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    After a brief attempt to defend a line closer to the Transvaal at Dundee, Lieutenant-General Sir George White, the British commander in Natal, decided to withdraw to Ladysmith and by the morning of 25 October the British army had concentrated there. Several Boer columns were converging on the town, but by 29 October 
    the process was not complete. White launched a pre-emptive strike on those forces already in place to the north east and east of the town along with a force to Nicholson’s Nek, North of Ladysmith to prevent another Boer column and to block one possible route that a defeated Boer army might take.


    The British force consisted of six companies, all commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Frank Carleton, whose supplies were carried on the backs of well over one hundred mules. It would be the mules that would wreck the expedition.Carleton’s force got moving late on 29 October and by two in the morning on 30 October, decided it was too late to continue to Nicholson’s Nek and decided to camp on Tchrengula Hill, a steep hill to the side of the trail. 


    During the climb, the mules stampeded, taking with them most of the supplies. The British, now in a vulnerable position, should have retreated back to Ladysmith but decided to remain. Carleton got most of his men to the top of the hill, but chose to camp on the southern, slightly lower, end of the hill, leaving the higher northern 
    end unguarded. The British line was poorly laid out, but the soldiers worked to create a reasonably strong line of stone ‘sangers’ or breastworks. Meanwhile, the noise of the mules had alerted the Boers and around 500 men took up place at the north end of Tchrengula Hill and opened fire.


    Boer riflemen were scattered amongst the rocks on the top of the hill and refused to present a target for British musketry. Other Boer forces were on neighbouring hilltops, where they were able to fire into the sides of the British force. One part of the British line misinterpreted a warning of a flanking attack as an order to pull back, and abandoned the line of sangars, which the Boers quickly seized. The Gloucestershire Regiment had taken the brunt of the 
    fighting and just after noon, Captain Stuart Duncan, convinced that his isolated detachment was alone on the hill, raised the white flag. When Carleton saw the Boer’s rise to accept the surrender, he decided that he had no choice but to accept the white flag and surrender the rest of this force.


    The Royal Irish Fusiliers, yet to be heavily engaged, were enraged by this decision, but had to accept it. The British suffered 38 dead and 105 wounded. Boer casualties were reported as 4 dead and 5 wounded.
    Carleton’s decision to surrender was almost certainly correct. From his position on Tchrengula Hill he could see back to Ladysmith, where White’s main attack had also failed. His ammunition running low and retreat impossible, it was the biggest surrender of British troops since the Napoleonic Wars. This defeat and the failure of White’s main attack at Lombard’s Kop ended any chance of avoiding a siege.

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