Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Boer Wars: War in South Africa 1880-1902

This is the first post in a series of posts regarding the history of The Boer Wars. That's right, a history and analysis of the Boer Wars in bite-sized chunks. Much of the early posts will be dispatches from that time and place. Why these particular wars? Read along over the next couple of weeks and see why...

History of the Area
by Capt. Alfred Mahan

The war in South Africa has been no exception to the general rule that the origin of current events is to be sought in the history of the past and their present course to be understood by an appreciation of existing conditions, which decisively control it. This is especially true of the matter here before us, because the southern extreme of Africa, like to that of the American continent, has heretofore lain far outside of the common interest, and therefore of the accurate knowledge, of mankind at large.

The Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn, in themselves remote, tempestuous, and comparatively unproductive regions, for centuries derived importance merely from the fact that by those ways alone the European world found access to the shores of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. The application of steam to ocean navigation, and the opening of the Suez Canal, have greatly modified conditions, by diverting travel from the two Capes to the Canal and to the Straits of Magellan.

It is only within a very few years that South Africa, thus diminished in consequence as a station upon a leading commercial highway, has received compensation by the discovery of great mineral wealth.

Thus separated from the rest of the world, by lack of intrinsic value as a region producing materials necessary to the common good, the isolation of South Africa was further increased by physical conditions, which not only retarded colonisation and development, but powerfully affected the character and the mutual relations of the European settlers.

Portuguese mariners, after more than half a century of painful groping downward along the West African coast in search of a sea route to India that vague tradition asserted could there be found, in 1486 rounded the Cape of Good Hope, which then received the despondent name of Cape of Storms from its first discoverer, Bartholomew Diaz.

Vasco da Gama, following him in 1497, gave to it its present auspicious title, which was to him of sound augury; for he then passed on to explore the East coast and to find the long-desired Indies. It was, however, the latter which constituted the Portuguese goal.

Africa was to them primarily the half-way house, where to refresh their ships on the long voyage to Hindustan, which then took near a year to complete. For this purpose they established themselves on the island of Mozambique, and gradually took possession of the country to this day known as Portuguese East Africa.

From that far back settlement, Delagoa Bay, near the southern border, is now a thorn in the side of the British invasion a port with which they are not at war, and therefore cannot seize or blockade, but which, through the supplies that thence reach the otherwise isolated Transvaal, contributes powerfully to support the defence.

Upon the heels of the Portuguese followed the Dutch, aiming like them at the Far East, more especially at what were then comprehensively called the Spice Islands -- the Moluccas. They also felt the need of a half-way station. For this the Cape of Good Hope, with the adjacent bays -- Table Bay and False Bay -- presented advantages; for though not perfectly safe anchorages at all seasons, the voyage to the islands is more expeditiously and healthfully made by starting from, and keeping in a far southern latitude, than by proceeding along the East African coast.

In 1652 the Dutch settled at the Cape, and gradually extended their holding to the eastward as far as the Great Fish River. A generation later, in 1686, the population received an accession of French Protestant refugees, leaving their country upon the revocation of the Edict of Nantes.

From these descended the late General Joubert, Commander-in-Chief of the Transvaal forces at the opening of hostilities. The administration of the colony by the Dutch East India Company being both arbitrary and meddlesome, some of the more independent spirits withdrew from the coast and moved inland, behind the difficult mountain ranges that separate the narrow strip of sea-coast from the high table-lands of the interior.

In 1795 local dissatisfaction and the spread of French revolutionary principles led to a revolt of the colonists, and Holland passing at that time into alliance with France, the Cape was seized by a British naval and military expedition.

At the Peace of Amiens in 1802 it was restored to Holland; but in the next war it was again taken by the British, in 1806, and at the Peace of 1814 was confirmed in their possession.

The population remained Dutch in blood and in tradition ; but subsequent accessions of English immigrants have established in Cape Colony itself an approach to equilibrium between the two races, to which has also contributed a series of emigrations to theinterior by the Dutch farmers, dissatisfied with various incidents of British rule. Into the merits of these differences we have neither space nor occasion to go.

In 1836, immediately prior to the largest of these movements, known as the Great Trek, the British Government, by Act, extended its claim of control over all South Africa, south Of 25', the latitude of Delagoa Bay; and the Boer emigrants were warned that in entering that region they remained under British authority, unless they passed on into the Portuguese dominion.

From this Trek resulted directly, in the course of years, the two Boer states, the Orange Free State and the South African Republic (commonly called the Transvaal); and also, indirectly, the easternmost British colony in South Africa, Natal, in which the English element is decisively preponderant.