Camp, Rorke’s Drift,
January 26, 1879
Statement by Captain Alan Gardner, 14th Hussars.
I LEFT the force with the General about 10.30 A.M., and rode back to Isandlana Camp, with the order to Lieutenant-Colonel Pulleine to send on the camp equipage and supplies of the troops camping out, and to remain himself at his present camp, and entrench it. Between twelve and, one o’clock I reached Isandlana, and met Captain G. Shepstone, who told me he had been sent by Colonel Durnford for reinforcements ; that his (Colonel D’s) troops were heavily engaged to the left of our camp, beyond the hill, and were being driven back. We proceeded together to Colonel Pulleine. I delivered him my order; but the enemy were now in sight at the top of the hill, on our left Lieutenant-Colonel Pulleine sent out two companies about half-way up-the hill, and drew up the remainder, with the two guns in action, in line, on the extreme left of our camp, and facing towards the left, from which direction the enemy were advancing in great numbers.
For a short time, perhaps fifteen minutes, the Zulus were checked, but soon commenced to throw forward their left, extending across the plain on our front. We had between 30 and 40 mounted men, and I asked permission to take them down in the plain, and check the enemy’s turning movement. Lieutenant-Colonel Pulleine told me to do so, and I accordingly galloped them to the front, and lined the spruit running across the front of our camp. The Basutos who were previously retiring, formed line with us and the enemy halted and commenced firing from behind cover. Leaving the mounted men who were under Captain Bradstreet, I returned to Lieutenant-Colonel Pulleine who had previously told me to remain with him.
Shortly afterwards, observing the mounted men retiring, I rode back to ascertain the cause. Captain Bradstreet told me he had been ordered to do so by Colonel Durnford, who soon afterwards told me himself that he considered our position too extended, and wished to collect all the troops together. But it was now too late. Large masses of the enemy were already in the camp and completely surrounded the men of the 24th Regiment. Numbers of these were also on the road to Rorke’s Drift. The guns limbered up and attempted to retire to the left of that road, but were surrounded and overturned. The few mounted men remaining retreated up the small hill on the right rear of the camp, but were soon surrounded by the enemy advancing from the left and front. Many were killed. A few of us managed to escape by riding down the hill on the right, but many were shot riding along the narrow valley, and more drowned and shot in crossing the Buffalo. When I saw all was lost, I sent an order by a Basuto to the officer on Rorke’s Drift, telling him to fortify and hold the house. I also sent a similar order to Helpmakaar.
We reached Helpmakaar about five P.M., and near a laager round the Commissariat Stores I endeavoured to obtain a messenger to go to Colonel E. Wood, as I feared the General’s force would be cut off, and hoped he, Colonel Wood, might be in time to lend his assistance. No one would go, the Basutos saying they did not know the way. So on the return of the two companies who had started for Rorke’s Drift, I decided on going myself, and riding all night reached Utrecht about four o’clock the next day. I then got a messenger to go to Colonel Wood and returned myself to Helpmakaar. On the road, learning that Colonel Glyn’s head-quarters were at Rorke’s Drift, I proceeded thither.
I trust I may not be thought, presumptuous if I state my opinion, that had there been a regiment or even two squadrons of cavalry the disaster at Isandlana would not have occurred. The enemy’s advance across our front which was requisite in order to turn our right was in extremely loose order, the ground was an open plain and could easily have been cleared by a determined charge. The enemy’s shooting was so indifferent that our loss would .have been – very small. -The result moreover of a cavalry charge would have had a very different effect on the enemy’s morale to the retreating fire of mounted skirmishers, and I feel confident we could have held our own till the return of the General’s force.
Captain, 14th Hussars, Staff Officer, 3rd Column.