The Battle of Rourkes Drift was fought during the Anglo-Zulu War (1879).
The stand at Rourkes Drift lasted from January 22 to January 23, 1879.
In response to the death of several colonists at the hands of the Zulus, South African authorities issued an ultimatum to the Zulu king Cetshwayo requiring that the perpetrators be turned over for punishment.
After Cetshwayo refused, Lord Chelmsford assembled an army to strike at the Zulus. Dividing his army, Chelmsford sent one column along the coast, another from the northwest, and personally traveled with his Centre Column which moved through Rourkes Drift to attack the Zulu capital at Ulundi.
Arriving at Rourkes Drift, near the Tugela River, on January 9, 1879, Chelmsford detailed Company B of the 24th Regiment of Foot (2nd Warwickshire), under Major Henry Spalding, to garrison the mission station. Belonging to Otto Witt, the mission station was converted into a hospital and storehouse. Pressing on to Isandlwana on January 20, Chelmsford reinforced Rourkes Drift with a company of Natal Native Contigent (NNC) troops under Captain William Stephenson. The following day, Colonel Anthony Durnfords column passed through en route to Isandlwana.
Late that evening, Lieutenant John Chard arrived with an engineer detachment and orders to repair pontoons.
Riding ahead to Isandlwana to clarify his orders, he returned to the drift early on the 22nd with orderes to fortify the position. As this work began, the Zulu army attacked and destroyed a sizable British force at the Battle of Isandlwana. Around noon, Spalding left Rourkes Drift to ascertain the location of reinforcements that were supposed to be arriving from Helpmekaar.
Prior to leaving, he transferred command to Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead.
Shortly after Spaldings departure, Lieutenant James Adendorff arrived at the station with news of the defeat at Isandlwana and the approach of 4,000-5,000 Zulus under Prince Dabulamanzi kaMpande. Stunned by this news, the leadership at the station met to decide their course