"Piet" Cronjé (1836 –1911) was a general of the South African
Republic's military forces during the Anglo-Boer wars of
1880–1881 and 1899–1902.
Born in the Cape
Colony but raised in the South African Republic, Cronje made his
reputation in the First Boer War, besieging the British garrison
at Potchefstroom. He had a distinctive appearance, being short
with a black beard and was reputed to have considerable personal
Cronje was in
command of the force that rounded up Leander Jameson at Doornkop
at the conclusion of the Jameson Raid on January 2, 1896. During
the Second Boer War Cronje was general commanding in the western
theatre of war. He began the sieges of Kimberley and Mafeking.
At Mafeking, with a force between 2,000 and 6,000 he laid siege
against 1,200 regular troops and militia under the command of
Colonel Robert Baden-Powell.
Methuen attempted to relieve the siege of Kimberley, Cronje
fought the Battle of Modder River on November 28, 1899, where
the British won a Pyrrhic victory over the Boers. Cronje’s novel
tactics at the Modder River, where his infantry were positioned
at the base of the hills instead of at the tops (in order to
increase the effectiveness of their rifles' flat trajectories)
earned him a place in military history. However the tactics
ascribed to him were not his own; he was convinced by General
Koos De La Rey and President M.T. Steyn. After Modder River,
Cronje repulsed Methuen’s forces at the Battle of Magersfontein
on December 11, 1899. This was actually due to Koos de la Rey’s
tactics and planning. Cronje sat in camp not doing much fighting
Cronje was an
attritionist and did not see the value in maneuver battles. He
was defeated at the Battle of Paardeberg where he surrendered
with 4,150 of his commandos on February 27, 1900 after being
enveloped by Lord Roberts' forces. The commanding officer of the
3rd Battalion, the Grenadier Guards, Lt.-Col. Eyre Crabbe, was
surprised to find that Cronje had been accompanied on the
campaign by his wife.
surrender he and his wife, Hester, were sent to St. Helena
Island prisoner of war camp, where he remained until the
conclusion of peace negotiations in 1902. Boer morale sank after
his defeat, with the capital of the Orange Free State,
Bloemfontein, being taken without a shot being fired.
He was humiliated
and shunned by the other Boer generals, ridiculed in the press,
and was not asked to the peace talks at Vereeniging. He took
part in the World Fair reenactments of the Anglo-Boer war at St
Louis in 1904. Dubbed a 'circus general' by the South African
press, he failed to return home, instead joining a show on Coney
Island, Brooklyn, New York.