David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.
Live Free or Die
There are plenty of stories throughout history of a small group of fighters taking on a much bigger country in the hopes of becoming independent -- maybe you've seen movies about them! Many of these stories, such as of the American Revolution, are examples of willingness and perseverance. However, there are many other times when the smaller group of fighters simply cannot defeat their large enemy. One of the most famous fights between a big country and a small group was the Boer War, fought between South African farmers and Great Britain from 1899 to 1902
Europeans from the Netherlands began building a colony in South Africa nearly 400 years ago, but at the start of the 1800s, Great Britain took over control of the region. Many farmers of Dutch descent, referred to as the Boers, decided they would rather live in a new place than one ruled by Great Britain. So, they left in 1833 to found the new countries of Transvaal and the Orange Free State next door.
At first, the British colony of South Africa and the Boer colonies had no issues. However, miners found both diamonds and gold in these Boer colonies, which meant that Great Britain wanted to take control of the whole area for its wealth. In 1875, Great Britain announced it would annex, meaning take control of, all the territory of South Africa, including the Boer regions. This would lead to conflict and eventually open fighting between the Boers and Britain.
Great Britain refused to give Transvaal and the Free Orange State independence, so the two colonies created an alliance to fight the British and become free. They had previously tried to solve the problem peacefully, but the Boer War began in 1899. While the British army had superior weapons, the Boers were very good shots due to growing up hunting, and they knew the land they fought on much better than the British.
The fighting started when the Boers began a number of attacks on cities in the British-controlled regions. This forced the British army, then scattered around, to come and relieve the city. The Boers could now attack other areas. In December 1899, the Boers used this to their advantage, winning three major battles at cities called Stormberg, Magersfontein and Colenso. The British called this 'Black Week.'
Too Big To Fight
However, the Boers couldn't keep up their success. One of their leaders, Piet Cronje, surrendered with 4,000 soldiers. The Boers began to retreat and the British began to re-take their captured cities. By summertime, the British had captured the capital cities of both Transvaal and the Free Orange State.
The Boers still continued the war using guerrilla tactics, meaning hitting and running, or fighting in secret. The British had to go to the extent of capturing Boer families, holding them in camps and rooting out the guerrillas. This fighting continued with about 20,000 Boers who refused to give up, about a third of the original number of fighters.
The war came to an end in 1902 when the last Boers surrendered. Britain took control of all of the Boers, bringing them into a larger South Africa. However, unhappiness over British rule and the capture of Boer families during the war continued. In 1910, the Union of South Africa was declared, which ruled itself.
The British fought South African farmers in a conflict known as the Boer War. This took place after Britain decided to annex regions controlled by the Boers. The Boers fought back, even using guerrilla warfare, but could not defeat the larger British army.
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