At the beginning of the South Africa War Boer forces entered Natal and attacked the British forces at Dundee. As the British retreated to Ladysmith the Boers took up positions along the Thukela River in the Colenso area.
The British, under Sir Redvers Buller, tried to break through the Boer lines but on 15 December 1900 suffered a humiliating defeat at Colenso.
Spioenkop was the highest point on the Boer line, offered good views in all directions, and would allow command of the road to Ladysmith, so it seemed the best place to break the Boer line.
On the night of 23 January 1900 the British attempt to capture Spioenkop began. A series of blunders and misunderstandings resulted in another defeat for the British. Under the cover of dark and obscured by mist 1700 British soldiers moved towards the summit of the mountain. After little resistance they were able to flush the 100 or so Boers from the top of the mountain where the British dug in.
This seemed like a good position, but as the mist lifted at dawn the British found themselves exposed to fire from the surrounding hills each occupied by the Boers.
In particular the Carolina Commando, under Cmdt. Hendrik Prinsloo who occupied Aloe Knoll to the right of the British position, were responsible for many of the British casualties.
British reinforcements arrived during the day but it made little difference to the battle that ended the following night when the British began a retreat. On the day 343 British were killed and 563 wounded. The Boers lost 68 men and 134 were wounded.
Today the battlefield is marked by a number of monuments, graves and interpretative displays.