General Redvers Buller

Dec 7, 1839 to Jun 2, 1908

General Redvers Buller
General Redvers Buller

Redvers Buller was born at Crediton, Devon, the son of MP James Wentworth Buller. Schooled at Eton he obtained a commission in the Kings Royal Rifle Corps in 1858 and took part in the Second Opium War with China. Following this he was promoted to captain before participating in the Canadian Red River Expedition of 1870 and then serving as intelligence officer under Lord Wolseley during the Ashanti campaign in present day Ghana.

During this campaign he was slightly wounded at the Battle of Ordabai and promoted to major and awarded the C.B.In 1878, he served in the 9th Cape Frontier War and in 1879, the Anglo-Zulu war in South Africa. In the Zulu war he commanded a mounted infantry unit under Sir Evelyn Wood where he was awarded the Victoria Cross at the British defeat at the Battle of Hlobane. Following this he participated in the British victory at the battle of Kambula leading a mounted pursuit of the fleeing Zulu’s. In the same year he again commanded mounted troops at the battle of Ulandi, a decisive victory for the British, which effectively ended the war. In 1881 Buller served in the First Boer War as chief of staff to Sir Evelyn Wood.

The following year he was again head of intelligence in the Egypt campaign and received a knighthood. That same year he married Audrey, the daughter of the 4th Marquess Townshend and was sent to the Sudan in command of an infantry brigade participating in the battles of El Teb and Tamai and the expedition to relieve General Gordon in 1885. On being promoted to major-general he was sent to Ireland in 1886 to head an inquiry into moonlighting by police personnel then returned to the Army as Quartermaster-General to the forces.

In 1890 he was promoted to Adjutant-General to the forces and became a lieutenant-general in 1891. Buller became head of the troops stationed at Aldershot in Hampshire in 1898 and the following year was sent as commander of the Natal field force at the outbreak of the Second Boer War. Defeats at the Battles of Colenso, Magersfontein and Stormberg raised concerns about his performance resulting in his being replaced as overall commander in South Africa in January, 1900 by Lord Roberts.

He remained as second in command and had further setbacks in his attempts to relieve Ladysmith at the battles of Spion Kop and Vaal Krantz earning him the nickname of ‘Reverse Buller’ by his troops. Buller was victorious in the Battle of Tugela Heights, lifting the siege on February 28, 1900. He was further successful in flanking Boer armies at Biggarsberg, Laing’s Nek and Lydenburg finally winning the Battle of Bergendal in the final action of the war. Buller returned to England to a hero’s welcome by the public and resumed his role as commanding officer in Aldershot. His early defeats in South Africa however had damaged his reputation especially within the Unionist government. When continuing guerrilla activities by the defeated Boers raised public concerns, the Minister of War, Sir John Brodrick and Lord Roberts sought a scapegoat. The matter came to a head when Buller provided a public rebuttal to a piece written in the Times. Broderick and Roberts summoned Buller to an interview on October 17, 1901 in which they demanded he resign on grounds of breaching military discipline. Buller refused and he was dismissed on half pay. His request for a court martial was refused as was his appeal to the King.

There were many expressions of sympathy and in 1905 a statue of Buller astride his horse was erected in Exeter near his hometown of Crediton. In 1903 Sir John Brodrick was removed from the war ministry and lost his parliamentary seat when the Liberals returned to power in 1906. The new government offered Buller a seat but he refused continuing to live in the family home in Crediton until his death in 1908.