In my experience, the average family historian seeking an ancestor said to have served with British forces in the Anglo-Zulu War 1879 begins with minimal information. There are a fortunate few who find original letters, diaries and personal accounts of the ancestor’s career among family memorabilia or miraculously preserved in museum collections. If a medal awarded to your soldier has survived and is accessible to you, engraved on the rim will be his name, rank and regiment: an enviable starting point for discovering further details.
A fundamental nugget of information is the unit with which the man served. In the context of the Zulu War there are plenty of regiments to choose from. Your ancestor may have been a regular in the British Army. He may have been in the ‘irregulars’ – Imperial mounted units raised in
Or he could have been in one of several Colonial volunteer units. If he fails
to turn up in among the military, there’s a chance he was a sailor or marine in
the Naval Brigade.
Considering the extent of the British forces in the field, finding an individual forebear among them is a daunting task. Although you believe your soldier was in a certain regiment known to have taken part in the Zulu War, this doesn’t necessarily mean that he personally served in the campaign, or even set foot in
Africa. Not every company of each battalion
of all regiments which served in the war was present in Zululand.
Some units arrived sporadically, coming up to Natal
via the Cape where they had previously been
involved in campaigns on the Eastern Frontier. Some troops were among
reinforcements who arrived by sea before the first or second invasion. In Zululand, detachments of men would be sent to forts way
out in the veld to build walls while their company could be in the thick of
action elsewhere. Men died or due to injuries or disease were invalided home
and their places taken by new recruits. The situation was fluid.
It’s only by accessing the ancestor’s service documents that his military activities will come into sharper focus – that is, if his service documents have survived. There's no guarantee on that score.
|3rd Buffs guarding Zulu prisoners 1879|