Introduction

It is difficult to imagine that the scenic and tranquil landscape of central and northern KwaZulu-Natal was once the focal point of major military clashes; where over a time span of 70 years, one historical drama after another unfolded against the backdrop of the African veld and the majestic Drakensberg Mountains. The region boasts the largest concentration of battlefields in South Africa drawing visitors from all over the world. Here military engagements that were to shape the course of South African and world history, and rock the Empire, raged over the green hills and sweeping grasslands of the region. Each historical building, battlesite and memorial has a fascinating tale to tell and memory to recall.


Above: Soldiers of the Queen at the battle of Isandlwana

Above: Lonely Cairn. The sphinx–like Isandlwana mountain resides over the site where Lord Chelmsford’s troops were defeated by a Zulu force under King Cetshwayo.


Spioenkop

In Ladysmith you can still see several building dating back to the war. In the immediate vicinity, you will also find Elandslaagte and Spioenkop, the acre of massacre. In an attempt to relieve the beleaguered town of Ladysmith, Lieut-Gen Sir Charles Warren and his men attempted to capture the hill by surprise under the cover of darkness.  His decision was ill-considered. It was only when the sun broke through the mist on the morning of Jan 24 1900 that the British could see the deathtrap they were in. A total of 322 soldiers were killed, 563 wounded and 300 either missing or taken prisoner.

 A self-guided trail takes you through each stage of the famous battle, past the main British trench, to the Imperial  Light Infantry Memorial, and then along the northern crest towards the sombre Boer Memorial.

Isandlwana

Anyone who knows a little history will feel the hairs on their neck rise at the mention of the fateful battle which took place at the foot of the Sphinx-like mountain named Isandlwana. On Jan 22, 1879, the central column of Chelmsford’s invading army, which had been split in half by a brilliantly executed decoy Zulu commanders, was attacked at Isandlwana by the cream of King Cetshwayo’s warriors. The result was devastating. A total of 13 00 British soldiers were massacred by 28 000 Zulus in one of their worst ever defeats. Cairns mark the places where the soldiers fell and were later buried. 
 

Blood River

On the 16th December 1838 some 15 000 Zulus are believed to have attacked 464 trekkers at Blood River. The Boers however, fought back claiming 3000 casualties. So great was the carnage that the river ran red with blood, which inspired the name of the  battle. Replica bronze wagons are set in a laager on the battlesite. There is a monument paying tribute to the Zulu army across the river.

In close range of this vicinity tourists can also visit Isandlwana, Rorke’s Drift, Fugitives’ Drift, and Blood River Poort and Talana, the first battle of the Anglo-Boer War. The excellent Talana Museum has qualified guides willing to take visitors to all the surrounding battlesites.


Above: Boer Regiment on horseback


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