March 29th 1879: Battle of Kambula
On this day in 1879, the Battle of Kambula occurred, marking a decisive moment in the Anglo-Zulu War. The war in South Africa began in 1878 after the murder of several British citizens by Zulus and the Zulu king’s refusal to hand over the perpetrators for trial. However, authorities in Britain had long been seeking pretense to launch an assault on the Zulu Kingdom to consolidate British rule in the area. The indigenous Zulu warriors had some initial success against the European invaders, including at the battle of Isandlwana in January 1879, though this victory was offset by defeat at Rourke’s Drift. Wary of the enemy, British forces in the Zulu Kingdom led by Evelyn Wood fortified an area near Kambula. On March 29th the Zulu army launched an attack on the British position, but their advance was halted by a British mounted force. The Zulu forces continued their attack, and 11,000 fighters charged head-on into a hail of British fire. They sustained heavy losses, but the Zulu army successfully exerted pressure on the British stronghold and forced the defenders to retreat. Despite putting up a considerable attack, the Zulu forces were eventually forced to retreat under British fire. The battle was a decisive British victory, with the defenders losing 29 soldiers and the Zulu up to 3,000. Kambula also severely weakened the Zulu forces, allowing the British to ultimately defeat the Zulu and imprison their king in July. British victory spelled the end of the independence of the Zulu nation in South Africa.