in the field seeking them, the entire Zulu army had outmanoeuvred him, moving behind his force with the intention of attacking the British Army on the 23rd. They were discovered at around 8:00am by men of Lt. Charles Raw's troop of scouts who chased a number of Zulus into a valley, only then seeing some 20,000 men of the main enemy force sitting in total quiet. Having been discovered the Zulu force leapt to the offensive. Raw's men began a fighting retreat back to the camp and a messenger was sent to warn Pulleine. Pulleine observed Zulus on the hills to his left front and sent word to Chelmsford, which was received by the General between 9:00am and 10:00am.[51]

The Zulu attack then developed in the traditional horns and chest of the buffalo, with the aim of encircling the British position. From Pulleine's vantage point in the camp, at first only the right horn and then the chest (centre) of the attack seemed to be developing. Pulleine sent out first one, then all six companies of the 24th Foot into an extended firing line, with the aim of meeting the Zulu attack head-on and checking it with firepower. Durnford's men, upon meeting elements of the Zulu centre, had retreated to a donga, a dried-out watercourse, on the British right flank where they formed a defensive line. The Rocket Battery under Durnford's command, which was not mounted and dropped behind the rest of the force, was isolated and overrun very early in the engagement. The two battalions of native troops were in Durnford's line; while all the officers and NCOs carried rifles, only one in 10 in the ranks was armed with a muzzle-loading musket with limited ammunition[52][53] and many of them started to leave the battlefield at this point.[54]

Pulleine only made one change to the original disposition after about 20 minutes of firing, bringing in the companies in the firing line slightly closer to the camp. For a few hours[55] until noon, the disciplined British volleys pinned down the Zulu centre, inflicting some casualties and causing the advance to stall. Indeed, morale remained high within the British line. The Martini-Henry rifle was a powerful weapon and the men were experienced. Additionally, the cannon fire of the Royal Artillery forced some Zulu regiments to take cover behind the reverse slope of a hill. Nevertheless, the left horn of the Zulu advance was moving to outflank and envelop the British right.[56]

The Battle of Isandlwana (Charles Edwin Fripp)

Durnford's men, who had been fighting longest, began to withdraw and their rate of fire diminished. Durnford's withdrawal exposed the right flank of the British regulars, which, with the general threat of the Zulu encirclement, caused Pulleine to order a withdrawal back to the camp. The regulars' retreat was performed with order and discipline and the men of the 24th conducted a fighting withdrawal into the camp. Durnford's retreat, however, exposed the flank of G Company, 2nd/24th, which was overrun relatively quickly.[57]

An officer in advance from Chelmsford's force gave this eyewitness account of the final stage of the battle at about 3:00pm.

"In a few seconds we distinctly saw the guns fired again, one after the other, sharp. This was done several times -a pause, and then a flash – flash! The sun was shining on the camp at the time, and then the camp looked dark, just as if a shadow was passing over it. The guns did not fire after that, and in a few minutes all the tents had disappeared."[58]

Nearly the same moment is described in a Zulu warrior's account.

"The sun turned black in the middle of the battle; we could still see it over us, or should have thought we had been fighting till evening. Then we got into the camp, and there was a great deal of smoke and firing. Afterwards the sun came out bright again."[59]

The time of the solar eclipse on that day is calculated as 2:29pm.

The presence of large numbers of bodies grouped together suggests the resistance was more protracted than originally thought and a number of desperate last stands were made. Evidence shows that many of the bodies, today marked by cairns, were found in several large groups around the camp — including one stand of around 150 men. A Zulu account describes a group of the 24th forming a square on the neck of Isandlwana.[60] Colonial cavalry, the NMP and the carabiniers, who could easily have fled as they had horses, died around Durnford in his last stand while nearby their horses were found dead on their picket rope.[61] What is clear is that the slaughter was complete in the area around the camp and back to Natal along the Fugitive's Drift. The fighting had been hand-to-hand combat and no quarter given to the British regulars. The Zulus had been commanded to ignore the civilians in black coats and this meant that some officers, whose patrol dress was dark blue and black at the time, were spared and escaped.[62]

The British fought back-to-back[63] with bayonet and rifle butt when their ammunition had finally been expended.[64] A Zulu account relates the single-handed fight by the guard of Chelmsford's tent, a big Irishman of the 24th who kept the Zulus back with his bayonet until he was assegaied and the general's Union flag captured.[65] Both the colours of the 2/24th were lost, while the Queen's colour of the 1/24th was carried off the field by Lieutenant Melvill on horseback with help from Lieutenant Coghill but lost when they crossed the drift. Both Melvill and Coghill were to receive posthumous Victoria Crosses in 1907 as the legend of their gallantry grew.[66] Garnet Wolseley, who would replace Chelmsford, felt otherwise at the time and stated, "I don't like the idea of officers escaping on horseback when their men on foot are being killed."[67]

Of the 1,700-plus force of British troops and African auxiliaries, about 1,300 were killed, most of them Europeans, including field commanders Pulleine and Durnford. Only five Imperial officers survived. Amongst those killed was Surgeon Major Peter Shepherd, a first-aid pioneer.[68] The Natal Native Contingent lost some 400 men, and there were 240 lost from the group of 249 amaChunu African auxiliaries.[69] Perhaps the last to die was Gabangaye, the portly chief of the amaChunu Natal Native Contingent, who was given over to be killed by the udibi boys. The captured Natal Native Contingent soldiers were regarded as traitors by the Zulu and executed.[70]

Some 1,000 Martini-Henry rifles, two cannons, 400,000 rounds of ammunition, three colours, most of the 2,000 draft animals and 130 wagons,[71] impedimenta such as tinned food, biscuits, beer, overcoats, tents and other supplies were taken by the Zulu or left abandoned on the field. Of the survivors, most were from the auxiliaries. The Zulus had lost around 1,000 killed, with various unconfirmed estimates for their wounded.[5]

View of the Isandlwana battlefield.

Order of battle[]

The following order of battle was arrayed on the day.[72][73]

British forces[]

No 2 Column[]

Commanding Officer: Brevet Colonel Anthony Durnford, RE

  • Staff – 2 officers, 1 NCO
  • 11th/7th Brigade, Royal Artillery – 1 officer, 9 NCOs and men
  • Natal Native Horse (5 troops) – 5 officers, ca. 259 NCOs and men
  • 1st/1st Natal Native Contingent (2 companies) – 5 or 6 officers, ca. 240 NCOs and men
  • 2nd/1st Natal Native Contingent – 1 NCO

No 3 Column[]

Commanding Officer: Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Pulleine, 1st/24th Foot

  • Staff – 6 officers, 14 NCO and men
  • N/5th Brigade, Royal Horse Artillery – 2 officers, 70 NCOs and men
  • 5th Field Company, Royal Engineers – 3 men
  • 1st/24th Regiment of Foot (5 companies and band) – 14 officers, 402 NCOs and men
  • 2nd/24th Regiment of Foot (1 company and details) – 5 officers, 170 NCOs and men
  • 90th Regiment of Foot – 6 men
  • Army Service Corps – 3 men
  • Army Hospital Corps – 1 officer, 10 NCOs and men
  • Imperial Mounted Infantry (1 squadron) – 28 NCOs and men
  • Natal Mounted Police – 34 NCOs and men
  • Natal Carbineers – 2 officers, 26 NCOs and men
  • Newcastle Mounted Rifles – 2 officers, 15 NCOs and men
  • Buffalo Border Guard – 1 officer, 7 NCOs and men
  • Natal Native Pioneer Corps – 1 officer, 10 men
  • 1st/3rd Natal Native Contingent (2 companies) – 11 officers, ca. 200 NCOs and men
  • 2nd/3rd Natal Native Contingent (2 companies) – 9 officers, ca. 200 NCOs and men

Zulu forces[74][]

Right horn[]

uDududu, uNokenke regiments, part uNodwengu corps – 3,000 to 4,000 men


umCijo,uKhandampevu, uThulwana regiments; part uNodwengu corps – 7,000 to 9,000 men

Left horn[]

inGobamakhosi, uMbonambi, uVe regiments – 5,000 to 6,000 men[75]


Undi corps, uDloko regiment – 4,000 to 5,000 men[76]

Reasons for the outcome[]

Zulu perspective[]

The primary reason for the Zulu victory is that the Zulus, unlike the British, kept their main fighting force concentrated. Further, they made a very successful effort to conceal the advance and location of this force until they were within a few hours' striking distance of their enemy. The British made no such efforts. Finally, when the location of the main Zulu Impi was discovered by British scouts, the Zulus, without hesitation, immediately advanced and attacked, achieving tactical surprise.[77] This tactical surprise prevented the British, although they now had some warning of a Zulu advance, from concentrating their central column. It also left little time and gave scant information for Pulleine to organise a sufficient defence for his command. The Zulus had outmanoeuvred Chelmsford, and their victory at Isandlwana was a decisive defeat[78] of the British invasion that forced the main British force to retreat out of Zululand until a far larger British army could be shipped to South Africa for a second invasion.[79][80]

Recent historians, notably Lock and Quantrill in Zulu Victory, argue that from the Zulu perspective the theatre of operations included the diversions around Magogo Hills and Mangeni Falls and that these diversions, which drew more than half of Chelmsford's forces away from Isandlwana, were deliberate.[81] Also, the main Zulu force was not unexpectedly discovered in their encampment but was fully deployed and ready to advance on the British camp. These historians' view of the expanded battlefield considers Chelmsford to be the overall commander of the British forces, and that responsibility for the defeat lies firmly with him.

British perspective[]

Memorial erected at the site commemorating the valour of the fallen Zulu impi at Isandlwana Hill, which is visible in the background[82]

Photo of Isandlwana with one of the cairns marking one of the many British mass graves at the site

Debate persists as to how and why the British lost the battle. Many arguments focus on possible local tactical occurrences, as opposed to the strategic lapses and failings in grand tactics on the part of high command under Bartle Frere and Chelmsford. Still, the latter comes under scrutiny for mistakes that may have led directly to the British defeat.

British tactical failings[]

  • The initial view, reported by Horace Smith-Dorrien, was that the British had difficulty unpacking their ammunition boxes fast enough and that the quartermasters were reluctant to distribute ammunition to units other than their own. Well-equipped and well-trained British soldiers could fire 10–12 rounds a minute. The lack of ammunition caused a lull in the defence and, in subsequent engagements with the Zulus, ammunition boxes were unscrewed in advance for rapid distribution.[83]
  • Donald Morris in The Washing of the Spears argues that the men, fighting too far from the camp, ran out of ammunition, starting first with Durnford's men who were holding the right flank and who had been in action longer, which precipitated a slowdown in the rate of fire against the Zulus. This argument suggests that the ammunition was too far from the firing line and that the seventy rounds each man took to the firing line was not sufficient.[50][84]
  • A different view, supported with evidence from the battlefield, such as Ian Knight and Lt. Colonel Snook's works, (the latter having written How Can Man Die Better?), suggest that, although Durnford's men probably did run out of ammunition, the majority of men in the firing line did not. The discovery of the British line so far out from the camp has led Ian Knight to conclude that the British were defending too large a perimeter.[85]
  • The official interrogation by Horse Guards under the direction of the Duke of Cambridge, the Field Marshal Commanding in Chief, in August 1879 concluded that the primary cause of the defeat was the "under estimate formed of the offensive fighting power of the Zulu army", additionally the investigation questions Chelmsford as to why the camp was not laagered and why there was a failure to reconnoitre and discover the nearby Zulu army.[86]

British command failings[]

Numerous messages, some quite early in the day, had been sent to Chelmsford informing him, initially, of the presence of the Zulu near the camp and, subsequently, of the attack on the camp, with increasingly urgent pleas for help. The most egregious failure to respond occurred at around 1:30 pm when a message from Hamilton-Browne stating, "For God's sake come back, the camp is surrounded, and things I fear are going badly", was received by Lieutenant-Colonel Harness Royal Artillery and Major Black of the 2/24. They were leading the other four RA guns as well as two companies of the 2/24 and on their own initiative immediately marched back towards Isandlwana and had gone some two miles when they were ordered to return to Mangeni Falls by an aide sent by Chelmsford.[87]

At long last but too late, finally Chelmsford became convinced of the seriousness of the situation on his left flank and rear when at 3:30pm he joined Hamilton-Browne's NNC and realised the camp had been taken. A surviving officer, Rupert Lonsdale, rode up and described the camp's fall to which Chelmsford replied, "But I left over 1,000 men to guard the camp".[88] He quickly gathered his scattered forces and marched the column back to Isandlwana but arrived at sundown long after the battle ended and the Zulu army had marched off. The British camped on the field that night but left before sunrise without any examination of the ground as Chelmsford felt that it would demoralize his troops. The column then proceeded to Rorke's Drift.



Field Marshal Lord Wolseley

Though Isandlwana was a disaster for the British, the Zulu victory did not end the war. With the decisive defeat of Chelmsford's central column, the entire invasion of Zululand collapsed and would have to be restaged. Not only were there heavy manpower casualties to the Main Column, but most of the supplies, ammunition and draught animals were lost.[89] As King Cetshwayo feared, the embarrassment of the defeat would force the policy makers in London, who to this point had not supported the war, to rally to the support of the pro-war contingent in the Natal government and commit whatever resources were needed to defeat the Zulus. Despite local numerical superiority, the Zulus did not have manpower, technological resources or logistical capacity to match the British in another, more extended, campaign.[90]

The Zulus missed a tremendous opportunity to exploit their victory and possibly win the war that day on their own territory. The reconnaissance force under Chelmsford was more vulnerable to being defeated by an attack than the camp. It was strung out and somewhat scattered, it had marched with limited rations and ammunition it could not now replace, and it was panicky and demoralized by the defeat at Isandlwana.[91]

Near the end of the battle, about 4,000 Zulu warriors of the unengaged reserve Undi impi, after cutting off the retreat of the survivors to the Buffalo River southwest of Isandlwana, crossed the river and attacked the fortified mission station at Rorke's Drift. The station was defended by only 139 British soldiers, who nonetheless inflicted considerable casualties and repelled the attack. Elsewhere, the left and right flanks of the invading forces were now isolated and without support. The No. 1 column under the command of Charles Pearson would be besieged for two months by a Zulu force at Eshowe, while the No. 4 column under Evelyn Wood halted its advance and spent most of the next two months skirmishing in the northwest around Tinta's Kraal.[92][93]

Following Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift, the British and Colonials were in complete panic over the possibility of a counter invasion of Natal by the Zulus.[94] All the towns of Natal 'laagered' up and fortified and provisions and stores laid in.[95] Bartle Frere stoked the fear of invasion despite the fact that, aside from Rorke's Drift, the Zulus made no attempt to cross the border. Immediately following the battle, Zulu Prince Ndanbuko urged them to advance and take the war into the colony but they were restrained by a commander, kaNthati, reminding them of Cetshwayo's prohibiting the crossing the border.[5] Unknown to the inhabitants of Natal, Cetshwayo, still hoping to avoid a total war, had prohibited any crossing of the border in retaliation and was incensed over the violation of the border by the attack on Rorke's Drift.[96]

The British government's reasoning for a new invasion was threefold. The first was jingoistic to a degree and national honour demanded that the enemy, victors in one battle, should lose the war.[97] The second concerned the domestic political implications at the next parliamentary elections.[98] However, despite the new invasion, the British Prime Minister Disraeli and his party would lose the 1880 election. Finally, there were considerations affecting the Empire: unless the British were seen to win a clear-cut victory against the Zulus, it would send a signal that the British Empire was vulnerable and that the defeat of a British field army could alter policy.[99] If the Zulu victory at Isandlwana encouraged resistance elsewhere in the Empire,[100] then committing the resources necessary to defeat the Zulus would, in the long term, prove cheaper than fighting wars that the Zulu success inspired against British Imperialism elsewhere.[98][101]

After Isandlwana, the British field army was heavily reinforced and again invaded Zululand. Sir Garnet Wolseley was sent to take command and relieve Chelmsford, as well as Bartle Frere. Chelmsford, however, avoided handing over command to Wolseley and managed to defeat the Zulus in a number of engagements, the last of which was the Battle of Ulundi, followed by capture of King Cetshwayo. The British encouraged the subkings of the Zulus to rule their subkingdoms without acknowledging a central Zulu power. By the time King Cetshwayo was allowed to return home, there was no longer an independent Zulu kingdom.[102]

The measure of respect that the British gained for their opponents as a result of Isandlwana can be seen in that in none of the other engagements of the Zulu War did the British attempt to fight again in their typical linear formation, known famously as the Thin Red Line in an open-field battle with the main Zulu impi. In the battles that followed, the British, when facing the Zulu, entrenched themselves or formed very close-order formations, such as the square.[103]


Chelmsford realised that he would need to account to the government and to history for the disaster. He quickly fixed blame on Durnford, claiming Durnford disobeyed his orders to fix a proper defensive camp – although there is no evidence such an order was issued and there would hardly have been time for Durnford to entrench. Further, it had been Chelmsford's decision not to entrench the camp, as it was meant to be temporary.

Wolseley would write on 30 September 1879 when, later in the war, the Prince Imperial of France was killed by the Zulu: "I think this is very unfair, and is merely a repetition of what was done regarding the Isandlwana disaster where the blame was thrown upon Durnford, the real object in both instances being apparently to screen Chelmsford."[104]

Following the war and his return to Britain, Chelmsford sought an audience with Gladstone, who had become Prime Minister in April 1880, but his request was refused – a very public slight and a clear sign of official disapproval. Chelmsford, however, obtained an audience with Queen Victoria to personally explain the events – which must have been convincing to her, as she was won over. She asked Gladstone to meet Chelmsford, and although this meeting took place, it was brief and during it Gladstone voiced his displeasure.

Later, Chelmsford launched a new and successful campaign in Zululand, routing the Zulu army, capturing the Royal Kraal of Ulundi, and thus partially retrieving his reputation. He would never hold another field command.

See also[]


  1. Murray, J. An African Thermopylae? The Battles of the Anglo-Zulu War, Akrotrion 54 (2009)51-68, p. 58, "... a decisive victory for the Zulus ..." [1]
  2. Knight, Ian. Zulu War 1879, Osprey Publishing, 2003, ISBN 1-84176-612-7, p. 33.
  3. All figures from Holme, N. (1999) The Noble 24th: Biographical Records of the 24th Regiment in the Zulu War and the South African Campaigns, 1877–1879 pp.377–378
  4. Doyle, p. 120: "...around 20,000...". Colenso, p. 313, "The Zulu army, he (Nugwende) says, numbered 20,0000..." and p. 312, "...full nominal strength reaches a total of 30,900 men but the actual numbers are estimated at from 20,000 to 25,000
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Knight (2002), p. 86
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Giliomee, Hermann; Mbenga, Bernard (2007). New History of South Africa (First ed.). Tafelberg Publishers. p. 166. ISBN 978-0-624-04359-1. 
  7. Smith-Dorrien, Chapter 1D, "... nearly 900 British and 2,000 or 3,000 natives, friend and foe, had breathed their last on the fatal 22nd."
  8. Colenso, p. 312, gives 1333 also states a "given" total as 822 but says the actual loss is slightly higher
  9. Lock, p. 224
  10. Knight, Ian. Isandlwana 1879: The Great Zulu Victory, Osprey, 2002, p. 86. Knight's estimate of Zulu casualties is more in keeping with those suffered by the Zulu at Kambula, where a British column forms an excellent defensive position with a wagon lager, six 7 pounder artillery pieces and 2,000 soldiers and inflicts 800(counted bodies)-1,000 killed on the Zulu. Similarly, Knight & Castle. Zulu War 1879: twilight of a warrior nation, 1992, p.54 and in their Zulu War, 2004, p.114, state that the Zulu casualties at Kambula and Isandlwana are comparable. Again, Ian Knight. Brave Men's Blood, The Epic of the Zulu War, 1879, (1990), p.142, "785 [bodies] were collected from close by the camp", while there is a British pursuit at Kambula that inflicts many casualties on the Zulu, there is only the British retreat at Isandlwana during which the Zulu inflict many casualties. Also Laband, Historical Dictionary, 2009, p.123.
  11. Smith-Dorrien, Chapter 1D, "The next few days after the battle, St. Matthew's simile, " Wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together," was fully illustrated, for literally the sky was darkened at times by continuous streams of " Aasvogels " heading from all directions to the battlefield marked by that precipitous and conspicuous crag, like a lion couchant, " Isandhlwana " where nearly 900 British and 2,000 or 3,000 natives, friend and foe, had breathed their last on the fatal 22nd." As can be seen from this account there were from both sides a total of 2 to 3 thousand natives killed.
  12. Knight (2002), p. 49, Knight gives a total of 1,768 combat troops, not including wagon drivers and other civilians, of which there were some 350, Colenso, p. 263
  13. Christon I. Archer World History of Warfare, Univ of Nebraska Pr, 2008, ISBN 0-8032-1941-5, p.462 "They had a national army of twenty-five thousand men equipped with cowhide shields, assegais and clubs."
  14. 14.0 14.1 Smith-Dorrien, Chapter 1B "It was a marvellous sight, line upon line of men in slightly extended order, one behind the other, firing as they came along, for a few of them had firearms, bearing all before them." eyewitness account, emphasis added
  15. Ian Knight, Angus McBride Zulu 1816–1906, Osprey Publishing, 1995, ISBN 1-85532-474-1, p. 25
  16. Lock, p. 40
  17. Doyle, p. 118: "It was here...the British Army suffered it worst ever defeat at the hands of a technologically inferior indigenous force.".(emphasis added.)
  18. Morris, pp. 366–367
  19. Ian Knight Rorke's Drift 1879 Osprey Publishing, 1996, ISBN 1-85532-506-3.
  20. Thompson, p.75 "Thus ended the first British invasion of Zululand." Knight (2003), p. 27 Map titled: "First invasion of Zululand".
  21. Doyle, p. 118
  22. Morris, pp. 498–511, Chapter 'The Second Invasion'
  23. Spiers, p. 42, "... reports of the annihilation...prompted the Cabinet to send reinforcements and galvanized interest in the war." Ian Knight, Zulu War, Osprey, 2004, p. 11, "The home government, embarrassed by Isandlwana, sought to restore British honour by despatching more reinforcements..."
  24. Knight (1992, 2002), p. 8
  25. Spiers, p. 41
  26. Ian Knight, Zulu War, Osprey, 2004, p. 9, "By late 1878 Frere had manipulated a diplomatic crisis with the Zulus..."
  27. Colenso, pp. 261–262, "the terms...are evidently such as he (Cetshwayo) may not improbably refuse, even at the risk of war... to preclude you from incurring the delay...involved in consulting Her Majesty's Government upon a subject of so much importance as the terms..." Also: Ian Knight, Zulu War, Osprey, 2004, p. 11, "... an ultimatum with which, Frere knew, they could not possibly comply." Doyle, p. 118, " ... an impossible ultimatum...".
  28. Morris, pp. 291–292
  29. Colenso, pp. 263–264 gives 7,800: 1752 Imperial and Colonial troops and 6,054 Native Contingent and 377 Conductors and Drivers for the Number 2 Column under Durnford and the Number 3 Column under Glynn which made up Chelmsford's Main Column. The strength of the entire invasion force is given as a total of 16,506 for the five columns: 6,669 Imperial and colonial troops: 9,035 troops in the native contingent; 802 Drivers, etc.
  30. The 24th Foot was an historically hard-fighting if hard-luck regiment. In 1741 it suffered heavy casualties at Cartagena; during the Seven Years War it surrendered to the French at the Siege of Minorca in 1756 and was present at the defeat in the Battle of Saint Cast; it was surrendered at Saratoga by Burgoyne in 1777; it was captured at sea by the French in 1810; it suffered over 50 percent casualties at the Battle of Chillianwalla in 1846
  31. Maxwell, Tony (October 2009). Searching for the Queen's Cowboys. Bratonmax. p. 236. ISBN 0-9683256-1-0.  cite is only for the Congreve rocket battery
  32. Colenso, pp. 263, 1747: Imperial and Colonial Troops, 2,566 Native Contingent, 293 Drivers
  33. Colenso, pp. 264–266, 273, Chelmsford, 16 January: "No.3 Column cannot move forward eight miles... for at least four days..."
  34. Ian Knight, Alan Perry. Rorke's Drift 1879 Pinned like rats in a hole, Osprey, 1996, ISBN 1-85532-506-3, p.11, "they were a part-time citizen army, and were armed primarily with traditional weapons."
  35. Ian Knight, Adam Hook, British Fortifications in Zululand 1879, Osprey, 2005, ISBN 1-84176-829-4, p.8
  36. World History of Warfare, by Christon I. Archer University of Nebraska Press, 2002, ISBN 0-8032-1941-5, p.462 "They had a national army of twenty-five thousand men equipped with cowhide shields, assegais and clubs. Lock, p.62, John Shepstone, Acting Secretary for Native Affairs at the time on the Zulu army – "Equipment: Each man carries his shield and assegais, and a kaross or blanket if he possesses one, he may also have a war dress of monkey skins or ox tails, this is all."
  37. Bourquin, S..Military History Journal, V.4, No.4, The Zulu Military Organization, South African Military History Society, ISSN 0026-4016, Dec. 1978
  38. Lock, p. 82
  39. 39.0 39.1 Colenso, p. 294
  40. Lock, p. 86
  41. Lock, pp. 129–131
  42. Lock, pp. 87, 129–130
  43. Colenso, pp. 264–266, 273–275
  44. Lock, p. 151
  45. Knight (1992, 2002), p. 36
  46. 46.0 46.1 Knight (1992, 2002), p. 40
  47. Pulleine's rank was Brevet Lieutenant Colonel; in other words he was still being paid as a major.
  48. Knight (1992, 2002), p. 41
  49. Colenso, p. 409
  50. 50.0 50.1 Morris
  51. Colenso, pp. 287,288
  52. Smith-Dorrien, Chapter 1B
  53. Thompson, pp. 17, 22. About 20% of each battalion had some sort of firearm
  54. Morris, p. 371.
  55. Smith-Dorrien, Chapter 1B gives a start time for the battle of around 8:00am with the Zulus falling back behind the hills until noon and the final Zulu advance beginning at 1:00pm
  56. Morris, p.373; Colenso, p. 285.
  57. Morris, pp. 373–374.
  58. Colenso, p. 292, the officer states it was 3:00pm.
  59. Mitford, Bertrand, Through the Zulu Country, p. 95.
  60. Colenso, p. 413.
  61. Lock, p. 219.
  62. Smith-Dorrien, Chapter 1C
  63. see Charles Edwin Fripp's painting in the National Army Museum
  64. Knight (1992, 2002), p. 49; Morris, pp. 375, 377.
  65. Lock, p. 219
  66. Lock, p. 222.
  67. Lock, p. 214.
  68. Aged 37, from Leochel Cushnie, Aberdeenshire, who together with Colonel Francis Duncan had established the concept of teaching first-aid skills to civilians and had written the book “Aids for cases of Injuries or Sudden Illness"., BMJ 1994; 309 : 1718 (Published 24 December 1994) The earliest days of first aid.
  69. Thompson, Paul Singer. Black soldiers of the queen: the Natal native contingent in the Anglo-Zulu War, University of Alabama Press, 2006, ISBN 0-8173-5368-2 pp. 75–76.
  70. Lock, pp. 223–224.
  71. Lock, p. 47.
  72. Knight (2002), p. 49
  73. Colenso, p. 313, "The Zulu army, he (Nugwende) says, numbered 20,0000..." and p. 312, "...full nominal strength reaches a total of 30,900 men but the actual numbers are estimated at from 20,000 to 25,000
  74. F.E. Colenso, pp. 407–413 records two accounts of Zulu eyewitness participants at the battle. In one account the Zulu army is described as:" ...consisting of the Ulundi corps about 3,000 strong, the Nokenke Regiment, 2,000 strong; the Ngobamakosi Regiment, including the Uve, about 5,000 strong: the Umeityu, about 4,000 strong; the Nodengwu, 2,000 strong; the Umbonambi, 3,000 strong; and the Udlhoko, about 1,000 strong, or a total of about 20,000 men in all..." and in the other account the Zulu army is described as "...eight regiments strong (20,000 to 25,000 men)...The regiments were Kandampenvu (or Umcityu), Ngobamakosi, Uve, Nokenke, Umbonambi, Udhloko, Nodwengu (name of military kraal of the Inkulutyane Regiment), and Undi (which comprises the Tulwana, Ndhlodho, and Indhluyengwe)."
  75. Morris, p. 369
  76. Morris, p.370, "played no part in the battle"
  77. Doyle, pp. 126–127
  78. Lock, p.225, "That an awesome defeat had taken place was clear...". Also, Laband, John. Historical Dictionary of the Zulu Wars, Scarecrow Press, 2009, ISBN 0810860783, p.5, "... the main Zulu army outmaneuvered, divided and annihilated the British No. 3 column at Isandlwana.", Knight, Ian and Hook, Adam. British Fortifications in Zululand 1879, Osprey, 2005, ISBN 1-84176-829-4, p. 6, "The reverse at Isandlwana effectively destroyed Chelmsford's invasion plan."
  79. Lock, pp. 183–185
  80. Knight, Ian and Hook, Adam. British Fortifications in Zululand 1879, Osprey, 2005, ISBN 1-84176-829-4, pp. 34–35. Laband, p.6, "Chelmsford launched his 2nd invasion ..."
  81. Lock, p.230.
  82. Doyle, p. 131. The bronze sculpture is based on a necklace presented to warriors for valour in battle, called an iziqu.
  83. Smith-Dorrien, Horace. "Memories of Forty-Eight Years' Service". 
  84. Laband, p. 4.
  85. Snook, Mike. How Can Man Die Better: The Secrets of Isandlwana Revealed. London: Greenhill Books, 2006. ISBN 978-1-85367-656-7
  86. Lock, pp. 280–281. Doyle, p. 120.
  87. Lock pp.214–215, 252.
  88. Lock, p.225.
  89. Knight (2002), p. 89
  90. Shillington, Kevin. Encyclopedia of African history, Volume 1, 2005, ISBN 1-57958-245-1, p. 71, "... need to tend to cattle and crops...". Colenso, pp. 294–295; Knight, Ian and McBride, Angus. Zulu 1816–1906, p. 27
  91. Thompson, pp. 47, 63, 75
  92. Lock, pp. 284–285
  93. Knight (2002), p. 90
  94. Colenso, pp. 308–311. Martineau, J.. Life and Correspondence of Sir Bartle Frere, Vol. ii., London, 1895, p.274.
  95. Knight, Ian. Zulu War 1879, Osprey Publishing, 2003, ISBN 1-84176-612-7, p.40.
  96. Colenso, p. 311, "the Zulus who in the flush of victory crossed into Natal at Rorke's Drift...were called back with the words, 'Against the orders of your king!' "
  97. Knight (2003), p. 8, "Imperial pride ensured that the government in London would have to support British troops in the field, at least until military supremacy had been achieved.". Colenso, p. 416, "... the which was to 'wipe out' the disaster of Isandhlawana moved up to the front."
  98. 98.0 98.1 Knight (2003), p. 67
  99. Morris, p.446,
  100. Martineau, J.. Life and Correspondence of Sir Bartle Frere, Vol. ii., Chapter xix, London, 1895, p.274.
  101. Colenso, p. 474, "A considerable number of Boers who had never willingly accepted the annexation of their country by the English, had taken the opportunity ... after the disaster of 22 January... to regain their independence..."
  102. Lock, pp. 287–289
  103. Hall, D.D..Military History Journal, V.4, No.5, Squares in the Zulu War 1879, South African Military History Society, ISSN 0026-4016, June 1979. Details and diagrams of squares used by British
  104. Lock, p.300


  • Colenso, Frances E.; (assisted in those portions of the work that touch on military matters by Lieut.-Colonel Edward Durnford) (1880). History of the Zulu War and Its Origin. London: Chapman and Hall. ISBN 1-152-31729-6.  Google books
  • Doyle, Peter; Bennett, Matthew R.. Fields of Battle, Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2002, ISBN 1-4020-0433-8, essay by Tony Pollard The Mountain is their Monument, pp. 118 ff
  • Gump, James O. (1996). The Dust Rose Like Smoke; The Subjugation Of The Zulu And The Sioux. Bison Books. ISBN 0-8032-7059-3. 
  • Knight, Ian; Castle, Ian (1992). Zulu War 1879, Twilight of a Warrior Nation. Osprey. ISBN 1-85532-165-3. 
  • Knight, Ian (2002). Isandlwana 1879: The Great Zulu Victory. Osprey. ISBN 1-84176-511-2. 
  • Knight, Ian (2003). The Anglo-Zulu War. Osprey. ISBN 1-84176-612-7. 
  • Knight, Ian; Castle, Ian (2004). Zulu War. Osprey. ISBN 1-84176-858-8. 
  • Laband, John (2009). Historical Dictionary of the Zulu Wars. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0-8108-6078-3. 
  • Lock, Ron; Quantrill, Peter (2002). Zulu Victory: The Epic of Isandlwana and the Cover-up. Johannesburg & Cape Town: Jonathan Ball Publishers. ISBN 1-86842-214-3. 
  • Mitford, Bertrand (1883). Through the Zulu Country. London: Kegan Paul, Trench & Co.. [2]
  • Morris, Donald R. The Washing of the Spears: A History of the Rise of the Zulu Nation under Shaka and Its Fall in the Zulu War of 1879 Da Capo Press, 1998, ISBN 0-306-80866-8.
  • Smith-Dorrien, Horace. Memories of Forty-eight Years Service, London, 1925.
  • Spiers, Edward M. . The Scottish Soldier and Empire, 1854–1902, Edinburgh University Press, 2006.
  • Thompson, Paul Singer (2006). Black soldiers of the queen: the Natal native contingent in the Anglo-Zulu War. University of Alabama Press. ISBN 0-8173-5368-2. 

Further reading[]

  • Clarke, Sonia The Invasion of Zululand, Johannesburg, 1979.
  • Coupland, Sir Reginald Zulu Battle Piece: Isandhlwana, London, 1948.
  • David, Saul. Zulu, The Heroism and Tragedy of the Zulu War of 1879, 2005. ISBN 0-141-01569-1.
  • Furneaux, R.. The Zulu War: Isandhlwana & Rorke's Drift W&N (Great Battles of History Series), 1963.
  • "No. 24695". 14 March 1879. 
  • Greaves, Adrian. Isandlwana, Cassell & Co, 2001, ISBN 0-304-35700-6.
  • Greaves, Adrian. Rorke's Drift, Cassell & Co., 2003 ISBN 0-304-36641-2.
  • Jackson, F.W.D. Hill of the Sphinx London, 2002.
  • Jackson, F.W.D. and Whybra, Julian Isandhlwana and the Durnford Papers, (Journal of the Victorian Military Society, March 1990, Issue 60).
  • Knight, Ian Brave Men's Blood, London, 1990. ISBN 1-844-15212-X.
  • Knight, Ian Zulu, (London, 1992)
  • Knight, Ian Zulu Rising, London, 2010. ISBN 0-330-44593-6.
  • Whybra, Julian. England's Sons, Billericay, (7th ed.), 2010.

External links[]

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