Redvers Buller

Redvers Buller

Infobox Military Person
name=Sir Redvers Henry Buller
lived=7 December 1839–2 June 1908
placeofbirth=Crediton, Devon

caption=Sir Redvers Henry Buller
allegiance=United Kingdom
branch=British Army
serviceyears=1858 - 1901
battles=Ashanti campaign
Xhosa Wars
Anglo-Zulu War
First Boer War
Egypt campaign
Mahdist War
Second Boer War
awards=Victoria Cross
Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath
Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George

General Sir Redvers Henry Buller VC GCB GCMG (7 December 1839–2 June 1908) was a British general and Victoria Cross holder.


Redvers Buller was born at Crediton, Devon, the son of MP James Wentworth Buller. After completing his schooling at Eton he was commissioned into the 60th Rifles (King's Royal Rifle Corps) in May 1858. He took part in the China campaign of 1860, and was promoted to captain before taking part in the Canadian Red River expedition of 1870. In 1873-1874 he was the intelligence officer under Lord Wolseley during the Ashanti campaign, during which he was slightly wounded at the Battle of Ordabai. He was promoted to major and awarded the C.B.

He then served in South Africa during the Xhosa War of 1878 and the Zulu War of 1879. In the Zulu war he commanded the mounted infantry of the northern British column under Sir Evelyn Wood. He fought at the British defeat at the battle of Hlobane, where he was awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery under fire. The following day he fought in the British victory at the battle of Kambula. After the Zulu attacks on the British position were beaten off, he led a ruthless pursuit by the mounted troops of the fleeing Zulus. He was criticised in some quarters in England for his men's killing of wounded and surrendered Zulus during the pursuit. In June 1879, he again commanded mounted troops at the battle of Ulundi, a decisive British victory which effectively ended the war.

In the First Boer War of 1881 he was Sir Evelyn Wood's chief of staff and the following year was again head of intelligence, this time in the Egypt campaign, and was knighted.

He had married Audrey, the daughter of the 4th Marquess Townshend, in 1882 and in the same year was sent to the Sudan in command of an infantry brigade and fought at the battles of El Teb and Tamai, and the expedition to relieve General Gordon in 1885. He was promoted to major-general.

He was sent to Ireland in 1886, to head an inquiry into moonlighting by police personnel. He returned to the Army as Quartermaster General the following year and in 1890 promoted to Adjutant General, becoming a lieutenant-general in 1891. Although expected to be made Commander-in-Chief of the Army of the British Army by Lord Rosebery's government on the retirement of the Duke of Cambridge in 1895 this did not happen because the government was replaced and Lord Wolseley appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Army instead.

Actions leading to award of VC

He was 39 years old, and a Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel in the 60th Rifles (later The King's Royal Rifle Corps), British Army during the Anglo-Zulu War when the following deed took place for which he was awarded the VC.

On 28 March 1879 at the battle of Hlobane, South Africa, during the retreat, Lieutenant Colonel Buller, while being hotly pursued by Zulus, rescued a captain of the Frontier Light Horse and carried him on his own horse until he overtook the rearguard. On the same day, under the same circumstances, he carried a lieutenant, whose horse had been killed under him, to a place of safety. Again, on the same day, he saved a trooper whose horse was exhausted, and who would otherwise have been killed by the Zulus who were within 80 yards of him.

His Victoria Cross is displayed at the Royal Green Jackets Museum, Winchester, England.

econd Boer War and Buller's sacking

Buller became head of the troops stationed at Aldershot in 1898 and was sent as commander of the Natal field force in 1899 on the outbreak of the Second Boer War, arriving at the end of October. He was defeated at the Battle of Colenso and because of concerns about his performance and negative reports from the field he was replaced as overall commander by Lord Roberts. Defeats and questionable ability as commander soon earned him the nickname 'Reverse Buller' among troops. He remained as second in command and suffered two more setbacks in his attempts to relieve Ladysmith at the battles of Spion Kop and Vaal Krantz. On his fourth attempt, Buller was victorious in the Relief of Ladysmith, lifting the siege on 28 February 1900. Later he was successful in flanking Boer armies out of positions at Biggarsberg, Laing's Nek and Lydenburg. It was Buller's veterans who won the Battle of Bergendal in the war's last set-piece action.

Buller was also popular as a military leader amongst the public in England, and he had a triumphal return from South Africa with many public celebrations including those on 10 November 1900 when he went to Aldershot to resume his command, later to be remembered as "a Buller day". However, his reputation had been damaged by his early reverses in South Africa, especially within the Unionist government. When public disquiet emerged over the continuing guerrilla activities by the defeated Boers, the Minister for War, St. John Brodrick and Lord Roberts sought a scapegoat [Buller: A Scapegoat? A life of General Sir Redvers Buller, V.C. (Geoffrey Powell., 1994)] . The opportunity was provided by the numerous attacks in the newspapers on the performance of the British Army. The matter came to a head when a virulent piece written by "The Times" journalist, Leo Amery was publicly answered by Buller in a speech on 10 October 1901. Brodrick and Roberts saw their opportunity to pounce, and summoning Buller to an interview on 17 October, Brodrick, with Roberts in support, demanded his resignation on the grounds of breaching military discipline. Buller refused and was summarily dismissed on half pay. His request for a court martial was refused as was his request to appeal to the King.

There were many public expressions of sympathy for Buller, especially in the West Country, where in 1905 by public subscription a notable statue by Adrian Jones of Buller astride his war horse was erected in Exeter on the road from his home town of Crediton (facing away from Crediton to the annoyance of the inhabitants of Crediton.) Brodrick was soon moved from the war ministry by Arthur Balfour in 1903, and subsequently lost his parliamentary seat when the Liberals returned to power in 1906. The new government showed their appreciation of Buller by offering him a seat. However, Buller refused the offer and continued his quiet retirement, until on 29 May 1907 he accepted the post of Principal Warden of the Goldsmiths' Company which he held until his death in 1908. He died on 2nd June 1908, at the family seat, Downes House, Downes, Crediton, Devon, EX17 3PL, and is buried at Holy Cross churchyard, Church Street, Crediton, Devon, EX17 2AQ.


At least one recent historian has been kinder to Buller's reputation:

"Buller's achievements have been obscured by his mistakes. In 1909, a French military critic, General Langlois, pointed out that it was Buller, not Roberts, who had the toughest job of the war – and it was Buller who was the innovator in countering Boer tactics. The proper use of cover, of infantry advancing in rushes, co-ordinated in turn with creeping barrages of artillery: these were the tactics of truly modern war, first evolved by Buller in Natal." [Pakenham, p 485]

The town of Redvers, in Canada is named after him, as is the Royal Logistic Corps barracks at Aldershot.


*Monuments To Courage (David Harvey, 1999)
*The Register of the Victoria Cross (This England, 1997)
*Pakenham, Thomas. "The Boer War." New York: Avon Books, 1979. ISBN 0-380-72001-9
*On the Psychology of Military Incompetence (Norman Parker 1994 ISBN 0-7126-5889-0)
*The Times: various articles October 1901 dealing with his sacking

External links

* [ Location of grave and VC medal] "(Devonshire)"
* [ Statue in Exeter]

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