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"Chances of survinig wounds at Isandlwana" Topic

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Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP22 Jan 2013 5:28 p.m. PST

So Wiki changes it's mind every week about what kind of victory Isandlwana, it used to say phyrric victroy for the zulues, then victory and now decisive victory.

But thats not the problem here, it does say 1000 dead zulues and 2000 wounded.

But what chances did these wounded have, the Martini Henry makes a BIG hole! even a flesh wound with no major blood loss or broken bone, would get infected, I don't think zulues had the much in medical knowlage and equipment, so infection, bloodloss, gangreen, and just dead from organ failure. would be massive.

doug redshirt22 Jan 2013 5:47 p.m. PST

One advantage actually my have been the lack of clothing. Less material to be driven into a wound. Clothing is very dirty and covered with bacteria.

Personal logo Brian Smaller Supporting Member of TMP22 Jan 2013 6:05 p.m. PST

I imagine that a Martini Henry bullet would collect a lot of detritus going through a dried cow hide shield as well.

Personal logo vtsaogames Supporting Member of TMP22 Jan 2013 6:21 p.m. PST

"it used to say phyrric victory for the zulus, then victory and now decisive victory"

That's called an edit war. Folks disagree. I think while the Zulus lost the war big time, that first battle was a clear victory.

Whatisitgood4atwork Supporting Member of TMP22 Jan 2013 6:39 p.m. PST

I would say a clear tactical victory, but a strategic disaster. Even ignoring the fact the Brits would just come back and not make the same stupid mistakes, the losses they suffered outweighed their gains.

More victories like Isandlwana would have destroyed the nation as quickly as losing battles.

Personal logo John the OFM Supporting Member of TMP22 Jan 2013 6:45 p.m. PST

In this case, the British were imitating the Romans. Defeated? Come back with more troops.

I would not dismiss Zulu medicine. Somehow, I think they would be familiar with wounds.

Personal logo Mexican Jack Squint Sponsoring Member of TMP Fezian22 Jan 2013 9:59 p.m. PST

There are accounts (It's late, I'm not going to look for them) of Europeans meeting elderly Zulus, many decades after 1879, who carried bullet wounds from the battle. They were fine, thanks.

Don't dismiss indigenous medicine. You can do a lot with cow urine.

And call me grumpy, but I don't care how squabbling Wiki-jockeys rate the importance of the Zulu victory. It was a big deal at the time. And the Zulus always took 10% casualties in battle, win or lose.

BullDog69 Inactive Member23 Jan 2013 12:18 a.m. PST

A display at the South African Military Museum gives the casualties as an implausibly low 500 or something.
Three or four thousand seems much nearer the mark. I also think that many of these would have died of their wounds after the battle – the difference between the horrific wounds inflicted by Martini Henrys, and the much 'neater' ones inflicted by the later .303s was regularly commented on in the Boer War. Indeed, it was this that inspired the British to flirt with dum-dum rounds before that conflict.

Isandlwana was certainly a noteworthy victory, but one won with unsustainably high losses – and when you outnumber your enemy so heavily, the result shouldn't really be that surprising. (and before anyone throws out the old chestnut of 'spears against rifles', the Zulus had more firearms at Isandlwana than the British).

Either way, dodging the main British force and attacking their relatively lightly-defended camp was a brilliant piece of manoeuvre by the Zulu generals – but certainly not the defeat 'of a British army' which it is so often painted as in modern day South Africa.

Griefbringer23 Jan 2013 3:57 a.m. PST

Not all of the wounds suffered by the Zulus were from Martini-Henry bullets, a portion would have been from British bayonets in close combat. Plus there were also a couple of cannons present, as well as rocket artillery, and the officers would also pack pistols and swords.

As for the level of field medication, don't forget how the British fared in the Crimean War mere 25 years earlier. 19th century saw quite a lot of improvements in medical knowledge in Europe, but your average Tommy on a faraway colonial campaign would not really have the full benefit of them.

Zulu medical practices might not have been particularly sophisticated, but on the field the differences might not have been as drastic as in more sophisticated environments. And the Zulus at least were on a familiar environment, and would know how to make use of available resources for medical purposes.

How well might the Zulu field medicine compare with European equivalents from two to three centuries earlier?

BullDog69 Inactive Member23 Jan 2013 5:10 a.m. PST

I guess none of us can offer much in the way of concrete 'proof' either way, but I am not convinced that the medical practices of the Zulus would have been of too much use for anything other than simple flesh wounds. In terms of technology and development, the Zulus were not 'two or three centuries' behind the West – they were perhaps a one or two thousand years behind.
Reading accounts of the Matabele War of 1893, it seems that a lot of the Matabele wounded simply crawled away to die. Armies like the Zulu and the Matabele boasted no ambulances or stretcher-bearers and there were no field hospitals with doctors and nurses etc in their rear areas. A 'lucky' wounded warrior might be tended to by the non-combatants who followed the Impis or else be carried back home many hours later by some of his mates. Bear in mind that, after a victory like Isandlwana, no one was in a hurry to leave the scene.

The first war where the British had any sort of 'modern' medical support was the Boer War – the idea of sterilising surgical equipment had just been embraced, chloroform was used as a general anaesthesic for operations and X-Ray machines were in use. Probably the biggest change, however, was the recent introduction of the personal field dressing which was supplied in a sterile and water-proof package.
Even then, there was still little understanding of inoculation and bacteriology, and the blood types had not been discovered, meaning that saline was instead transfused in the case of blood loss.
Needless to say, twenty years previously, the Zulus had absolutely nothing approaching even this level of advancement.

And its not just a question of technology: I wonder how much time a warlike tribe like the Zulu or Matabele (tribes who only existed by raiding and looting from their neighbours) would invest in caring for a fellow who had lost a limb or was otherwise seriously wounded and thus unable to fight again? Would they really spend time and effort to keep a 'useless' mouth alive? I understand that the family of a warrior who was slightly wounded might care for him, but African tribes of the time thought nothing of leaving excess children in the bush to die when food was scarce – so we should beware of assigning our 21st Century Western values to them.

Indeed, this less-than-caring attitude to wounded warriors is hardly unique to African tribes: it would seem that many badly wounded British soldiers of the period were reduced to begging when they returned to the UK.

Frederick Supporting Member of TMP23 Jan 2013 8:55 a.m. PST

Interesting question – survival rates after wounds depend on the type and nature of the wound and complications

The Zulu warriors would have been tough and fit, a mark in their favour

They were without question used to wounds suffered in battle and in the absence of antibiotics and immunizations would have an excellent immune system

That being said, in the absence of immunizations things like tetanus would be a problem

I suspect the odds of surviving a serious would were pretty low

normsmith Supporting Member of TMP23 Jan 2013 10:11 a.m. PST

I seem to recall that pre 'modern knowledge' a big killer of wounded was Tetanus. I read that when stables were cleared out for wounded to be housed, the Tetanus (or Lockjaw) would be picked up from the traces of horse faecis in the stables. So in trying to help the wounded, there was the irony that they actually put the wounded in harms way.

There is plenty of evidence in the UK of Dark Age / Medieval skeletons being found with old injuries from axe / sword blade marks which clearly show signs of having healed.

Not sure how any of this might translate across to the Zulu wars though.

Phil1965 Inactive Member23 Jan 2013 12:46 p.m. PST

The short Boxer .455 round was soft lead and prone to 'mushrooming' on impact with bone, having a 'Dumdum' effect, shattering bone and tearing muscle and blood vessels, not a pleasant experience!

BullDog69 Inactive Member23 Jan 2013 11:40 p.m. PST


I agree that 'some' Zulus would have survived their wounds and lived on to a relatively ripe old age – but I think that percentage would have been pretty low. We have no way of knowing if the blokes mentioned by Mexican Jack Squint, who proudly showed off their wounds from decades before, were a tiny exception to the rule.

Chouan24 Jan 2013 8:53 a.m. PST

I would suggest that any bone or major blood vessel being hit by a Boxer round, shell splinters, shrapnel or cannister would mean death, as would any abdominal or head wound.

CooperSteveOnTheLaptop24 Jan 2013 12:21 p.m. PST

I seem to recall Alan Quartermain describing Swazis burying their wounded while still alive?

The Russians invented triage in the Crimean War. The British did not adopt it until the Great War.

BullDog69 Inactive Member24 Jan 2013 10:21 p.m. PST

Was triage not invented in the Napoleonic Wars? The word is French in origin, and I believe was pioneered by a French surgeon.
Perhaps it was not widely adopted until later though?

BullDog69 Inactive Member24 Jan 2013 10:24 p.m. PST

Here's a very interesting article on the subject:

PDF link

Chouan25 Jan 2013 9:54 a.m. PST

"I seem to recall Alan Quartermain describing Swazis burying their wounded while still alive?"
He did indeed, in "King Solomon's Mines", I think. Not that it proves anything!

BullDog69 Inactive Member27 Jan 2013 10:56 p.m. PST


While Allan Quatermain was of course a fictional character, the author – Henry Rider Haggard – spent many years in colonial Africa, so maybe an element of truth in there? Though perhaps not a cast-iron reference!

Mike Target28 Jan 2013 4:40 p.m. PST

Either way, dodging the main British force and attacking their relatively lightly-defended camp was a brilliant piece of manoeuvre by the Zulu generals

They didnt really "dodge" the man army, they thought they were attacking it (a day earlier than planned) and had no idea that Chelmsford had split his forces (becouse he'd marched out with the rest of no.3 Column before day break) and were, according to Ian Knight were somewhat surprised to see any army they thought they had "eaten up" apparently intact marching down the road from Isandlwana to Rorkes Drift.

BullDog69 Inactive Member29 Jan 2013 4:33 a.m. PST

Mike Target

Ian Knight is certainly an expert on the conflict, but I was told a rather different tale by the battlefield guide when I walked the field – he spoke of Chelmsford having been 'out-Generaled' and that the Zulus evaded his main army.
Difficult to know if this is true, as you'd assume they'd have been more inclined to pounce on an army in the open, rather than one at camp (which should have been – but wasn't – more ready to receive an attack).
That said, I would be very surprised if the Zulus had no idea that they had not engaged the main body of the British force as it was only a few miles from Islandlwana during the battle – it is highly unlikely that their scouts can have been unaware of it, especially given the topography of the area – one can see for many miles from the top of the hill where the Zulu generals took up position.

Alas, as the Zulus kept no written records, it is impossible to say which version is correct.

Nasty Canasta Inactive Member29 Jan 2013 6:33 a.m. PST

I agree with Mexican Jack on this one.

Years after the event, Captain Fred Benteen mentioned that he met Indians who had fought at the Little Bighorn who had scars from bullet wounds that would have killed European troops. That the only way to effectively "plug" an Indian was to drill him in the head or the heart. Similarly the U.S. was packing the .45-55 Springfield (405 grain slug). Many of these natives were tougher than boiled owl.

Mike Target29 Jan 2013 7:55 a.m. PST

@ Nasty Canasta: I seem to recall reading of a similar thing for the zulus: apparently the Martini Henry was most lethal if it hit bone, which it would shatter, causing massive damage. Otherwise it could just go straight through. The zulus seem to have had a very high pain tolerance. Also recall accounts of the wounded Zulus managing to crawl home and recovering.

@Bulldog69: Im not sure if Chelmsfords detatchment could really be called the "main" army, I think it had the major part of the artillery and native irregulars, but no more Regular infantry than was in camp IIRC. A full NNC battalion was sent back (and spent some time behind the zulus hoping they wouldnt be noticed!) and the rest were spread across the countryside, Im not certain that the zulu scouts would have recognised this as a "main" army, besides which they knew where the camp was and probably assumed that was the army, they certainly claimed they'd destroyed it afterwards despite the reappearance of Chelmsford when he realised what had happened.

I also question what theyd have seen from their Generals position: Chelmsfords men, looking back across the country couldnt see a battle going on at all, they could see tents and some dark areas they thought were cattle. And that was with telescopes etc. Looking the other way the zulu scouts you mention probably wouldnt have seen a thing, certainly not thinly spread skirmishers spread across the hills and valleys.

The zulus themselves didnt keep records, luckily a few people went looking for their version and wrote it down…accuracy of course may be an issue!

BullDog69 Inactive Member30 Jan 2013 3:43 a.m. PST

Mike Target

All interesting points and well made, especially the point about what constituted the 'main army' – you are right in that it was essentially half-and-half (great decision!)

With regard to who could see what, though, I have to disagree. Apparently one of Pulleine's mistakes was not strike his tents when the action started – this led to Chelmsford's men seeing the tents were still standing and thus deciding that the camp was not in serious danger. So that suggests that the two British forces could still see one another, even if through telescopes.
In contrast, the Zulu generals occupied the hill behind where Isandlwana Lodge now stands, meaning they were considerably higher than where the two British forces were – and one gets a truly panoramic view from up there. Having walked the field several times, I have no doubt whatsoever that they would have seen the balance of Chelmsford's force from there – esp given that many hundreds were in scarlet. My opinion only, however, though based on my visits to the site.

I also disagree that the Martini-Henry round went straight through a human unless it struck bone. Indeed,that was the charge leveled at its replacement, the Lee Metford, and which led the British to experiment with dum-dum rounds. When given the choice, the Rhodesian Pioneers of 1890 chose Martini-Henrys over the newer, more advanced, Lee Metfords as they considered the MH to be a man-stopper.

So many versions of battle do the rounds, however, so you really do pay your money and make your pick: by way of example, I was told by a local historian that the defeated Zulus from the attack at Rorkes Drift passed Chelmsford's army retreating back into Natal, the two forces passing just a few yards from one another, but neither being inclined to attack the other. I mentioned this to another, very well respected local historian that same evening, and he dismissed the claim as rubbish… so who to believe!?

Nasty Canasta

No one disputes that some would have survived their wounds. But a few anecdotes cannot help us determine what this percentage would have been. Your guess is as good as mine, of course, but I tend to think that these survivors would have been the lucky few.

Chouan30 Jan 2013 5:03 a.m. PST

"Years after the event, Captain Fred Benteen mentioned that he met Indians who had fought at the Little Bighorn who had scars from bullet wounds that would have killed European troops. That the only way to effectively "plug" an Indian was to drill him in the head or the heart. Similarly the U.S. was packing the .45-55 Springfield (405 grain slug). Many of these natives were tougher than boiled owl."
However, what was the context of his assertions? Benteen, perhaps rightly, viewed the US enlisted men on the Plains as feeble slum dwellers, enlisted through desperation (I'm paraphrasing). Describing their opponents as being so much tougher is just furthering his agenda. Other contemporaries described Plains Indians as being quite weedy, not strong and tough physical specimens at all, suggesting that it was because the Plains Indian men didn't do much physical activity beyond hunting occasionally, and fighting even more occasionally, as all the physical work was done by the women.

Chouan30 Jan 2013 5:07 a.m. PST

"While Allan Quatermain was of course a fictional character, the author – Henry Rider Haggard – spent many years in colonial Africa, so maybe an element of truth in there? Though perhaps not a cast-iron reference!"
I'm not sure that the 7 years he spent in an urban setting, in Pretoria and Newcastle (Natal) counts as "many years", but I'm sure there is a grain of truth in it, although perhaps exagerrated in the telling to discredit Swazi culture?

BullDog69 Inactive Member30 Jan 2013 5:36 a.m. PST

To be fair, Henry Rider Haggard went in with the (tiny) Imperial contingent which annexed the Transvaal in 1877 – Pretoria in those days could hardly have been called 'urban' – it was a village and was under threat of being wiped off the face of the earth by the Pedi and / or the Zulu at the time. Indeed, he remained in the Transvaal during the war against the Pedi – though I don't think he saw action.

Not sure why HRH would have any particular axe to grind with the Swazis and a wish to discredit them? The Transvaal Boers (who he had little sympathy for) were determined to annex Swaziland and steadily encroached on it for years, both before and after the (short-lived) annexation.

But, yes – who knows how much truth there is in it… and the Victorians did have a penchant for titillating tales of savagery. One thing's for sure though – Haggard had more firsthand experience of the period that any of us do.

Mike Target30 Jan 2013 10:21 a.m. PST


Completely agree, there can't be many published versions I havn't read but they dont all agree!
Ive just reread one of Ian Knights last week so his version his freshest in my memory and he seems to know what he's on about.

I particularly like that he throws in as many quotes from the zulus as he can so its not totally anglo-centric.

He also said that the two forces passed close by the following day but were both exhausted and low on ammo, and Chelmsford wanted to press on to the drift so he ordered them to march on. Apparently there was some conversation between the zulus and zulu speakers amongst the Column.

Its also his opinion I repeated about the affect of the Martini Henry, and ive seen it said by others too. Then again, Ive also read that the martini henrys rounds had a really flat trajectury, and also that they didnt…

As to whether the Zulu generals could see Chelmsfords forces: I doubt there would have been much to see, they were spread in penny packets across rough terrain, and most of them (the NNC battalion sent back) would have appeared at a distance to be Zulus…the Zulu commanders probably had little reason to even glance in that direction, and they wouldnt have exactly seen a line of Redcoats if they did. The impression I got was that Chelmsfords men got so spread out even he didnt know where they were! With no rows of tents etc to clearly mark where to look, and almost no gunfire to attract attention, a massive battle going on right in front of them and if as Knight says, the Zulus were surprised to see Chelmsfords army appear, then it may be that the zulu commanders never even looked in that direction.

Mike Target30 Jan 2013 10:43 a.m. PST

Part 2: I believe that part of the consideration for splitting his force was that Chelmsford didnt want to look too powerful, becouse his experience against other native folk of africa suggested they wouldnt attack him…obviously this was amended after isandlwana.

Also its probable that Pulleine didnt have time to order the Tents struck; there wasnt much time between the piquets on the ridge being driven in to the camp being overrun, in order to get the tents down fast enough for anyone to notice he'd have had to pull every man out of the firing line…which would have been a bit impractical!

BullDog69 Inactive Member30 Jan 2013 10:18 p.m. PST

Mike Target

Yes – Ian Knight certainly knows his stuff, but so much is contradictory, that it really comes down to a best guess / gut feel. For example: why would Chelmsford's force be low on ammo the following day? It had not seen action and surely had left the camp carrying enough to fight a battle. I find it hard to accept that Chelmsford wouldn't have seized on the chance to avenge the defeat by pouncing on a relatively small Zulu force which was retreating and battered? It would have been a chance to inflict a blow to (in some small way) cover up the disaster of Isandlwana.
But who knows.

Two other points:
Apparently the field in front of the Isandlwana position was covered with ripe mealie plants at the time of the battle (difficult to imagine that now as it is a very barren looking piece of land). Chelmsford's force would have trampled this flat on their way – a couple of thousand men / horses etc would have left quite a trail through this: more than enough to make the Zulu's look in that direction.

Re. tents – bear in mind that Pulliene's force consisted of 6 infantry companies, but he also had all the cooks, bottle washers and helpers – this latter group could easily have struck the tents quickly without anyone needing to leave the firing line.

Fair point on wanting to tempt the Zulus into attacking – I have also read that Chelmsford biggest fear was that he would struggle to force a battle with the Zulus – he wrong can you be!

Have you read the account of the battle / war by Norris 'Noggs' Newman? He was a war correspondent who accompanied the column and gives a detailed account of the action. Excellent reading – if a little non-PC in these 'enlightened' times!

Mike Target31 Jan 2013 3:58 a.m. PST

Chelmsfords men had spent the day skirmishing with stragglers and raiding isolated kraals. An ammunition reserve had been prepared for them to be sent out if they needed it,and the NNC battalion had been sent back to get it, but when the camp was attacked it was still sat just outside camp waiting to be collected. So his infantry would have had significantly less than 70 rounds each.

Also I suspect Chelmsford was more concerned with the borders security than revenge; if Rorkes Drift had fallen there would have been nothing between the Zulus and the whole of Natal!

Ive never heard of the Mealie field thing before…and in any case the harvest was already in and the Column had marched down a road (such as it was) so may not have been as noticable as you'd think.

Re the Tents: I think most of the camps non-coms,and there were a lot, left the camp the moment the shooting started, and probably ran into the Right Horn.

I was trying to work out how many tents there would have been; the infantry had those 8-man bell tents IIRC, and for 11ish companies you must be looking at 110+, then tents for the hundreds of contractors etc with the army, the NNC had built their own shelters, the artillery and volunteer cavalry would have added more to the total though Ive no idea how many. On top of that youve got mess tents, store tents, officers and staff tents…it goes on a bit! Lets say 200+, many of them very large and bulky and all of them full of stuff, bedding and equipment etc. And its not enough to simply knock them down, becouse the canvas will still be clearly visible at a distance and a somebody observing through a telescope wont notice, theyve got to be put away. And in order for the effect to be noticable youve got to put a lot of them away, whilst being shot at.

Obviously the more men you detail to the task the quicker t will be done…but youve then got less time to do it.

In any case I don't think it would have prompted Chelmsfords return; It took him ages to get his command to regroup, and he still thought he'd left enough men in camp to see off any attack.

Ive only seen Noggs quoted; Might have to look it up though, however from what Ive read I gather they changed his character a lot for the film!

BullDog69 Inactive Member31 Jan 2013 4:24 a.m. PST

Mike Target

Why would the harvest have been in? The battle was fought in mid-summer, so harvest time was still a way off. One of the guides I used claimed the mealies were actually a big factor in the battle as they covered some of the Zulus' movement.

I agree with your guess as to the number of tents – but there were hundreds of non-coms / locally raised blacks and the action took a fair amount of time to develop. I think it could have been done – but then again, a lot of things could have been done, but weren't.
Besides, whether or not Chelmsford would have paid any attention is another matter! He ignored a couple of pretty unambiguous messages.

A day of skirmishing and raiding of isolated kraals (most of which would presumably have been done by the fast-moving NNC or Imperial mounted units) would have seen many red coats not fire a single shot – bear in mind that you earlier said the Zulus were not even aware of Chelmsford's force, so that doesn't really square with them fighting any significant actions – a bit of torching of kraals and exchanging the odd shot would not have depleted their ammo stocks to any appreciable degree.
And even if we accept they had a little less than 70 rounds a man, that would have been plenty to take on the straggling, beaten force retreating from Rorkes Drift. At Kambula – one of the bloodiest battles of the war – the British infantry fired off 66,000 rounds – or about 33 each.

I agree that after Isandlwana, Chelmsford would have been worried about the security of Natal, but seeing an obviously defeated force retreating from that direction (assuming that happened) would have convinced him things weren't all bad. I simply cannot believe that the two main bodies just marched past one another – if anything, I wonder if it is a story about a couple of scouting parties that brushed past one another and then the tale grew arms and legs?

After seeing their friends and brothers-in-arms left disembowled and stripped on the field as Isandlwana, I would suggest that revenge would have been at the forefront of everyone's mind. I write this under correction (and will check this evening when I get home) but don't remember 'Noggs' mentioning anything about marching past the Zulus on the way to Rorke's Drift – not sure if any other contemporary written accounts do?

That said, there is another interesting tale about the British force from Helpmaaker which (allegedly) studiously avoided marching to the assistance of their comrades at Rorke's Drift… so anything is possible, I suppose.

You have inspired me to dig out old 'Noggs' and reacquaint myself with all this!

Mike Target31 Jan 2013 9:11 a.m. PST

Erm…I cant remember…I know Cetewayo was anxious to get it in before the fighting started, but now I come to think about it I don't recall if this was actually achieved. Ill just check Zulu Rising…

…no, you're right, it was imminent but possibly hadnt been done.

Ive looked again at the bit where the two columns pass each other and there are quotes there from numerous members of the column, who were variously worried that the General hadnt spotted them, that they were walking into a trap, and that they were badly outnumbered and being down to a few rounds each. It looks like the informaton that the Zulus were surprised to see them and too tired to do anything about it seems to come from the family of a trader at Elandskraal, though Ive no idea what they actually said.

Apparently the Column, especially the NNC, was up for a fight but Chelmsford ordered them on.

Cant see a quote from Noggs at this point, though practically everyone else in column had mentioned it. The main quote from the encounter is taken from Reminiscences of the Zulu War by John Maxwell if thats any help.

2 companies of the 24th were supposed to have been coming up from HelpMekaar to Rorkes Drift and major Spalding and gone to fetch them in and he met them on the road; however they had already had word from Isandlewana of the disaster as the first refugees had arrived at helpmekaar an hour earlier. They had immediatly marched to reinforce Rourkes Drift, Spalding went with them and they started rounding up more survivors who had escaped via the Drift,he questioned them and was told the Mission Station had already fallen.

They pressed on but by the time they were getting close it was already getting dark, large numbers of Zulus were between them and the drift and the mission station was burning so they assumed the worst and headed back to Helpmekaar where the survivors were very pleased to see them, there being no other fighting force in the area.

BullDog69 Inactive Member31 Jan 2013 9:45 a.m. PST

Right – got hold of Charles 'Noggs' Norris-Newman's account and – if we are to believe it – it seems we were both right, and both wrong!

Firstly, according to Noggs, there can be no doubt that the Zulu were aware that Chelmsford's force had been split, and that by attacking the camp, they were only attacking part of it (which, you will recall, was the point on which we started our discussion).
Two battalions of the NNC plus the mounted troops had left the camp the day before – and had chased around after Zulus throughout the 21st. They then spent the night in the field and were joined by Chelmsford, a squadron of MI, 7 companies of red coats and 4 guns – which (as you stated earlier) left the camp at Isandlwana before day break on the 22nd.
But as the Zulus had been getting chased about throught the 21st, I think it is undeniable that they knew the British had split their force. Indeed, Noggs claims that – when artillery fire was heard from the direction of Isandlwana – one Zulu prisoner declared: 'ýou hear that? your camp is under attack'.
You are absolutely correct that the 'main force' (for want of a better description) had been skirmishing, but from Noggs' account this does indeed seem to have all been done by the NNC and the mounted troops – so no reason to think the red coats would have been short of ammo. Maybe this is confused by the fact that the NNC had so little ammo to begin with?
The following day, Chelmsford marched his men back into Natal and, just before they crossed the Buffalo, Noggs does indeed mention that they 'saw in the distance, on their left' a Zulu Impi – ie. the Zulus retreating from Rorkes Drift.
So I was wrong in that Noggs does indeed mention this, but saying they spotted it 'in the distance' (maybe 5 miles away? – who knows) is completely different to the story of the two columns passing a few yards from one another which I referred to. I tend to think that it was simply exaggerated (massively) for dramatic effect.

Interestingly, and returning to the OP, Noggs gives his guess as to Zulu losses at Isandlwana at 2,000 – and he also states that some of the 'military men better qualified to judge' thought his guess was too low.

Mike Target31 Jan 2013 12:04 p.m. PST

Maxwell measured his estimate at 300 yards off, the artillery commander Harness unlimbered his guns reckoning them to be "short cannon Range away".

Fynn said the two columns advanced at angles: I think what we have here is several people viewing the same event at different times: the two armies didnt pass each other going opposite ways done the same road; their paths intersected, which could explain why people at one end of a long column thought they were a long way away and others were able to exchange insults.

Maxwell was an officer of the NNC so you might be right about it being the NNC that was shortest of ammo.

Time was against the British: between the Zulu army being discovered and the camp being overrun only an hour passed. Not really long enough to get the tents down or for chelmsford to return.

I agree that "noggs" account of the captured Zulu indicates that by this time (which must have been around noon on the 22nd?) that particular zulu knew that the British had split their forces, but as Knight points out the encounters the Zulus had against a Battalion of the NNC and some Volunteers on the 21st couldnt have indicated to the Zulus any intention Chelmsford had of splitting his forces. Chelmsfords movements were masked by darkness and morning mists which hampered the Zulus own movements.
The zulus may have found out later, but probably after they'd begun their attack.

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