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The commandants : the leadership of the Natal native contingent in the Anglo-Zulu war

by Smith, Keith I.

Abstract (Summary)
[Truncated abstract] The senior Imperial officers who took part in the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 are comparatively well known and their service in that brief period has been well documented, as indeed has that of many of their junior colleagues. Much less, however, is known about the officers who served as commandants of the Natal Native Contingent, although more than half of them were Imperial officers on special service duties. Most of the rest were British ex-officers who lived in South Africa, while one of the remaining two was an adventurer and mercenary. Many of them had already found service with the South African force during the Ninth Cape Border War against the Ngqika and Gcaleka which had only ended in mid-1878. According to official documents, the Natal Native Contingent initially numbered more than 8,000 native troops, in three regiments, under the command of European officers and non-commissioned officers. At the time of the invasion of Zululand in January, 1879, the contingent therefore made up about 62% of the invading force. This bald statistic, as so often, hides the true story. The thesis examines each of the commandants, and the extent to which their abilities and personalities were reflected in the performance of the native troops under their command, while at the same time revealing the evolution of the Contingent itself as an arm of the invading force under Lieutenant General Lord Chelmsford ... The haste with which the regiments were assembled, their often inhuman treatment by their officers, the minimal or non-existent training they received and the way they were armed and dressed all combined to qualify their subsequent performance in the field. A comparison of the NNC is drawn with the performances of the Native Mounted Contingent, and the men of Colonel, later Brigadier General, Evelyn Wood?s Irregulars. The conclusion of the thesis is that the commandants did indeed have a profound effect on the quality and performance of the Africans who served under them. In general, the units under serving British officers performed best, while the colonial officers did less well. The mercenary officer was almost certainly the worst, but by only a slim margin.
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Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:zulu war 1879 regimental histories great britain army colonial forces south africa history 19th century anglo commandants natal native contingent

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Date of Publication:01/01/2005

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