Zulu Wars


Zulu Wars
(1879)
   A brief conflict between the Zulu Kingdom of southern Africa and the British Empire. When British colonial possessions in southern Africa expanded through the annexation of the Transvaal in 1877, the Zulu people, under their chief Cetewayo, found themselves threatened by a far greater adversary than the neighboring Boers. The British, with designs on Zululand as part of their efforts to create a British federation encompassing the whole of southern Africa and anxious at the Zulus’ martial power, issued an ultimatum on December 11, 1878, deliberately designed to be rejected and therefore to serve as a casus belli. After receiving no reply from Cetewayo, a force under Lord Chelmsford, consisting of 5,000 British and 8,000 native troops, invaded Zululand in three columns. Cetewayo had at his disposal 40,000 highly disciplined and well-trained warriors, largely armed with spears. On January 22, 1879, a Zulu army caught the British center column, consisting of 900 British and more than 500 native levies, completely by surprise in their unfortified camp at Isandhlwana, annihilating the force.
   The Zulus followed up their victory by attacking on the same evening and through the following morning the nearby British base at Rorke’s Drift, where fewer than a hundred British soldiers tenaciously held their position against successive Zulu assaults. A second British force, meanwhile, became besieged at Eshowe, although this was relieved after another column, having driven off a Zulu attack at Gingindhlovu on April 3, reached the defenders the next day. Two further battles, at Hlobane and Kambula on March 28 and 29, respectively, and fought by separate British columns, favored the British, but in both cases the Zulus exhibited their usual fanatical bravery in the assault.
   A hiatus in fighting followed during April and May as Chelmsford awaited reinforcements from home. In June he opened a new offensive, marching on the Zulu capital, Ulundi, in the vicinity of which he confronted a force of 10,000 warriors with his own 4,200 British and Cape colonial troops and 1,000 native levies. His men deployed in a large hollow square, with cavalry sheltered inside, Chelmsford was assailed several times by the Zulus, who in each wave lost heavily to the concentrated rifle and machine gun fire of their technologically superior opponents. With the Zulus checked, the cavalry then emerged from the square and put the Zulus to rout. The war was effectively over, the fugitive Cetewayo was eventually captured, and his kingdom annexed to Natal.
   See also <>.
   FURTHER READING:
    Barthorp, Michael. The Zulu War: Isandhlwana to Ulundi. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2002;
    Castle, Ian. Zulu War, 1879. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing, 2005;
    David, Saul. Zulu: The Heroism and Tragedy of the Zulu War of 1879. New York: Viking Press, 2004;
    Knight, Ian. Brave Men ’ s Blood: The Epic of the Zulu War, 1879. London: Greenhill Books, 1990;
    Morris, Donald R. The Washing of the Spears: The Rise and Fall of the Great Zulu Nation. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1965.
   GREGORY FREMONT-BARNES

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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