Following the dreadful defeat of British troops at Isandlwana on January 22, 1879, a small British outpost/hospital called “Rorke’s Drift” – a bare dozen miles from the site of the massacre – quickly mobilized. They hastily built walls and fortifications with mealie bags between a series of buildings and a cattle kraal. The 150 defenders settled down to wait. They didn’t wait long. By late afternoon, about 4,000 Zulus fresh from The Washing of the Spears (from the title of the magnificent book by Donald R. Morris on the history of the Zulu campaign) descended on the small outpost. And attacked.
As at the Battle of Isandlwana, the Zulus configured their attack like the head of a water buffalo — the horns surrounding the enemy and the head and chest crushing forward. The battle raged through the night and into the morning. The defenders fell back into smaller and smaller redoubts. The 150 defenders poured a withering fire at the Zulus a bare foot or two beneath the mealie bag walls.
By morning, the small garrison still held – suffering a few score of casualties. Zulu casualties ran into the hundreds. And the Zulus fell back as reinforcements were detected in the distance. The defenders – the 24th Foot Regiment – succeeded in winning more Victoria Crosses (11) than any other regiment in British military history. And 85 years later, a Hollywood offering captured with historic accuracy this pivotal battle. The movie “Zulu.”