January 22-23, 1879, the Zulu
s attacked the British South African supply
post of Rorke's Drift
. The force of the B Company
of the 2/24th Regiment
were under command of a Major
Henry Spalding, whose duties included keeping open the lines of communication
; on the morning of the 19th of January, he left the fort to check on report
s of native raid
s, with the famous last words
, "You will be in charge, although, of course nothing will happen", spoken to Lt. John Rouse Merriot Chard, an engineer
who had been called in to supervise construction of a local bridge
Of course, following good narrative irony, Major Spalding and his entire force were slaughtered, and the Zulu force advanced against the encampment (all right, 'fort' is a bit of a stretch). Almost the entire 140-man defending force was composed of engineers and wounded; all others had gone along with the dearly departed Spalding. Upon hearing the news of the disaster, Chard ordered the construction of a defensive barricade made of the only supply at hand: several hundred sacks of corn meal, each weighing around 200 pounds.Noticing that all his native contingent had also duly fled and about to panic, he doubled the fort by bisecting the ring with a line of sturdy biscuit boxes, forming a sort of inner wall. Towards evening of the 22nd, only a few hours after news of the disaster arrived, the first Zulu attack came, and was stopped only some 50 yards from the barricades. Two more waves followed during the night, often penetrating the outer ring, including one that almost succeeded, against the weak position of the hospital.By early morning, some 15 British had fallen, surrounded by piles of Zulu dead, with most of the camp in flames.
Relief came in the nick of time; with only a single box of ammunition remaining for the British, they looked out to see the Zulu force withdrawing, having spied a relief force of cavalry coming up over the hills.
Aside from being a remarkable military victory, it was also remarkable for the defeat of hordes of enemy at the hands of engineers. You can see why this made it to the movies.