Britain’s war against the Zulu people of southern Africa in the late nineteenth century is one of the most famous clashes in the history of the British empire, but her earlier wars against the Xhosa, also in southern Africa, are far less well known. And, although the role Lord Chelmsford played in the Anglo-Zulu War has been recounted in exhaustive detail, his earlier experience against the Xhosa has rarely been explored in the same intensive way. That is why Stephen Manning’s absorbing study of these colonial campaigns and Chelmsford’s part in them is so timely and valuable.
Chelmsford’s military career and Britain’s troubled relationship with the Xhosa people came together in 1878 with the conclusion of the 9th Frontier War, in which Chelmsford commanded the victorious British forces. This conflict is vividly described here. Perhaps Chelmsford learned the wrong lessons from his struggle with the Xhosa because his initial handling of British forces during the Anglo-Zulu War resulted in disaster at the Battle of Isandlwana. Although Chelmsford regained the initiative and his forces defeated the Zulus at Gingindlovu and Ulundi, his reputation never recovered.
Stephen Manning’s account of Chelmsford’s South African campaigns gives us a fascinating insight into the military and political history of southern Africa in the period and provides a fresh view of Chelmsford himself — as a man of his time and as a military commander.