Battle of Blood River

(1798 — 1853)

The battle of Blood River was a very important battle that the Voortrekker (pioneers) fought against the Zulu troops led by king Dingane.

In this period the Voortrekkers, ancestors of the Boers, were heading northeast and along the way they found several African tribes. One of those were the Zulu. The Voortrekker leader Piet Retief and the Zulu King Dingane signed a deal for establishment of a Voortrekker settlement in uMgungundlovu where is now KwaZulu Natal. However two days after in a cerimony in Dingane’s royal residence Piet Retief was killed being clubbed to death as well several of his men. After that Dingane ordered an attack to various Voortrekkers encampments at night killing 500 men, women and children. The most famous attack was in Blaukraans, which was named the Weenen massacre. Andries Pretorius was named as sucessor of Piet Retief. Pretorius looked to revenge the death of Retief by killed king Dingane. Pretorius had the collaboration of Prince Mpande and 17000 of his followers because Dingane wanted to kill Mpande. The Voortrekkers came in position in the following days. On 15 December the Trekker wagons crossed the Buffalo River. Pretorius built a fortified ox-Wagon Laager on terrain of his own choosing, in the hope that general Ndela would attack it as at Veglaer. On 16 of December the battle begin. The difference in numbers was enormous. Pretorius counted with 464 soldiers and 200 servents. In comparison the Zulu troops were compous by between 15000 to 21000 men but according to Pretorius scribe and secretary, Jan Gerritze Bantjes, the Zulu warriors were over 30000. The Zulu troops attack first but their charge was mown down by the single-shot Voortrekker muskets. Due to the power of their firearms, their ox-wagons in a laager formation and some brilliant tactics the Voortrekkers fought off the Zulu. After just three hours the Voortrekkers killed over 3000 Zulus and their had just 3 wounded men, with Pretorius being one of them. The Zulu soldiers withdreaw and crossed the river that was now red because of the death Zulu’s soldiers blood. Because of the numerical disproportion many Boer-Afrikaners credit this victory to God and it was a sign that God wanted to Boer-Afrikaners to be independent.

After the battle Prince Mpande joined in an alliance with Pretorius and the Zulu began a civil war. In the Battle of Maqongqe the forces of Mpande helped by the Voortrekkers inflicted a severe defeat to Dingane’s troops. Dingane’s soldiers which were not killed fled from the battlesite leaving Dingane with no army. Mapnde was proclamed the new Zulu king and Dingane was killed after fleeing to Swaziland. The Voortrekkers continued to colaborate with Mpande and they agreed that the Tugela river should be the border between Zululand and the recently-founded Republic of Natalia. However this republic was short-lived because in 1843 the republic was conquered by Britain. Most of the Voortrekkers trekked to North and back to West founding then the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek (Transvaal) and the Oranje Vrijstaat. Andries Pretorius helped to found the ZAR (Transvaal) which happen in 1857 by his son Marthinus Wessel Pretorius.

A memorial was built to honour the victory of the Voortrekkers that was decisive to the establishment of the two Boer republics. The Ncome monument is on the other side of the river and honours the Zulu warriors that died in this battle. The Voortrekker monument remembering the history of the Voortrekkers was built in Pretoria in 1949.This day is remember as the Day of the Vow or Geloftedag in afrikaans, a religious public holiday in South Africa, but since the end of Apartheid the name was change to Day of the Reconciliation.

Voortrekker monument


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