De Wet, The Black Angel Of The Boers
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
MR. RUDOLPH DE WET gave me the following tragical incident connected with the life of his uncle, Christian DeWet, the celebrated Boer leader :
" Christian DeWet, my uncle, I consider the sternest and sturdiest military leader the world has known since the days of Cromwell. He has been our pillar of fire and the flame that illuminates him came from the burning of his own soul. When Joubert died, my uncle sent for me to go with him. I was his favorite nephew, when he was merely a butcher and small farmer on the outskirts of Bloemfontein. I rode with my uncle into the battle of Kroonspruit, where he fairly earned the title of General. We harried and drove the British like sheep. We fell on them from secret places. With surprise and panic we burst upon them. We shot them from a thousand little fortresses. Brave men they were, too. But when every rock spat death at them, when every bush volleyed destruction for them, with never a living enemy visible to fight, well might they be forgiven for shooting in helpless rage at the great hard blue African sky—for sky and rock and veldt were all that they beheld while death was taking them off.
" There was one tall young trooper riding well in front. I had his range for a long while before we got ready to fire. I think he fell the first of all, but I cannot be sure, for at the same time our four thousand rifles broke loose, and the British column shivered and tore apart as veldt dust before the blast of storm. After the first volley there was no instant when the air was free from the crackle of the guns, and the flashes of fire running rigzag like lightning to and fro along our hiding places. Some there were in that slaughter pen, in the river bed below us who came savagely upward charging now this rock, now that, as they caught the rattle or flash of the Mauser. Many there were who stood high and straight searching in vain for a foe. Like British grenadiers of old they took what was to be and so died with their faces toward us.
" The English soldiers began their retreat to Bloemfontein, and we, well satisfied that we had given them what Cronje got at Paardeburg, let them go. They left in our trap a hundred wagons full of supplies, six hundred prisoners and seven beautiful guns. The whole commando was jumping for joy. Men were hugging each other like a lot of girls, and hundreds danced and skipped like children.
" My uncle called his men together, and stood within their circle and offered prayer to God. I have read of old Cromwell's Roundheads doing this, and the thought of them came to me standing there in the dry river bottom with the simple, sturdy plain figure of my uncle leading in our Dutch prayer of thanksgiving. When the bowed heads of the commando had been raised he opened his Bible and read a psalm ; and then, just as we were about to disperse, a messenger came galloping in. He rode straight up to General DeWet, and no man who was there can recall the words he said. But we all remember that from four thousand throats there came a growl of rage as if the spruit were filled with great wolfish animals instead of men. For to DeWet had come the news that his son, standing in the doorway of the little home in Elizabeth street, Bloemfontein, had been shot through the head and killed instantly. His daughter, seeing her brother fall, had gone insane, and within three days had died in the British hospital from congestion of the brain. His wife, bereft at one blow of both of her children, had been taken away to the Cape, and there, in the British lines, she too, had died.
" Christian DeWet turned such a face on the messenger as I hope I may never see on any human being again. For a moment he stood thus with lines of horror frozen on his visage and figure. Then he raised his hand with the Bible in it and hurled the sacred book from him with all his strength, and with a terrible voice cried out ` God ! There is no God.' And cursing God, he fell on his face into the sand.
I do not know how long he lay there. I only know our whole commando stood as silent as the veldt itself. Now and then there was a rustle in the close packed ranks as some in the rear raised themselves on tiptoes to look over the heads of those in front at their commander fighting out his passion on the earth. Minutes went by, and still he lay, face down, motionless, except for convulsive heavings of his broad, strong shoulders. When Christian DeWet arose, the face that he turned on us was not that of a man. His lips were drawn back into the snarl of a carnivorous beast. His voice fairly hissed the torture of his heart. To what he said the whole commando roared approval, and again it was as if the river bed held hungry wild beasts growling ominously, for what he said was this : " From this moment I live only to kill Englishmen ! Slay, slay ! "
" From that moment the rifle of Christian DeWet spoke first in every battle, and every time it spoke an English soldier fell. From that moment he became the Black Angel, the Black Killer. The Black Devil the British soldiers called him. It was a sad day for the English treasury and the English army when my uncle's family was wiped out.
" When the time came for me to ask for a furlough to visit my mother, I had my last talk with General DeWet. ` Go, my dear boy,' said he, ` whom I love as a son. Go with my blessing. Ah, I envy thee, Adolph ! Thou still hast the dear ones to love. But mine—mine are in the great beyond.' And breaking down in sobs he spurred his horse and rode into the gloom. Those who knew my uncle as the silent, kindly neighbor in times of peace would scarcely recognize him now. His heavy eyebrows have lowered until they almost hide his eyes. His mouth is hard and unsmiling. Deep lines furrow his face. His beard, that was black and trim when he took the field, now is straggling, and as whitened as if a veldt snow-storm had swept over it."
The Boer general of whom Mr. Adolph DeWet spoke and his brothers-in-arms were remarkable men. The good old Dutch stock with the tuition of the sky, the stars, the mountain, the solitude, and communion with God was certain to make a strong people in South Africa. The simple children of nature became singularly resourceful, able, brave and devout. The leaders of such a people we would naturally expect to be great men, and so they were. Their military genius, their all daring courage, their tremendous energy, and their sublime faith in Divine Providence made them the peers of any warriors of any time. The two sides of the Boer character, those of mildness and severity had their expression in the pathetic tenderness of Joubert, and in the terrible sternness of DeWet. General DeWet, soon after he threw away his Bible and cursed God repented of his sin, secured Divine forgiveness, and to this day has had the warmest affection for and unfaltering faith in Almighty God. But he did not forget the vow he took at Kroonspruit to inflict every possible damage upon the English army. His persistency to the last furnishes one of the most heroic pictures in modern warfare. There he stands alone, his family dead, his army captured, his resources gone, no friendly nation offering help ; there he stands, this plain old-fashioned butcher, stronger than a hundred thousand of the best trained troops of Europe, and holding the great British Empire at arm's length for a whole year, and compelling terms of peace far different from those that would have been granted without his bravery, terms of peace not at all dishonorable to his people.
There is almost nothing impossible in the religious life to a strong will backed by Divine energy. We ought to be uncompromising and persistent in our warfare against all our spiritual foes.