News of the massacre at Isandlwana hill had hit Britain hard and in response a flood of reinforcements were sent to Natal. For the renewed offensive Lord Chelmsford fielded 1,000 cavalry, 9,000 infantry and a further 7,000 men with 24 guns, including the first use of Gatling guns.
On 3 June the second major attempt to invade Zululand take King Cetshwayo’s principle homestead at Ulundi began.
As the British forces advanced, King Cetshwayo dispatched envoys from Ulundi, reaching Lord Chelmsford on 4 June. The envoys brought the message that the King wanted to know what terms would be acceptable to cease hostilities.
Lord Chelmsford sent a Zulu-speaking Dutch trader back with his terms – oxen, guns, elephant tusks, among other demands.
On 23 June, King Cetshwayoï¿½s envoys again appeared bearing some of what the British commander had demanded ï¿½ oxen, a promise of guns and gift of elephant tusks.
The peace was rejected as the terms had not been fully met and Lord Chelmsford turned the envoys away without accepting the elephant tusks. He replied that the advance would be delayed one day to allow the Zulus to surrender one of their regiments.
On the same day Lord Chelmsford received a telegram from Sir Garnet Wolseley, who had been sent to South Africa to supersede Lord Chelmsford in command of the forces in the Zulu War. The message ordered Chelmsford not to undertake any serious actions until he arrived.
Lord Chelmsfordï¿½s was just 27km away from Ulundi when Sir Garnet Wolseley arrived in Cape Town on 28 June. Chelmsford, who had no intention of letting Wolseley reap the reward of his efforts, did not reply to the telegram.
Wolseley send a second telegram on the 30 June which read:
‘Concentrate your force immediately and keep it concentrated. Undertake no serious operations with detached bodies of troops. Acknowledge receipt of this message at once and flash back your latest moves. I am astonished at not hearing from you.’
Wolseley, keen to snatch victory from Chelmsford, planned to sail to Port Durnford and join the 1st Division along the coast. From there he hoped he could move the Division forward and reach Ulundi in time to lead the attack.
A final message was sent to Lord Chelmsford explaining that Wolseley would be joining 1st Division and that Lord Chelmsford should retreat if he was compelled to. However rough seas meant that Wolseley had to travel much of the way by road. As Wolseley was riding north from Durban, Lord Chelmsford was preparing to engage the enemy – Wolseley’s frantic efforts to reach the front were in vain.
The redcoats of the British soldiers were now visible from the Royal Homestead and with the enemy in sight, King Cetshwayo knew he would not be bale to get one of the Zulu regiments to surrender.
Desperate to prevent imminent destruction the King sent a further hundred white oxen from his own herd along with Prince Napoleonï¿½s sword, which they had captured on 1 June 1879.
However, the Zulu impi overlooking the White Mfonzi river where the British were camped refused to let the oxen pass. The final stages of negotiation were confused and on 3 July, with negotiations having broken down, a cavalry force crossed the river.
A group of Zulus were seen herding goats near and British troops were about to round them up round them up when, on a hunch, the officer in charge ordered them to stop and prepare to fire. His instinct proved right; 3,000 Zulus rose from the long grass and fired a fusillade before charging forward.
A rapid retreat meant that only three British soldiers were killed, but Lord Chelmsford was now convinced the Zulus wanted to battle. Chelmsford replied to Wolseleyï¿½s third message, informing him that he would retreat to the 1st Division if the need arose, and that he intended to attack the Zulus the next day.
At 6:00am on 4 July 1879 the British advance on Ulundi began. Lord Chelmsford formed his infantry into a large hollow square, with mounted troops covering the sides and rear. Neither wagon laagers nor trenches would be used, to convince both the Zulus and critics that a British square could ï¿½beat them fairly in the openï¿½.
No Zulus in any numbers had been sighted by 8:00am, so the Frontier Light Horse were sent forth to provoke the enemy. As they rode across the Mbilane stream, the entire Zulu inGobamkhosi impi rose out of the tall grass in front of them, followed by impi after impi rising from all sides. 20,000 Zulu soldiers stood in horseshoe encircling the north, east and southern sides of the square. They stood thumping the ground with their feet and drumming their shields with assegai.
The four ranks of British infantry opened fire at 2,000 metres into the advancing Zulu ranks. The pace of advance quickened and the range closed between opposing lines. The courageous Zulu troops rushed forward in an attempt to get within stabbing range, but their cowhide shields proved no defence against bullet and shell from the artillery and Gatling guns
In the space of half an hour the Zulu power was broken. British casualties were ten killed and 87 wounded, while over a thousand Zulu dead were counted around the square, with about five hundred dying in the pursuit and as a result of wounds.
Lord Chelmsford ordered the Royal Homestead of Ulundi to be burnt ï¿½ the capital of Zululand would burn for days.
King Cetshwayo had been sheltering in a village since 3 July and fled upon hearing news of the defeat at Ulundi.
The day after the Battle of Ulundi, Lord Chelmsford was told that Sir Garnet Wolseley was taking over command. Lord Chelmsford replied to both the Secretary of State For War and Wolseley that he took his replacement as criticism of his conduct, and since he had now defeated the Zulus he requested permission to return home, which he did.
The British forces were dispersed around Zululand in the hunt for King Cetshwayo. The King was eventually captured on 28 August 1879 and sent into exile on Robben Island near Cape Town.