An occasional shell from the big gun plumped among them. One, through some freak of gunnery, lobbed slowly through a division, and the men whooped and threw their caps at it as it passed. The guns on Swartz Kop, at a range of nearly five miles, tossed shells at the monster on Doornkloof, and finally blew up his powder magazine amid the applause of the infantry.
The six batteries and the howitzers now took up positions opposite Vaal Krantz, and seventy guns began to shell this ridge in regular preparation and to reply to three Boer guns which had now opened from Doornkloof and our extreme right. A loud and crashing cannonade developed.
During the next day the Boers continued to bombard the captured ridge, and also maintained a harassing long-range musketry fire. A great gun firing a hundred-pound 6-in. shell came into action from the top of Doornkloof, throwing its huge projectiles on Vaal Krantz and about the bivouacs generally; one of them exploded within a few yards of Sir Redvers Buller.
Over the river upon the hill was a single British brigade, exposed to the fire of one enormous gun a 96-pound Creusot, the longest of all Long Toms which was stationed upon Doornkloof, and of several smaller guns and pom-poms which spat at them from nooks and crevices of the hills. On our side were seventy-two guns, large and small, all very noisy and impotent.
The original intention was that guns should be taken up on to Vaal Krantz, and that with their assistance a strong force would wheel round and take Doornkloof in the rear; but owing to the discovery that the former hill was dominated from several points, it was found impracticable to carry the plan into execution.
The previous attempt had been upon the line immediately to the west of Spion Kop. If, however, one were to follow to the east of Spion Kop, one would come upon a high mountain called Doornkloof. Between these two peaks, there lies a low ridge, called Brakfontein, and a small detached hill named Vaalkranz.
General Hart pleaded to be allowed to make an attempt on Doornkloof with his brigade; but, strongly held as that position was, it was deemed impossible that it could be captured by a single brigade.
As soon as the bridge was complete Lyttelton's Brigade would cross, and, ignoring the fire from the Boer left, extended along the Doornkloof heights, attack the Vaal Krantz ridge, which formed the left of the horseshoe curve around the debouches of Potgieter's.
From prisoners they learned that four thousand Boers occupied Doornkloof, the hill on their flank, and that the whole of the Transvaalers under Joubert were gathering in their front.
For the same reason the two brigades of cavalry had remained inactive. During the night the Boers set fire to the grass on Vaal Krantz, and by the assistance of the light kept up a shell and Maxim fire upon the troops holding it. By morning they had brought up one of their big hundred-pound Creusot guns on to Doornkloof, and it added its roar to the chaos of other sounds.