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Rorke's Drift and Isandlwana (Paperback)

22nd January 1879: Minute by Minute

Boer/Zulu War Greenhill Books Pre WWI Victorian Era Military 19th Century

By Chris Peers
Greenhill Books
Pages: 208
ISBN: 9781784387563
Published: 4th October 2021

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The Battle of Isandlwana on 22 January 1879 was one of the most dramatic episodes in military history. In the morning, 20,000 Zulus overwhelmed the British invading force in one of the greatest disasters ever to befall a British army.

Later the same day, a Zulu force of around 3,000 warriors turned their attention to a small outpost at Rorke’s Drift defended by around 150 British and Imperial troops. The British victory that ensued – against remarkable odds – would go down as one of the most heroic actions of all time.

In this thrilling blow-by-blow account, Chris Peers draws on first-hand testimonies from both sides to piece together the course of the battles as they unfolded. Along the way, he exposes many of the Victorian myths to reveal great acts of bravery as well as cases of cowardice and incompetence. A brief analysis of the aftermath of the battle and notes on the later careers of the key participants completes this gripping exposé of this legendary encounter.

The minute-by-minute approach taken by Chris Peers and his extremely detailed research along with good maps, colour and monochrome plates that support good visualisation of the topography make this a comprehensive volume and of course the ‘what ifs’ remain but all in all this is a highly readable account and a fitting addition to any bookshelf.

Martin Willoughby, The Wessex Branch of the Western Front Association

The legend put to the test and told minute by minute.

Read the full Spanish review here

Miniaturas JM

"...the author has drawn on first-hand testimonies from both sides to pen reconstructions of how the battles unfolded and links between them. He also debunks some Victorian myths as he uncovers examples of confusion, incompetence and courage."

Toy Soldier Collector & Historical Figures

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The Anglo-Zulu War Historical Society

"By breaking down the events into a chronological minute-by-minute ordering interspersed with analysis of the situation as it develops, the book achieves a tremendous level of pacing and tension. At times there is a page turning quality to the book more akin to the reading experience one enjoys with a good thriller. This is unique in a historical account, and adds quite a bit of entertainment value to the educational experience."

Read the full review here

Globe at War

From this fascinating, chronological, minute by minute account of the linked actions at Rorke’s Drift and Isandlwana it is clear that the author has a detailed understanding of our, so called, “Small Wars” in Africa; of the equipment and tactics of the opposing forces and of the personalities involved. He also shows a thorough understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the Zulu and British and Armies and a good feel for the ground which is essential to fully understand any land battle. The narrative is written in the present tense, which some readers may find irritating, and is supported by end notes from which it appears that the author has drawn very heavily on secondary sources, especially well known Zulu War authority Ian Knight’s well known Zulu Rising. To me by far the most helpful feature of the book is the eight, very clear, sketch maps and the panoramic photographs which very successfully orientate the reader to the ground as it is today. The various memorials, grave markers, reconstructed buildings and boulders which litter the battlefields to this day mark the key locations at Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift at the time of the battle and enable the reader or battlefield tourist to orientate themselves and, supported by the author’s commentary, it is possible to follow the battles in the footsteps of the participants. The final sections of the book give an assessment and short conclusion in which he suggests that neither battle was a defeat but rather that Isandlwana was a victory for the Zulus and Rorke’s Drift a victory for the British which was over-hyped in Britain in order to eclipse the disaster at Isandlwana; neither were defeats! He goes on to highlight the fate of some of the well known VC winners and of the lasting legacy of the battles which in modern times was stimulated in the public imagination by the film Zulu in 1964 and Donald Morris’s book The Washing of the Spears in 1966. This is a useful addition to any Zulu War library and would prove invaluable for those visiting the battlefields which, with a new museum at Rorke’s Drift and other developments, continue to attract tourists.

Clive Elderton, Military Historical Society

I found this a very readable account and I learnt a lot. There are plenty of maps and modern photos showing the battlegrounds today. If like me your knowledge of the story doesn't go much beyond the film 'Zulu', I think you will enjoy this one, I know I did.

Read the full review here

Military Model Scene

Video review on The View From The Turret

The View From The Turret

Anyone interested in this Famous Victorian campaign and would like to be an authority, then this is the book to get him there! Awarded five well earned stars.

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Army Rumour Service (ARRSE)

Isandlwana was a battle that suffered the fate of other battles against forces considered "inferior" from a military point of view. The division of forces certainly did not help as it did for Custer against the Sioux (Little Big Horn 1876) and for the Royal Italian Army in 1896 at Adua against the Ethiopians. The chronology hour by hour, which however also contains reflections and is in-depth, is a way to follow this battle in a clear and interesting way. Peers's book is therefore extremely valid and useful for fully understanding the unfolding of those two events, so different as an outcome and so important for the British Empire in South Africa.

Read the full Italian review here

On The Old Barbed Wire

The story of the defence of Rorke's Drift has long been a favourite of mine in the annals of British military history, and the film ZULU, with Stanley Baker and Michael Caine, is one of the finest historical action movies of all time. Chris Peers's book is a mine of information about the small band of men, who stepped up to the mark and earned their Victoria Crosses. If you wanted to be pedantic, the subtitle should say "selected minute by selected minute", because it isn't a continuous narrative, but the you have to accept that they are accurate timings because of their providence. This is a valuable addition to the literature of Rorke's Drift, and I have no hesitation in selecting it as my nonfiction book of the month.

Books Monthly

Chris Peers provides a superb chronological account of the disastrous British defeat at Isandlwana and the heroic defense of Rorke's Drift...contains perfectly placed maps and photographs of the terrain and buildings just when the reader needs them the most.

Click here for the full review

Military History Online

This an outstanding book which as well as being entertaining, also brings insight and clarity to the understanding of a battle which has left an enduring legacy not only for those directly involved but also for the generations that followed. Recommended without reservation.

Read the full review here

Phil Curme

Review by Ashley Holt

This is a fantastic idea for the study of conflicts that are often analysed in isolation from each other, but this minute by minute account allows the reader to picture the broader issues from both the British and Zulu sides. The wealth of first-hand testimonies bring to life the triumphs and tragedies that make these battles so memorable. A very useful book for a battlefield tour, for historians of these times and wargamers who seek a more accurate context.

The Hoplite Association

The author has offered an excellent narrative history of the events concerning the two actions at Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift, bringing clarity to the sequence of events and highlighting the command decisions that produced the very different outcomes. He necessarily brings the characters of participants into question without being presumptive and overall it is a very good read supported by good maps and images.

Michael McCarthy. Battlefield Guide

Michael McCarthy
 Chris Peers

About Chris Peers

Chris Peers is a leading expert on the history of ancient armies and warfare and has written widely on the subject. He has contributed many articles to military history, wargaming and family history magazines, and his major publications include Warlords of China: 700BC-AD1662, Warrior Peoples of East Africa, Soldiers of the Dragon, The African Wars: Warriors and Soldiers of the Colonial Campaigns, Battles of Ancient China, Genghis Khan and the Mongol War Machine and King Stephen and the Anarchy: Civil War and Military Tactics in Twelfth-Century Britain.

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