In the late 1870s the British decided to consolidate all their possessions in southern Africa in one federation. Throughout the decades, the British had built and controlled large colonies in Africa that were part of their empire. Now with the opportunity for even more expansion, Sir Bartle Frere, high commissioner in Cape Town in British South Africa prepared to expand. East of British South Africa was Zululand. Zululand was a kingdom where Native African people lived. Their warriors mainly had spears and shields. His ultimatum to Cetshwayo, the Zulu king, provoked war. The British military commander, Lord Chelmsford led a substantial armed expedition into Zululand. He then divided his forces, leaving the veteran troops of the 1st Battalion of the 24 Regiment at an unfortified camp at Isandlwana. Scouting parties failed to establish the strength of the Zulus, some of whom had rifles.
Led by Chiefs Ntshingwayo and Mavumengwana, on January 22, 1879, the Zulus attacked and overwhelmed the 2,200 British and African allied troops. The British commander of the 1st battalion, Colonel Pulleine had against him 22,000 Zulu warriors. While Pulleine had the guns, he did not have the manpower. Lieutenant Colonel Durnford's cavalry who dismounted and fought on the extreme right flank were running out of ammunition and were eventually forced to mount and full back. The British line formation was firing volleys at the Zulus but despite having the rifles and cannons the Zulus had formed a buffalo head like formation which had horns as flanks and at the center was more of head and chest. This formation was meant to trap enemies. The British line was eventually forced to full back into the encampment. In the encampment the British soldier fought in groups to survive. However, once the ammunition ran out the Zulus massacred the groups of British troops. Colonel Durnford and some of his cavalrymen had dismounted in the camp and fought until they were out too. Durnford and his group were all killed. Colonel Pulleine was also killed in the camp. Only men on horses managed to escape from the Zulus. Out of 2,200 men the only survivors of the British force were 60 men. No prisoners were taken and the 1st Battalion was slaughtered. Too late, Chelmsford arrived with reinforcements that evening at the scene of the disaster. The entire encampment of British soldiers was dead and had taken with them 6,000 Zulu warriors.
When Lord Chelmsford arrived at Isandhlwana, he could hear and see a red glow to the west where he had left 140 men to guard the crossing at Rorke's Drift. They included patients who were sick or injured in the encampment's hospital, a few unruly soldiers of Natal kaffirs, who fled on sight of the enemy, and a handful of European civilians. The British soldiers there were under the command of Lieutenant Bromhead of the 24th and Lieutenant Chard of the Royal Engineers. They ordered their men to build a small perimeter with grain bags, wagons, and biscuit boxes. This perimeter included in it the hospital, storehouse, and kraal. The British troops fired their guns from behind the 4 ft. makeshift fortifications.
4,000 Zulus were being led by Prince Dabulamanzi; they included men who fought earlier at Isandlwana. With no chance of withdrawing the British fired their rifles at the waves of Zulus and inflicted many casualties. During the battle the Zulus stormed into the hospital and the patients had to be evacuated. Slowly and steadily the British perimeter was reduced to a circumference of 500 ft. Hand-to-hand fighting, with long bayonets against spears, continued for several hours. After 10 hours, of exhausted fighting the Zulus retreated on January 23. The extraordinary defense of Rorke's Drift cost the British just 10 lives to the Zulus' 550. Eleven Victoria Crosses were awarded to the defenders of Rorke's Drift, the largest number as of now given for any single engagement.
The Zulus never won a battle after Isandhlwana. After a few other battles that the Zulus lost, 17,000 British troops under Lord Chelmsford arrived near King Cetshwayo's royal kraal of Ulundi. He had 24,000 men against the British, but after several battles the Zulus had lost a lot of lives. The Zulus attacked on the July 4, 1879. Chelmsford had formed a square that could fight on all four sides. The Zulus were devastated by the rifles, cannons, and Gatling guns that the British used. Then, the British 17th Lancer Cavalry charged and forced the Zulus to retreat. The Zulus lost 1,500 men and the British lost 82 men. Eventually, the war ended and the Zulu Kingdom was destroyed and Zululand was now under British rule.