|Redvers Henry Buller was born at Crediton, Devon, the son of MP James Wentworth Buller and Charlotte Buller.
Buller was initially sent to Harrow but was expelled thereafter entering Eaton. In Morris' Washing of the Spears Buller is mentioned
returning home from Eaton on Christmas holiday to be met at the station by his severely ill mother only to have her collapse and
then spending two days with her on a screened off bench in the terminal until she died in his arms.
After completing his schooling he was commissioned into the 60th Rifles (King's Royal Rifle Corps) in May 1858. He took part in the
Second Opium War 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 9th Cape Frontier War in 1878 and the Anglo-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. In June 1879, he again commanded mounted troops at the battle of Ulundi, a decisive British victory
which effectively ended the war.
His VC citation which appeared in the 17 June, 1879 issue of The London Gazette reads as follows:
"For his gallant conduct at the retreat at Inhlobana, on the 28th March, 1879, in having assisted, whilst hotly pursued by Zulus, in rescuing
Captain C. D'Arcy, of the Frontier Light Horse, who was retiring on foot, and carrying him on his horse until he overtook the rear guard.
Also for having on 1he same date and under the same circumstances, conveyed Lieutenant C. Everitt, of the Frontier Light Horse, whose
horse had been killed under him, to a place of safely. Later on, Colonel Buller, in the same manner, saved a trooper of the Frontier Light
Horse, whose horse was completely exhausted, and who otherwise would have been killed by the Zulus, who were within 80 yards of him."
In the Transvaal War (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 to the Forces the following year and in 1890 promoted to Adjutant-General to the Forces, 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.
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, where he had forbidden
his troops to dig trenches or foxholes for fear of damaging the pleasant countryside aesthetics, and similarly warned them against
muddying their uniforms by crawling along the ground.
Defeats the Battle of Magersfontein and Battle of Stormberg also involved forces under his command. Because of concerns about his
performance and negative reports from the field he was replaced in January 1900 as overall commander in South Africa 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 Battle of the Tugela Heights, 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 role as GOC Aldershot
District, 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. 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 2 June 1908, at the family seat, Downes House, Downes,
Crediton, Devon, and is buried at Holy Cross churchyard, Church Street, Crediton, Devon.
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."
The town of Redvers, in Canada is named after him, as is the Royal Logistic Corps barracks at Aldershot.
His Victoria Cross is displayed at the Royal Green Jackets Museum, Winchester, England.