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DateOriginal Topic
9th February 2005First draft. History A2 level. [Topic continued.] 2000 word draft.
By Invader
To what extent was the battle of Rorkes Drift (22nd/23rd January 1979) a Victory?

“The army doesn't like more than one disaster in a day.
Looks bad in the newspapers and upsets civilians at their breakfast.”
-Michael Cain, Zulu.

An ultimatum was delivered to King Cetshwayo on the 11th December 1878 at the Lower Thukela Drift requiring King Cetshwayo to dismantle the Zulu military system. Sir Bartle Frere knew it would be impossible to accept and war broke out.
Sir Henry Bartle Edward Frere as Commander-in-Chief of Southern Africa placed the conduct of the war in the hands of Lieutenant-General Lord Chelmsford, General Officer Commanding Southern Africa.
Chelmsford following the declaration of war, took the full No. 3 Column of the 24th regiment of foot that included cavalry under Colonel Durnford, Colonel Harness' battery of N/5 Royal Artillery and many men from the Natal Native Contingent (N.N.C) out of Natal colony across the Buffalo river at 4am on the 11th of January 1979 into Zululand (KwaZulu) a total of 4,500 men. British troops had already crossed into Zululand (No 4 column under Colonel Henry Evelyn Wood, crossed the Ncome river on 6 January 1879). But on this day the No 3 column, under Colonel Richard Glyn, crossed near Rorke's Drift.
On the 12th of January, the first engagement between British troops and Zulu warriors occurred in the Batshe valley at Sihayo's kraal to the east of Rorke's Drift.
Casualties from this battle were taken back across the river to a temporary post known as Rorkes Drift mission station; many remained here until the defence on the 22nd/23rd.
Chelmsford on the 22nd believing a feint by the Zulus to be the main Impi split his army, leaving few combat personnel at camp Isandlwana. This inadvertently led to the biggest defeat of British forces in the entire Zulu campaign with 1,231 men in the camp and 477 of Durnford’s men massacred by Zulus1.
As few survivors as 169 of the battle were chased back across the Buffalo River by the Zulu reserve forces (4000 men) under command of Prince Dabulamanzi at a location later known as Fugitives (i.e., survivors) Drift. Colonel Bray2 rallied survivors of the battle and sent Private Evans 2/3rd and Private Daniel Whelan to warn the supply station at Rorkes drift of the defeat and the quickly approaching Zulu Impi of 4000 men.
The command at Rorkes was not decided between Chard and Bromhead on the basis of date of commission as portrayed in the popular movie “Zulu”, it was decided by Capt. Spalding (Officer in command of Rorkes Drift) before going to Helpmekaar. Having then checked the army list Spalding left Chard in overall control of the camp during the following crisis.

1 Numbers taken from Julian Whybra’s “England’s Sons”.
2 British Parliamentary Papers, op. cit

“I see that you are senior, so you will be in charge. Of course, nothing will happen, and I shall be back again early this evening.”
-Capt. Spalding, commanding officer of Rorkes Drift 22nd January 1879

The real hero of Rorke's Drift was Commissary Dalton1. It was Dalton who persuaded Chard and Bromhead to remain at Rorke's Drift when their first instinct was to abandon the post. The fact the commanding officers planned to abandon the post could imply that the loss of Rorkes Drift was viewed as unimportant with the soldiers preferring to save their own lives however there was little chance of being able to evacuate the wounded or to travel to Helpmekaar (the nearest secure British post) before being run down by the Zulus. It was remarked by one man “Nothing remains but to fight”.
Dalton, an ex-NCO, came from what was considered the wrong background, and was ignored for almost a year after the battle by the government. He was eventually awarded a Victoria Cross after intensive lobbying by the press - but not until January 1880, by which time the celebrations had died down2. This is perhaps one of the most key factors about the siege and inspired a heated debate with Historians; was the battle of Rorkes Drift a true victory?
It has been accused that the government was responsible for awarding the Victoria Cross as a publicity stunt to dull the pain of the 3ed columns destruction earlier the same day. It is unlikely however that the government was the only administration with an untoward agenda after the actions of the 22nd.
Disraeli did not want or need to go to war with the Zulu Nation in 1979. The British colonial forces were already engaged in a huge conflict in Afghanistan. With an election year coming Disraeli found his forces committed to a war he had little knowledge of until Frere had already begun.
Frere had already refused 17 pleas for peace3 from the Zulu King Cetshwayo, wanting not peace as his later known impossible ultimatum claimed but instead a confederate state of South Africa with himself in charge.
"Gaining military victory is not in itself equivalent to gaining the object of war” 4
The defeat of one third of the total Natal forces and the loss of 2 N/5 7 pound guns was more than an embarrassment it was a disaster. The Government (and Frere personally) needed to claim both justification and a redeeming victory from something given the imperial attitude and racism of the period. Frere however had the ability to “pass the buck” onto the head of Chelmsford.

1 Many accounts (i.e., Hitch, Jones, Hook) of the battle describe Rev. Smith and Dolton as two of the biggest aids to the overall defence.
2 BBC News website.
3 “The rise and fall of the Zulu Nation” – John Laband
4 “Thoughts on War” -B.H. Liddell Hart, 1944.

Historian Paul Cubbin commented:
“Rorkes drift was an important victory. Without it, the Zulus would have thought themselves unbeatable and the British may have agreed. If Isandlwana was a sword thrust to the guts of the British Imperial Army, Rorkes Drift was a lightning riposte that opened a cut on the Zulu Nation's face. It showed that they were not the only ones with teeth.”
Cubbin’s views on the importance of the victory from both a political and propaganda view are correct to an extent. At this early point of the campaign the British had viewed the Zulus as a force of savages that would put up little fight. Chelmsford has been quoted as claiming “The Zulus will likely offer no resistance after the first encounter with our Martini Henry Rifles”. Clearly the British were not expecting to suffer any major defeat. The successful defence of Rorkes Drift gave Chelmsford the flexibility to incorrectly report the abilities and importance of the victory.
In an audience with the Queen in September Chelmsford blatantly lied to the queen about Durnfords actions at Isandlwana and the actions of the men at Rorkes Drift. This is firm evidence that the victory of Rorkes Drift was exploited and exaggerated in order to give a better portrayal of the war. This is the same view that professional historian Ian Knight1 has taken.
It has been argued by Julian Whybra2 that despite the orders from King Cetshwayo3 whether an invasion was really intended or not, is not the question. The acclaim that Rorkes Drift received arose from the men believing that they were all that stood between colonial families and bloodthirsty savages since without a telegraph they believed the entire 3ed column (including Chelmsford) was destroyed and choosing to remain and fight. Had the Zulus not fought at Rorkes Drift it is quite likely that they would have continued to Helpmekaar, an arguably less defendable location. In reality it is more likely that instead of an invasion with 4000 already tired men, Dabulamanzi was only looking for glory and for his men to “Wash their spears” 4 in order to be allowed to marry. This would imply that Rorkes Drift was again of little importance.
Modern contemporaries have disagreed with this view on the basis that the men of the three Amabutho involved at Rorke's Drift, the uDloko and uThulwana were older and married (therefore no matrimonial or ceremonial needs) leaving just the younger inDluyengwe with the need to earn their battle honours (indecently also the first Amabutho to engage the Drift). Some even find this idea an over-worked Euro-centric theme and quite demeaning to the Zulu martial spirit. Perhaps the views of Donald R Morris on the Zulu society are just as outdated as Chelmsford himself.

1“Brave Mens Blood” – Ian Knight

2 Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Birkbeck College, Univ. of London.

3 That Dabulamanzi was not to leave KwaZulu, Cetshwayo still desiring peace since the late harvest was becoming a concern and war would only delay it longer.

4 “The washing of the spears” – Donald R. Morris

To hold our ground? Which military genius thought that one up? Somebody's son and heir? Got a commission before he learned to shave?
-Stanley Baker, Zulu.

It is important to remember that Rorkes Drift was nothing more than a temporary forward supply depot. The men that had been left behind were for the most part not expecting to see action for the remainder of the campaign. The commanding officer

Here they come, black as hell and thick as grass”
-Robert J. Hall, a meat contractor to the Natal Mounted Police.

Technologically the battle of Rorkes Drift was a victory. The defenders were using the new Martini Henry Carbine Mk II .45 cal. Rifles. These were the replacement to mainstay of the British forces armaments previously used.
The weapons used by the defenders were claimed to have “jammed” or misfired in multiple accounts1 of the defence, often being reported to have “glowed red from quickly firing”. In all around 20,000 rounds were fired in the defence yet many of the weapons continued to be useable unlike the weapons of the Zulu snipers.
The Zulus had kept snipers upon the Oskarberg (The hill overlooking the cookhouse) these were more of an annoyance to the defenders than a real threat. It is also a misconception that the weapons the Zulu forces used were the recovered Martini Rifles of the fallen 1/24th from Isandlwana, the Impi attacked Rorkes Drift was the reserve force, they had not taken part in any major action other than chasing down fugitives across the Buffalo and therefore were using very outdated weapons that were sold to them by unscrupulous dealers2.
Clearly this interpretation is an example of military victory through superior technology this is however also a case in point of training being forgotten during the heat of battle. British forces were trained to fire slowly to check targets and target more effectively. Rapid fire was not recommended since it leads to poor performance of both weapons and soldier, an evaluative comment to this argument though is the nature of the battle meant the soldiers could ill afford to fire slowly.
This military ability even when training has been forgotten or become ineffective gives us a post-facto glimpse of the attitude that Chelmsford had taken when entering KwaZulu
It is inferred3 that the weapons of the dead/wounded were recovered by defenders and used to

1 Private A. H. Hook’s personal battle report. Hook was described as a marksman in “Nothing remains but to fight” –Ian Knight (p77) and therefore his testimony as to the reliability of the guns is quite valid.
2 “Zulu Wars”- John Hurt. It could even have been Rorke himself who sold some of the weapons in use by the Zulu forces who had owned and named the drift 30 years earlier.

This is my very very very rough first draft of my History paper you have all been so kind to help me with. Please point out any errors or problems you find.
I will gladly ammend any areas where I have "borrowed" others views on the battle!
9th February 2005Invader
Ooops, just noticed I have left a paragraph half finnished! I think I took a lunch breat at that paragraph then started somewhere else!
Just ignore it for now, I doubt it'll make the final cut.
10th February 2005Derek C
Careful with your dates, noticed 1979 slipped in there ....Disraeli did not want or need to go to war with the Zulu Nation in 1979.

Otherwise, looked good to me at first glance, but I'm no expert. Well Done.
10th February 2005Paul Cubbin
I've been called many things in my life, my never, until now, a historian. Don't change it! I've going to frame this!
Far be it for me to offer my 'historian' advice (heh heh heh, my wife will laugh her socks off), but it may be useful, while describing no3, 4 and 5 column just to mention no1 & 2 column. They were reduced to defensive columns on the Natal/Zululand border following a shortage of regular Imperial troops (Chelmsford originally wanted 5 invading columns). Also, in the paragraph after my own name goes up in lights, you say, in brackets, "indecently also the first Amabutho to engage the Drift". I suspect you mean incidentally (that naughty Spellcheck) as indecently will have a wildly different effect on the theme, I think.
It's a damn sight better than anything I ever presented at school, mind. Nice one.
10th February 2005Invader
Thanks for the spelling help. I noticed many errors but can blame it on being such an early draft/very late night! I wanted to get a skeleton essay writen. I need to mention some other points and fleash it out now.
For anyone who helped in the other thread who I haven't mentioned yet remember I still have 1000~1200 words to write extra. Your views all matter! You guys have been a huge help with this essay.
I'm not totally pleased with my introduction, it's perhaps too long and doesn't help answer the question given the length. I'll revise it later and expand the idea of the Zulu army being a threat to Natal.
I'm sure there are huge gaps I've missed too. If anyone notices an area that could have additional footnotes or sources (or if anyone has a source to plug) then please jump in.
Thanks again.
10th February 2005Keith Smith
Hi Invader (What is your real name?)

I think for a young fellow, your draft is excellent and once the gremlins have been fixed, I'm sure you will rate a very high mark for your work.

Just one important thing that is not quite right. Lt Colonel Durnford was actually the commanding officer of No. 2 Column based at the Middle Drift. He did not march to Isandlwana with Lord Chelmsford but was ordered to Rorke's Drift with part of his command (three infantry companies NNC, rocket battery and five troops of the Mounted Contingent). He arrived at Isandlwana about 10.30 a.m. on the morning of the 22nd.

Well done.
11th February 2005Invader
I guess it is quite bazaa to use a pseudonym on this forum. I'm too used to vidio games ones! My names Tom Moore.
Thanks for the amendment Keith. If anyone sees problems or gaps continue pointing them out. I'll add a second draft hopefully by next week. (It's half term now, time to start another coursework, this time Psychology! Any doctors in the house?)
11th February 2005Ripcord
I enjoyed reading your paper , very good.

As an ex army man i must say that seniority in all ranks is generally worked out on who enlisted first as portrayed in the movie.
11th February 2005Ripcord
Holding your posistion or stronghold without losing ground and forcing the enemy out or to force them to retire with a minimum of casualties is a great victory. This battle i think is the greatest in history. If you look at the ALAMO then you will see that strategy is the key to survival. The men at the ALAMO only made one huge mistake....they allowed a mexican woman to escape , she then told Santa Anna of the Tenneseeans strength.The yanks unfortunately count their troops as expendable and replaceable commodoties. That and no strategy , plus the fact they had too many officers who thought they were in command counter ordering each other lost this battle for them.
11th February 2005Peter Ewart

Well done for completing your first draft. You've made very some interesting points. I'm not sure whether your teacher or examiner will be familiar with the topic on which you're writing but presumably he/she will nevertheles expect you to be able to justify each statement of fact in your essay by being able to cite reliable supporting sources (as you have already correctly done with several references).

It occurs to me that, with regard to your statement about Dalton coming "from what was considered the wrong background", a bit of supporting evidence might be needed to back up your point. It is certainly true that he was instrumental not only in organising the method of defence but also in swaying the decision to remain and fight (Chard himself praised Dalton effusively for his contribition, both in his written and verbal reports).

However, even though the award of his VC may have been preceded by some lobbying, it is also true that:

Many of the other AZW VCs were awarded only after an interval of many months.

Dalton's VC was gazetted in November 1879, not January 1880 (when actually he received it) and, even then, was not the last R/Drift VC to be gazetted.

His was not the only one to appear to be the result of lobbying (and it was apparently not unknown for potential recipients to lobby on their own behalf!)

The lobbying in the press tended to emanate from the soldier's unit back home.

It might be worth quoting reliable contemporary sources if you feel claims were made at the time that it was felt that his "wrong background" delayed an award. If references are found, how would this "wrong background" equate with the background of the majority of the R/Drift VC holders (i.e. five privates & two corporals)?

Or, indeed, with many of the other 1,300-odd VCs awarded to those of a like background, which appears not to have got in the way in their case? (Of course you obviously won't have room to go into a debate about all this, but you will therefore feel that a categorical statement such as you have made must be entirely unimpeachable).

Perhaps a dely in the decision relating to Dalton can be partly explained by the growing feeling among the military hierarchy (Wolseley for example) that the dispensation of VCs for this particular engagement was getting rather out of hand?

It is true, as you say, that by the time Dalton's award was gazetted, the news of Rorke's Drift was not so prominently in front of the reading public as it had been a few months earlier, but that was so with many of the AZW VCs - and most VCs would, anyway, one assumes, be the subject of much discussion as the recommendations pass their long way through the many usual military channels.

You also mention this as "a key factor in the siege" which has "inspired a heated debate with historians." This particular statement might deserve a few references to support it, thus strengthening your case for such an assertion, if you choose to continue to use it.

The involvement of the Government itself - which you mention - in the decision to award a VC might also merit investigation.

Keep going, Tom, you are the envy of all of us, for the very good reason that not one of us was ever allowed to write about the Defence of Rorke's Drift at school when we were 18 years old!!!

Best of luck.

12th February 2005Michael Boyle

Apart from the excellent advice above I will add that you may want to re-word "Clearly the British were not expecting to suffer any major defeat" as no invading army has ever commenced operations expecting to be defeated.

Other than that I would suggest you contain your foot note numbers in parentheses, as it makes them easier to reference, and watch your paragraph breaks (you will of course indent prior to your final draft) [I don't know why we never do on-line] and remember that a paragraph need only contain a single thought but when containing more than one try to see they are all related to the same point. (One paragraph - one point.)

The only other advice I can suggest is to avoid starting a sentence with the word "but", either contain the thought in the previous sentence or use another approach to introduce it.

(I am tempted comment on 'dangling participles' but I've been led to believe that the rules have changed on that and I'll leave spacing and punctuation advice to those with a firmer grasp than mine!)

All that said, I feel the results of your first draft have gone a long way towards alleviating many of our concerns as to the state of modern education. You're doing good.



13th February 2005Michael Boyle
Okay, I tried to let it be.


First of all the battle of San Antonio de Bexar (later known as "The Alamo") was not an 'American' battle, it was part of the "Texas War of Independence"(Texas being part of Mexico then) against the Mexican federalists, fought by "Texians"(no mis-spelling,that's what they called themselves) which included 'Tejanos'-those born of Mexican descent,Texas immigrants and volunteers from the U.S. and elsewhere (Texas did not become a part of the U.S. for another decade while it remained an independant republic.)(Although we were quick to adapt the war as our own!)

Santa Anna had no need of 'inside information' as he had the entire mission station enveloped, and could see for himself the dearth of defenders. Far from being 'Tenneseeans' (who only amounted to 15 of the total 189 [total being nearly as contentious as Rorke's Drift] defenders,including Davy Crockett) the garrison included 30 officers (of varying nationalities),30 men from South Carolina, 32 from Gonzales (mostly Tejanos), and 81 from Mexico,England,Scotland,Ireland,Germany and various (other) states from the U.S.

Your contention that we Yanks consider our troops expendable holds weight in our Civil War, MacArthur's Phillipines and perhaps Patton's various commands but pales in significance next to the Anglo-Boer Wars and the Great War.

Far from being 'no strategy' every man among them knew that they were going to die (particularly after Santa Anna hoisted the 'Red Flag' of no quarter) in the the hope of buying time for the rest of their army to successfully consolidate and defeat Santa Anna (which strategy worked out rather nicely).

Your point relating to chain- of- command is certainly valid but when push came to shove they all shoved none the less.

In the end the score was : Defenders- @189, Attackers [email protected] (including the 'Soldats').[Still disputed]

Jose Enrique de la Peña, a lieutenant colonel in Santa Anna’s army, wrote:"Some seven men had survived the general carnage and... Though tortured before they were killed, these unfortunates died without complaining and without humiliating themselves before their torturers."

I am of course not defending all the reasons for the rebellion.



14th February 2005Ripcord
Check your facts

Michael Boyle

Susanna Dickison Hanning (Survivor)
Fact as written in 1875
182 Texans killed out of 182 1600 Mexicans out of 8 to 10000. Her and her child were spared.

A mexican woman deserted one night and informed the mexicans of the inferior number of men inside the alamo. This news was to be believed to have raised the spirits of the mexicans urging them to make their final assault on the morning of 6 march 1836.

A few americans were involved in the battle. American re-inforcements refused to help and ran away in fear of being killed.

Now this is fact from the alamo site so dont blow me off if its wrong.
15th February 2005Michael Boyle
There's facts and then there's "facts".


As you can imagine the "facts" surrounding the Alamo are every bit as contentious as those surrounding Isandhlwana,perhaps more so as none of the Alamo combatants survived.

The 'facts' presented by (assuming that is the site you refer too) are limited and somewhat facile due to it's primary purpose of promoting tourism. It does however give a good overview.(Although it's 'Myths" section is a bit too revisionist for my tastes.)

As you noted above Susanna Dickinson Hanning's account was not published until 1875, being based on an interview from 1871. She had of course related her tale to many people thoughout the years but never having learned to read or write has left no written account of her own.Her oral accounts only seeing ink sporadically,third hand, until the above was published.

After having been sent back to the federalist (inadvertently got it backwards above, Santa Anna represented the centralists) forces by Santa Anna with his threatening manifesto, no one at Houston's headquarters was able to elicit a coherent response from her and she subsequently lapsed into a nervous breakdown which lasted four full days.(At age 22 with a two year old daughter, who could blame her after what she had been through?)

Subsequent research has found many discrepencies in the various accounts she gave, not the least of which was her accusation that Juana Navarro Alsbury had gone over to the enemy.She had in fact not, she did in fact leave her own account of the battle and thankfully had already passed on before Ms. Hanning's unwarranted allegations reached print.

Ms.Hanning is not considered a reliable source for details about the Alamo although she is an icon of Texas history both for being the only white woman to have survived the battle and being the mother of "The Babe of Texas",her daughter Angelina. I personally don't attribute any malice to any of her accounts only the weak memories of a terrible trauma.

Defender deaths at the Alamo have run the gamut from 182 to 'over 600' (By Santa Anna's estimate penned the morning of the battle). Modern scholarship has arrived at 189.(Though of course still debated). Attacker deaths from 70 (Santa Anna again!) to 1600[best described as heavily contested].

There were citizen volunteers from the US (and other countries),but the principles involved were Texian (ex-patriate immigrants to Mexico) and Tejano (Mexicans born in Texas). There were no "American" troops. Col Fannin's battallion at Goliad,despite popular legend, did not refuse to aid the Alamo nor did they run away. They in fact faced the other wing of Santa Anna's army and would soon share the fate the Alamo defenders.

It was the "Texas Revolution" (a province of Mexico) not an "American" war (a fact seemingly long confused in the US). The "Stars and Stripes" didn't fly over the Alamo, nor did the "Lone Star Flag Of Texas", the defenders of the Alamo fought and died under the "1824 Flag of Mexico". (The rebellion began as an attempt to force the re-adaptation of the Mexican constitution of 1824, but on March 3rd the assembly voted for independence instead, although the garrison seemed to be in favour of indepence it's unlikely that they knew they would be the first to die for it.)

The whole thing has for so long been so steeped in myth, legend and mis-perception that I fear we will never be able to sort it all out!



15th February 2005Invader
Sadly I've never had chance to study the American wars in school. We did cover Little Big Horn River at GCSE level but that's about it.
Once I'm less busy it's high on my list of things to read up on, The Alamo sounds just as facinating as Rorkes Drift.
15th February 2005Michael Boyle

Yes it is a fascinating study,and thanks to Ripcord, I've found my long dormant interest re-invigorated. Unfortunately due the Alamo's instant 'sacred icon' status serious scholarship wasn't undertaken for nearly fifty years afterward,so it is challenging to wade through the many 'schools of thought'.

(Thankfully we are faced with no such impediment with the study of the Anglo-Zulu War!!)


15th February 2005Paul Cubbin
Paragraphs - yes, paragraphs. I HAVE been trying to indent mine, as all good boys should, but the computer keeps squaring them up with the margin - bah!