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The Battle of Blood River 1838

16 December 1838: The Battle

The Voortrekkers were equipped with far superior weaponry and responded to the Zulu advancement with musket and cannon fire. Eyewitnesses and writers differ slightly on the exact details of the battle, but at dawn when the first Zulu attack began, the firing was apparently so heavy that the Zulu warriors could not be seen through the smoke.

The main shortcoming of the Voortrekkers weapons was the lengthy reloading times. The first Zulu attack had scarcely been repulsed when a second was launched, this time the Zulu warriors almost reached the laager. Meanwhile hundreds of warriors were hiding in the donga. Sarel Cilliers and 80 others attacked them during a short lull in the fighting. When the Zulu’s, who had withdrawn about 50 yards from the laager, failed to launch a third attack, Pretorius sent some men to draw them out to seal the victory. Pretorius’ cavalry met with determined resistance from the Zulu Warriors, and it was only after a third sortie that the Zulu’s were put to flight, pursued by the Voortrekkers.

At midday the pursuit was called off. More than 3000 corpses were counted around the laager. Only, 3 Voortrekkers (including Pretorius himself) were wounded, none were killed. The Ncome River became red with the blood of the slain. Hence the battle became known as the battle of "Blood River".