The battle of Isandlwana was one of the most famous defeats suffered by the British Army, and came right at the start of an invasion of Zululand that had been manufactured by Sir Bartle Frere, the British High Commissioner in South Africa. Frere was motivated by a desire to produce a Confederation of South Africa which would contain all of the smaller colonies in the area, allowing them to become self-funding and take responsibility for their own defence. Frere believed than an independent Zululand was an obstacle to this confederation. The Zulus were British allies, but in the years before the war the British took over some Boer areas, and with them a number of Boer-Zulu border disputes. Frere decided to solve these problems by forcing a war, which would allow the British to conquer Zululand and incorporate it into the Confederation.
Greaves has a very detailed knowledge of the battlefield and the surrounding area, and has been involved in some major surveys of the area, making discoveries that are incorporated in this book. He has been studying the Anglo-Zulu war for over twenty years, and this shows in his mastery of the original sources on both sides. Of particular value are the surviving orders issued before the battle was fought, some recovered from the battlefield itself. These orders shed valuable light on the British actions and in particular on the performance of key figures who didn't survive the battle.
One surprise for me was how inexperienced the Zulu army was before Isandlwana, having not fought a battle for 23 years. This makes their success at Isandlwana even more impressive. Lord Chelmsford also emerges as being more impressive than I'd thought - he was a fairly experienced commander and had fought against other African tribes, learning lessons from those experiences. Unfortunately for his men the Zulus were a different type of opponent. Lord Chelmsford experience led him to believe that Africa armies wouldn't stand and fight and so his main efforts went into catching the Zulus. The troops at Isandlwana were thus not expecting to be attacked, leaving them very vulnerable when they were. Chelmsford also learnt from his defeat and went on to win the war before his replacement could arrive from Britain.
Greaves' main argument is that the Zulu victory owed more to their own bravery and the plan adopted for the attack on the British camp and less on British defeats made during the battle. His knowledge of the sources, the battle and the battlefield add a great deal of credibility to his arguments and make this a very valuable book.
1 - Conditions at Home
2 - The Adversaries
3 - Preparations for War
4 - The Days Before
5 - Decoy and Defeat
6 - Flight from Isandlwana
7 - After Isandlwana
8 - The Re-invasion and Destruction of Zululand
Author: Adrian Greaves
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military