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The Battle That Turned The River Into Blood



Voortrekker Laager


Andries Pretorius


The cannon known as


The Voortrekker laager of 57 wagons reconstructed in bronze to commemorate the Battle of Blood River

In Natal, on 6 February 1838, Piet Retief, Voortrekker Leader, and his party of 69 men were unexpectedly butchered to death while feasting with the Zulus. They were celebrating the signing of a treaty ceding land to the Voortrekkers. The Battle of Blood River on 16 December 1838 was to avenge their death.

There were several more attacks on the Voortrekkers after Retief's murder at mGgundgundlovu (Dingaan, the Zulu chief's capital). There was one at Weenen, Bloukrans and Moordplaas (Murder Farm). Hundreds of men, women and children were killed. The Voortrekkers and British launched a number of punitive expeditions against the Zulus, but these were all inconclusive.

The Voortrekkers became very despondent. Then a charismatic man from Graaff Reinet, called Andries Pretorius, appeared on the scene and took over the leadership. Soon plans were finalised for a decisive attack on Dingaan.

Andries Pretorius' commando, later known as the Winkommando ("Victorious commando') was made up of some 470 men. They crossed the Buffalo River (near present-day Dundee) and reached a tributary on Saturday 15 December 1838. The tributary has since been known as the Blood River.

Scouts reported seeing a large Zulu impi of about 12 500 men advancing. Pretorius carefully selected the best strategic position to form his laager: between a deep pool in the river and a donga, which joined the river on the opposite side. The wagons were securely tied together, gates were provided and cannons were placed in the only two openings.

The Zulus fought with shields and assegaais. To be able to use their assegaais effectively they had to get as close as possible to the enemy. The Voortrekkers had far superior weapons; muzzle-loaders, flint-lock muskets and cannons. At dusk, the Zulu impis were clearly visible, massed on the opposite bank of the river.

Two hours before dawn everybody was ready. The Voortrekkers once more recited the Covenant and made their vow with God; that if God granted the Voortrekkers victory, they would for ever observe the day as a Sabbath and build a church as a memorial for future generations.

The assault came at dawn the following day. The dense fog that covered the ground completely cleared at daybreak. The first attack was repulsed successfully. The second one could not be beaten back until it had almost reached the wagons. When the Zulus, who had again withdrawn to about 500 yd, hesitated to launch a third attack, Pretorius sent some men to draw them out.

The final attack lasted almost an hour. When the force of the attack began to weaken, Pretorius sent out a few hundred horsemen. Finally, the Zulus were put to flight and the Winkommando pursued them for hours.

Towards midday, when the pursuit was called off, more than 3 000 corpses was counted around the laager. The water in the river had turned red with blood. Only three Voortrekkers were wounded, including Pretorius himself, and none were killed. A solemn thanksgiving service was held.

The memorial church was built in Pietermaritsburg two years later. Two monuments on the site commemorate the battle. The first is an ox-wagon sculptured out of grey granite by Coert Steynberg. Nearby is the laager reconstructed as on that day with 57 full-size replicas of ox-wagons cast in bronze. Since 1995 the name of the holiday on 16 December has been changed from the Day of the Covenant to the Day of Reconciliation.

Blood River is regarded as one of the great battles ever fought in South Africa.


Will I not remember the hand of God on SA in 1994 when many ran scared believing the writings of Nostradamus and seeing the streets filled with blood. It is now 20 years ago when believers across SA called upon God for a peaceful transition. And yes did He not give us peace and not war. Instead He united us by giving us a leader whom He prepared 27 years in Prison. A leader that not only impacted SA but the world. And when another not so long ago what rising up in his own power did not God removed him from office. Hear SA for surely is the history of SA full of struggles, yet has God delivered this nation everytime because of those who humbled themselves to call upon His name. Remember you also the Day of Bloodriver on 16 December when but 300 men, women and children called upon God who deliverd all of them alive and slew the might Zulu warriors fearsome and great. I look and i see a rainbow nation who’se hope is in the Lord.

Posted by: Andre Cronje

Pretty cool, we are learning about all this in school as well as all the things about Shaka Zulu. I find it quite interesting while my friends are bored to death...hah....and being a (proud) South African ... all these things are very important, to me, to learn about. So thanks to whoever posted this is was really helpful to answering some of my questions :)

Posted by: Emma

Read more great stories of the 'Italians in South Africa', on Andre Martinaglia (Google it) and 'AEMartinaglia.blogspot.com' or on just plain 'blogspot'.

Posted by: Cav.Andre Martinaglia

'The Battle of Bloukrans', saved the Voortrekkers from being totally anihilated, as the Italian woman Teresa Viglione and her two companions, Antonio Chiara, and Giovanni Batiste Pizzola were camped only a short distance away, when they heard the Zulu Impi warcries and gunshots in the dead of the night.

Teresa Viglione not hesitating saddled her horse and rode down the Bushmens River warning the other Voortrekker lagers of the imminent danger, speeding onto Doornkop, where she summond help. A week later all but the camp of Gerrit Maritz remained standing against the Zulu onslaught, when reinforcements from Doornkop finally arrived, driving them back.

Teresa Viglione started to treat the Voortrekker children of their wounds with salf and balsam she had brought along from the Eastern Cape. For her bravery in 1931, when the Voortrekker Monument was officially opened a base-relief, panel number 15 to be exact, was dedicated to her.

Ironically the bronze statues at the monument were made in Italy, as were the base reliefs, which were chipped out of the Italian marble they were made of by Professor Romano Romanelli and his team in Rome, from the sketches of Anton van Wouw.

The foundations for the Voortrekker monument were layed by the Italian businessman, Corsani, and the oxwagon engravings on the outside were created and made by Lupini. This as well as the statue of Paul Kruger and the Voortrekker pioneer figures below him on Church Square, Preoria was Romanelli's work from Van wouw's sketches.

The Voortrekker pioneer was the face of the young sculptor Tommasso who had to grow a beard and a moustache and model for Van Wouw wearing Voortrekker clothing. The statue of General Louis Botha at Parliament Cape Town is another of Romanelli's great works.

Posted by: Cav. Andre Martinaglia

How did the Afrikaner broke his promise to God?

Posted by: juliana

Although sad, it's even sadder that the Afrikaner broke the oath to God. As we all know, the Word of God says that man must keep his promises to God, as He is not a man.... We cannot deceive Him and expect His blessing in our lives.

Posted by: Christene




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