Piet Cronjé

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Piet Cronjé
PACronje CHM VA2863.jpg
Cronjé as a prisoner of war on Saint Helena
Birth namePieter Arnoldus Cronjé
Born(1836-10-04)4 October 1836
Colesberg, Cape Colony
Died4 February 1911(1911-02-04) (aged 74)
Potchefstroom, Transvaal, Union of South Africa
Allegiance South African Republic
Service years1880–1902

Pieter Arnoldus "Piet" Cronjé (4 October 1836 – 4 February 1911) was a South African Boer general during the Anglo-Boer Wars of 1880–1881 and 1899–1902.


Born in the Cape Colony but raised in the South African Republic, Cronjé made his reputation in the First Boer War, besieging the British garrison at Potchefstroom.[1] He had a distinctive appearance, being short with a black beard and was reputed to have considerable personal courage.

Cronjé was in command of the force that rounded up Leander Jameson at Doornkop at the conclusion of the Jameson Raid on 2 January 1896.[2] During the Second Boer War, Cronjé was general commanding in the western theatre of war. He began the sieges of Kimberley and Mafeking.[3] At Mafeking, with a force between 2,000 and 6,000 he laid siege against 1,200 regular troops and militia under the command of Colonel Robert Baden-Powell.[4]

After Lord Methuen attempted to relieve the siege of Kimberley, Cronjé fought the Battle of Modder River on 28 November 1899, where the British won a Pyrrhic victory over the Boers. Cronjé's novel tactics at the Modder River, where his infantry were positioned at the base of the hills instead of at the tops—to increase the effectiveness of their rifles' flat trajectories—earned him a place in military history. However the tactics ascribed to him were not his own; he was convinced by General Koos de la Rey and President Martinus Theunis Steyn. After Modder River, Cronjé repulsed Methuen's forces at the Battle of Magersfontein on 11 December.[4] This was actually due to De la Rey's tactics and planning; Cronjé sat idle in camp.

Cronjé was an attritionist and did not see the value in manoeuvre battles. He was defeated at the Battle of Paardeberg where he surrendered with 4,150 of his commandos on 27 February 1900, after being enveloped by Lord Roberts' forces. The commanding officer of the 3rd Battalion, the Grenadier Guards, Lieutenant Colonel Eyre Crabbe, was surprised to find that Cronjé had been accompanied on the campaign by his wife.[5][citation needed]

After his surrender he and his wife, Hester, were sent to a prison-of-war camp on Saint Helena, where he remained until the conclusion of peace negotiations in 1902.[6] Boer morale sank after his defeat, with the capital of the Orange Free State, Bloemfontein, being taken without a shot being fired. He was a South African Freemason.[7]

Cronjé was humiliated and shunned by the other Boer generals, ridiculed in the press, and was not asked to the peace talks at Vereeniging. He took part in the World Fair reenactments of the Anglo-Boer war at St. Louis in 1904. Dubbed a "circus general" by the South African press, he failed to return home, instead joining a show on Coney Island, Brooklyn.


  1. ^ Meredith, Martin (2008). Diamonds, Gold, and War: The British, the Boers, and the Making of South Africa. PublicAffairs. pp. 99–100.
  2. ^ Snook, Miles (2008). Into the Jaws of Death: British Military Blunders, 1879–1900. Naval Institute Press. p. 333. ISBN 9781591144007.
  3. ^ Hodge, Carl (2008). Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 89. ISBN 9780313043413.
  4. ^ a b Usher, George (2009). Dictionary of British Military History. A&C Black. ISBN 9781408102237.
  5. ^ "Keeping the records straight: The literary afterlife of three Boer generals". Literator. 35 (1): 2. 1 January 2014. ISSN 0258-2279. OCLC 7211697505. Retrieved 20 July 2021.
  6. ^ Knight, Ian (2004). Boer Commando 1876–1902. Osprey Publishing. p. 56. ISBN 9781841766485.
  7. ^ Vermeulen, R. "Infamous Afrikaner mason traitors". Retrieved 15 September 2018.

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