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Battle of Elands River (1901)

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Title: Battle of Elands River (1901)  
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Subject: Battle of Groenkloof, Battle of Elands River (1900), Second Boer War, Battles of the Second Boer War, Pretoria Forts
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Battle of Elands River (1901)

Battle of Elands River
Part of Second Boer War

17th Lancers in action at Modderfontein, after a painting by Richard Caton Woodville
Date 17 September 1901
Location Modderfontein farm, near Tarkastad, South Africa
Result Boer victory
17th Lancers, United Kingdom  South African Republic
Commanders and leaders
Captain Sandeman Jan Smuts
130 250
Casualties and losses
29 killed, 41 wounded, 60 captured 1 killed, 6 wounded

The Battle of Elands River took place near the Elands River Poort mountain pass on 17 September 1901 during the Second Boer War. During the battle a Boer raiding force under Jan Smuts destroyed a British cavalry squadron led by Captain Sandeman, a cousin of Winston Churchill, on the Modderfontein farm. This battle is therefore also known as the Battle of Modderfontein.


Jan Smuts

After a year of guerrilla war, the Boer leaders decided to send significant raiding forces into the Cape Colony and Natal. About 1000 Boers in six commandos already operated in the Cape Colony. The Boer leaders hoped to cause an uprising in that Dutch-majority territory or at least to widen the theater of war beyond the Boer republics of Orange Free State and South African Republic. Smuts led a commando south into the Cape Colony, while Louis Botha attempted to cross into Natal.

Earlier Boer raids into the Cape Colony proved unsuccessful. All had been eventually hounded out by British mounted columns and had suffered painful losses. Smuts believed he could do better.[1]

The raid

During the trek south to the Orange River, Smuts' commando lost 36 men. He finally crossed at Kiba Drift on 3 September.[2] Major General Dordrecht, when they were ambushed. All three of his companions were shot by the British and Smuts barely escaped.[4]

The cold spring rains tormented both men and horses as British pursuing columns under the overall command of Major General Sir John French closed in on Smuts' raiders. On 13 September, the Boers were cornered atop Stormberg Mountain () and escaped only when a friendly guide in the form of Hans Kleynhans appeared and led them down a precipitous route to safety. The night of 15 September nearly finished the raiders as freezing rain killed over 60 ponies and fourteen men went missing. In front of the Boers, every mountain pass was reportedly held by the British.[5]


On 17 September, as Smuts' commando threaded through a gorge that opened out into the Elands River valley, a 17-year-old farmer named Jan Coetzer informed them that a British force held the pass at Lord Vivian surviving. The 17th Lancers lost 29 killed and 41 wounded before surrendering. Boer losses were only one killed and six wounded.

One Boer noted, "We all had fresh horses, fresh rifles, clothing, saddlery, boots and more ammunition than we could carry away, as well as supplies for every man".[7] In his book Commando, Mauser rifle with only two rounds of ammunition left, was dressed in a cavalry tunic and riding breeches

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