The final part of this famous engagement of the defence of Rorke's Drift.
By about 7.00pm, Chard's position had been reduced to the storehouse and a few square yards of ground in front of it, and the cattle-kraal. Several times the Zulus had run straight up to the back of the building, but there was no way for them to get in, and they had been driven back by fire from the loopholes and the men posted in the attic.
Still piled up in front of the store were two tall pyramids of mealie-bags, which had not yet been used to form barricades. Assistant Commissary Dunne offered to form them into a redoubt. This was dangerous work, since they stood above the height of the barricade, and were therefore exposed to Zulu fire.
The redoubt was large enough to contain the worst of the wounded and a handful of riflemen. Because of their elevated position, these men could fire over the heads of the men on the barricades, and add their fire against any fresh attack as it developed.
THE FIGHTING AFTER DARK.
When the sun went down, at about 7.30pm on the evening of the 22nd January, the Zulu attack continued unabated. It must have seemed to the Zulus that they were very close indeed to victory. The British had been driven out of the hospital, which was now on fire and the enemy held only a small piece of ground.
To the warriors in the long grass, among the bush at the front of the post or lying around the scattered out-buildings, it must have seemed that one last effort would win the day.
Yet luck was against them. The fire from the flames on the roof of the hospital cast a pool of light perhaps 40 or 50 yards around the building, lighting up the western end of the battlefield as bright as day.
Although the Zulus could still mass safely out in the darkness, they could not reach the barricades without crossing this exposed area, and as they did so the British poured a tremendous volume of fire into them.
Unable to withstand this concentrated fire, the Zulus fell back into the shadows. Frustrated at the front of the post, they turned their attentions instead to the far eastern end of the perimeter. Here they would approach the cattle-kraal without having to cross ground illuminated by the glare from the hospital.
The Kraal consisted of drystone walling piled up to shoulder height.
In a series of vicious attacks, launched at very close range, the Zulus succeeded in driving the defenders back from the far wall, first to the interior partition, and then abandoning the Kraal completely, to the rear wall.
The Zulus did not achieved anything by driving out the defenders, the men in the redoubt could fire right down into their positions.
Once the attack on the cattle-Kraal had produced a stale mate the fighting began to die down. The last charge was made sometime between 9 pm -10 pm, and its defeat was greeted by an exhausted British cheer.
The lose of blood, adrenalin and the sheer emotional ordeal of the struggle had left the men desperately thirsty. Their water bottles must have been running low, for some time after the last attack, Bromhead, Hook and a few others risked the Zulu fire to run out into the yard and haul back the water- cart which had been abandoned there.
The Zulu fire continued intensely until after midnight. Then it died away, only to splutter into life again several times. No new attacks came and the last shots were fired at 4 am on the 23 January, shortly before dawn.
THE MORNING AFTER
The scene around Rorke's Drift at the first grey light was one of utter devastation. A dense pall of smoke hung over the battle field. The yard was littered with discarded and torn uniforms, battered helmets, shields and spears. Most importantly, however, the Zulus seem to have withdrawn. Chard's garrison was exhausted, physically and emotionally spent, but the possibility of a new attack remained very real, and the officers could not afford to let the men rest.
"Say Sir, officer on parade"
Before dawn on the 23rd January, Chelmsford had roused his command which had spent an uneasy night on the site of Isandlwana, and set them marching back towards Rorke's Drift. By about 7.00am Chelmsford's men had reached the river, fearing the worst that Rorke's Drift had fallen.
But the truth was revealed as Chelmsford's column came up and Chard's men greeted their relief by climbing onto the barricades, cheering and throwing their hats into the air.
Nevertheless, it was a time of mixed emotions for Chelmsford's command. It soon became clear that none of the force left behind at Isandlwana had managed to retire on the post, and that the disaster had been complete.
Thanks to you all for your encouragement and feedback on this blog. It has been rather time consuming putting these posts together but I have enjoyed it and so, there will be more of this type of thing in the future.
Inspiration for Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift has come for me from watching the films Zulu and Zulu Dawn as a child, reading a few books on the period, (the text in these posts have come mainly from the excellent books 'Zulu' and 'Rorke's Drift 1879' Osprey Campaign both written by Ian Knight) and the release of Empress Miniatures Zulu War range of figures.
NEXT WEEK.............Zulu War British Lancers.