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Sir Redvers Henry Buller
7 December 1839(1839-12-07) – 2 June 1908 (aged 68)
Sir Redvers Henry Buller
Place of birth Crediton, Devon
Resting place Holy Cross Churchyard, Crediton
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch Flag of the British Army.svg British Army
Years of service 1858 - 1901
Rank General
Unit King's Royal Rifle Corps
Battles/wars Second Anglo-Chinese War
Ashanti Campaign
Xhosa Wars
Anglo-Zulu War
First Boer War
Egypt campaign
Mahdist War
Second Boer War
Awards Victoria Cross
Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath
Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George

General Sir Redvers Henry Buller VC GCB GCMG (7 December 1839–2 June 1908) was a British general and Victoria Cross holder.


Early life and career

Redvers Buller was born at Crediton, Devon, the son of MP James Wentworth Buller. After completing his schooling at Eton 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.

Zulu War and Victoria Cross

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.

Buller's VC action

His VC citation reads:

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.[1]

First Boer War, Sudan and Ireland

In the 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.

Second Boer War and sacking

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 forbid 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.[2]

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,[3] 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[4]. 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.

Later life

The statue of Buller in Exeter.

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, EX17 3PL, and is buried at Holy Cross churchyard, Church Street, Crediton, Devon, EX17 2AQ.


Detail of Buller statue in Exeter.

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."[5]

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.


  1. ^ London Gazette: no. 24734, p. 3966, 17 June 1879. Retrieved on 24 December 2009.
  2. ^ Regan, Geoffrey. "The Guinness Book fo Military Blunders", 1991.
  3. ^ Redvers Buller at Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  4. ^ Buller: A Scapegoat? A life of General Sir Redvers Buller, V.C. (Geoffrey Powell., 1994)
  5. ^ Pakenham, p 485


  • Monuments To Courage (David Harvey, 1999)
  • The Register of the Victoria Cross (This England, 1997)
  • Pakenham, Thomas. The Boer War. New York: Avon Books, 1979. ISBN 0-380-72001-9
  • On the Psychology of Military Incompetence (Norman Dixon 1994 ISBN 0-7126-5889-0)
  • The Times: various articles October 1901 dealing with his sacking

External links

Military offices
Preceded by
Sir Arthur Herbert
Quartermaster-General to the Forces
Succeeded by
Sir Thomas Baker
Preceded by
Lord Wolseley
Adjutant General
Succeeded by
Sir Evelyn Wood


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