Zulu Wars

1838 to 1879
Zulus — versus — Boers, and British

Boer-Zulu War — 1838      Anglo-Zulu War — 1879     

Boer-Zulu War : 1838

The Zulus were one of the most important tribes in the history of South Africa. They were originally only one among many other like tribes in the region, sometimes called Bantu, or Kaffir, but in the early 1800's a leader named Chaka united a great many African tribes into a Zulu empire, by fairly brutal means. Chaka was succeeded by his brother Dingan. Shortly after this, a great many Boer Voertrekkers moved into the region, and tried to negotiate the purchase of some land from the Zulu king. After an exchange of gifts and demonstrations of friendship, Dingan suddenly ordered a massacre of the ambassadors and a nearby group of several hundred Voortrekkers. He then attacked the remaining Voertrekkers, who by this time, were prepared to defend themselves. At the Battle of Blood River, a group of less than 500 Boers held off over 10,000 Zulus, with great slaughter.

The Boers then allied themselves with Mpane, one of Dingan's enemies, and helped him drive Dingan out and assume the Zulu throne. For many years afterward, the relationship between Boer and Zulu was moderately peaceful, although there were a number of disputes. When the British laid claim to the coastal area of Natal, Mpane made a treaty with them, and allied himself with the British against the Boers. The British did not want to settle most of the region, however, it merely wanted to limit Boer influence, and took the side of the Zulus in border disputes to oppose the expansion of Boer territory.

DateBattle Summary
Battle of Blood River   Boers victory
Fought December 16, 1838, between the Boers of the Transvaal, and the Zulus under Dingaan. The Zulus were totally routed, with heavy loss. The Boer losses were small.

Short Biography
Pieter Retief Leader of Boers during the Great Trek. Murdered by Dingaan during negotiations.
Dingan Ruled Zulus after assassinating Shaka. Murdered Boer leaders leading to Zulu-Boer War.
Andries Pretorius Leader of Boers who avenged death of Piet Retief, and formed the Transvaal Republic.

Story Links
Book Links
Natal and the Zulus  in  South Africa  by  Ian D. Colvin
Early History of the Boer Race  in  Oom Paul's People  by  Howard C. Hillegas
About the Black Napoleon  in  Our Empire Story  by  H. E. Marshall
Dingaan's Treachery  in  Our Empire Story  by  H. E. Marshall

Anglo-Zulu War : 1879

When the British finally annexed the Transvaal (the Boer Territory) in 1877, forty years after the battle of Blood River, they inherited the border disputes with the Zulus. Now, instead of supporting the Zulus against the Boers, they sought to dictate terms to the Zulus. These terms included the standard mix of British imperial demands, such as agreeing not to take up arms without British consent, and allowing a British "resident" to live permanently at court, along with a few humanitarian demands, such as the ending of forced marriages.

When the Zulus entirely failed to respond to their entreaties, the British followed their standard course of diplomacy in such situations, and sent in troops. They were at first unopposed in their march through Zulu territory. Eventually the lead column advanced to Isandhlwana on its way to the Zulu capital of Ulundi. At this point they were surrounded and attacked by 10,000 Zulus and massacred almost to a man. Among the few survivors was a reconnoitering party under the command of Lord Chelmsford which was absent from the camp at the time. A few survivors managed to travel back to the base camp at Rorke's Drift and warn them of the approach of the Zulus, so the garrison had time to prepare. A force of 4000 Zulus attacked Rorke's Drift in the afternoon, but the garrison was able to drive them back, and at dawn the Zulus withdrew.

The British took months to recover from this disaster, but by late March returned to the field, and attacked an entrenched Zulu kraal at Inhlobane. The offensive maneuver failed, but this time when the Zulus attacked the British at Kambula they were routed with great loss. The British followed up this success a few months later by marching on the Zulu capital of Ulundi and driving Cetewayo, the last independent Zulu King, into exile. The British placed a Zulu ally of theirs on the throne, carved up the Zulu kingdom into regions, and in 1887 annexed Zululand under direct British control.

DateBattle Summary
Battle of Isandhlwana   Zulus victory
Fought January 22, 1879, when six companies of the 24th Regiment, with two guns and a small force of Natal volunteers, under Colonel Durnford, were overwhelmed and massacred by the Zulus, under Matyana. Of the regulars, 26 officers and 600 men were killed, in addition to 24 officers, and a large number of men in the Colonial force.
Battle of Rorke's Drift   British victory
On the night of January 22, 1879, after the disaster of Isandhlwana, this outpost, held by a company of the 24th Regiment and details, in all 139 men, under Lieutenants Bromhead and Chard, R.E., was attacked by a force of Zulus, estimated at 4,000. After a most heroic defense, in which many acts of heroism were performed, especially in the removal of the sick from the hospital, which was fired by the Zulus, the assailants were beaten off, leaving over 400 dead on the field. The little garrison lost 25 killed and wounded. Eight Victoria Crosses and nine Distinguished Conduct medals were awarded for this affair.
Battle of Inhlobane Mountain   Zulus victory
Fought March 28, 1879, when a British force of 1,300 men, under Colonels Buller and Russell, attacked a strong Zulu kraal, and after severe fighting, were repulsed with considerable loss.
Battle of Kambula   British victory
Fought March 29, 1879, when Colonel Wood, with 2,000 British and native auxiliaries, was attacked in his lager by three Zulu impi. The Zulus were repulsed with very heavy loss, and pursued for seven miles. The British lost 81 killed and wounded. The defeat practically broke Cetewayo's power.
Battle of Ulundi   British victory
The last battle of the war, fought August, 1879, between 5,000 British, under Lord Chelmsford, and about 20,000 Zulus. The Zulus were routed with a loss of over 1,500, the British losing only 15 killed and 78 wounded.

Short Biography
Cetewayo Leader of the Zulus during the Anglo-Zulu War.
Lord Chelmsford British commander during the Anglo-Zulu War. Survived Isandlhwana, and later, led the march on Ulundi.

Story Links
Book Links
Family Quarrel (Continued)  in  South Africa  by  Ian D. Colvin
Facing Fearful Odds  in  Our Empire Story  by  H. E. Marshall
Dream of Cecil Rhodes  in  Growth of the British Empire  by  M. B. Synge
In South Africa  in  The Reign of Queen Victoria  by  M. B. Synge
Isandhlwana and Rorke's Drift  in  The Boy's Book of Battles  by  Eric Wood

Image Links

The women loaded the empty guns
 in South Africa

A band of Zulu warriors in war costume
 in Oom Paul's People

Beside them stood the women quietly loading guns.
 in Our Empire Story

Thus did a hundred men keep three thousand savages at bay.
 in Our Empire Story

Isandhlwana: Melvill, setting spurs to his horse, dashed through the foe.
 in The Boy's Book of Battles