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The Battle of Blood River 1838

Location: Off the R33 between Dundee and Vryheid

Following the murder of Piet Retief and the Weenen massacres, Commandant A. W. J. Pretorius, with a commando of 470 men, and Karel Landman, advanced into Zululand with the objective of avenging their countrymen.

On Sunday, 9th December, Pretorius and his followers made a vow to God that in the case of victory; they would build a church to honour God and they would tell their children to observe a day of thanksgiving. (Recent research has put a question mark over the vow and its existence as ‘thanksgiving’ was not commemorated in the years immediately following the battle, but the church was built).

When they became aware of the advancing Zulu’s they their wagons into a laager (circular formation) in the best strategical position possible, between a deep pool in the Ncome river and a donga (a large ditch). There were only two gaps in the laager and in each, a canon was placed.

16 December 1838: The Battle

At dusk on the 15th December the Amazulu had already begun to circle the laager. A heavy mist that limited visibility surrounded the laager and only lifted in the early hours of the morning. At dawn on the 16th December 1838 the Zulu warriors equipped with assegais and shields swept towards the laager. They had to move in close in order to use their assegais effectively.