Colonial Rangers

The history of the American Ranger is a long and colorful one. It is a saga of courage, daring, and leadership. It is a story of men whose skills in the area of fighting have seldom been surpassed.

During the Middle Ages, Rangiatorem, or Rangers, served the English King in his forest districts. For example, In 1371, Henry Dolyng was a Ranger of the New Forest and Thomas of Croydon was a Ranger in Waltham. Those long ago Rangers apparently protected the deer from poachers, hunted wolves, and discouraged bandits from preying upon the forest hamlets.

From the very beginning of the English settlements in North America, problems were encountered in defending against Indian attacks. Initially, the colonies tried stationing small, immobile garrisons in tiny forts located on the major avenues of approach into the settled areas. However, the Indians quietly by-passed the forts, raided the settlements, and withdrew before the militia could muster and counterattack. Each colony needed a running army continually on foot to discover the Indians approach and give the militia time to assemble and march.

During that period the word range was used to describe the movement of soldiers when they patrolled an area. Thus, soldiers who ranged were called Rangers. In 1634 and 1635, Edward Backler was hired as a ranger for Kent Island, a Virginia plantation in the upper Chesapeake Bay (present Maryland). His apparent duty was to give warning of the approach of Indians who had been harassing the settlement. The private use of small parties of military Rangers by Virginia and Maryland plantation owners was probably common by the late 1630’s.

In 1648, the colony of Maryland was using Rangers to patrol its frontier. Rangers were commonly used for Maryland’s frontier defense from 1665 to 1705. They gave early warning of the movement of war parties and attacked them whenever possible. The colony of Virginia began employing Rangers on a regular basis in 1676, and continued their almost uninterrupted use until 1717. The two colonies sometimes coordinated the operations of their units. Virginia continued to employ Rangers intermittently until the end of the eighteenth century. The other southern colonies soon adopted, and continued to use Rangers during those periods when Indian raids appeared likely.

The northern colonies also began using Rangers for defense against Indians during the seventeenth century. In 1670, the colony of Plymouth (part of modern Massachusetts) maintained a unit under Thomas Willet. During King Phillips’ War (1675-1676), also known as the Metacomet War, Plymouth and Massachusetts raised and maintained Rangers for both defensive and offensive purposes. Parties of men ranged near the settlements, on the lookout for Indian war parties. Other settlers and friendly Indians were organized into independent ranging companies, such as the one commanded by Benjamin Church. The independent companies became very efficient at raiding and ambushing the hostile Indians. Most of the other northern colonies followed the example of Plymouth and Massachusetts and used Rangers to protect their frontiers during much ofthe eighteenth century. Nova Scotia, New York and Georgia Rangers were active during the War of Jenkins Ear and King George’s War (1739-1748), fighting the French and the Spanish and their Indian allies. Most of the colonies also employed Rangers to protect their frontiers from Indian raids.

In 1648, the colony of Maryland was using Rangers to patrol its frontier. Rangers were commonly used for Maryland’s frontier defense from 1665 to 1705. They gave early warning of the movement of war parties and attacked them whenever possible. The colony of Virginia began employing Rangers on a regular basis in 1676, and continued their almost uninterrupted use until 1717. The two colonies sometimes coordinated the operations of their units. Virginia continued to employ Rangers intermittently until the end of the eighteenth century. The other southern colonies soon adopted and continued to use Rangers during those periods when Indian raids appeared likely.

The northern colonies also began using Rangers for defense against Indians during the seventeenth century. In 1670, the colony of Plymouth (part of modern Massachusetts) maintained a unit under Thomas Willet. During King Phillips’ War (1675-1676), also known as the Metacomet War, Plymouth and Massachusetts raised and maintained Rangers for both defensive and offensive purposes. Parties of men ranged near the settlements, on the lookout for Indian war parties. Other settlers and friendly Indians were organized into independent ranging companies, such as the one commanded by Benjamin Church. The independent companies became very efficient at raiding and ambushing the hostile Indians. Most of the other northern colonies followed the example of Plymouth and Massachusetts and used Rangers to protect their frontiers during much ofthe eighteenth century. Nova Scotia, New York and Georgia Rangers were active during the War of Jenkins Ear and King George’s War (1739-1748), fighting the French and the Spanish and their Indian allies. Most of the colonies also employed Rangers to protect their frontiers from Indian raids.

The Seven Years’ War (1755-63), known as the French and Indian War on the American continent, was raging on the bloodied battlefields of Europe, pitting columns of drilled soldiers against one another. With soldiers standing, facing and firing volley after volley into each other’s crowded ranks, 18th century European warfare was the antithesis of the new style of warfare developed in the North American colonies during the French and Indian War by the frontiersmen.

Companies of Rangers were raised for the British Army including the Ranger Company of the New Hampshire Provincial Regiment which was changed to His Majesty’s Independent Company of American Rangers in 1756. This unit became commonly known as Robert Rogers’ Rangers.

The first Ranger company was founded on the 23rd of March 1756 and was composed of fifty privates, three sergeants, one ensign, one lieutenant and one captain. The enlisted personnel needed to be rugged individuals accustomed to traveling and hunting, and having the qualities of courage and fidelity. As soldiers paid by the British Army the Rangers were subject to military discipline and the Articles of War. Their mission was to harry, raid, destroy and distress the enemy wherever they could.

rogers

Eventually Major Robert Rogers raised ten companies to fight against the French and their Indian allies. Reconnaissance, ambushes, raids and prisoner snatches were the main tactics of the colonial Rangers and very little of these direct action missions have changed over the centuries. Ranger patrols tended to be small and when they encountered superior forces the Rangers would disperse and rally at different locations. It was, however, Robert Rogers who put Ranger training and standard operating procedures onto paper. The Standing Orders (their origin disputed but probably based on Kenneth Roberts’ majestic Northwest Passage) and Rules of Discipline have remained unchanged for centuries and are to this date taught to new Rangers. These rules are just as applicable today as they were 250 years ago.

Although there was an insistence on discipline and rules, Rangers and their officers tended to be a bit wild and often their relationships with regular troops were strained. The character of these men was what made them unique and special, thereby qualifying them for duty with Ranger companies. Unorthodox men fighting an unorthodox style required unorthodox leaders and Robert Rogers fit that category well. Rough and tough and frequently at odds with his superiors, Rogers was ideally suited to lead these hardy individuals. Average men could not have been able to accomplish the tasks which were asked of the Rangers. This paradox; of irregular fighters functioning within the hierarchical structure of a regular army, would continue to trouble future Ranger units. In response to the Rangers’ successes the French and Indians formed special anti-Ranger companies strikingly similar to the North Vietnamese reaction forces against Ranger (LRRP/LRP) teams centuries later in Asia.

Rangering or ranging in the North East during the winter required hardened men, experts at wilderness survival and crack shots with their rifles. The nature of their missions was always high risk and many Rangers were killed, wounded, captured or died of exposure or starvation.

It is also Rogers’ Rangers who would set another precedent for modern Rangers, the deep raid. Striking at the enemy in their own areas of operation became a Ranger trademark. No matter the size of the raiding or ambushing unit, Rangers from conception through modern times have excelled at striking fear into their opponents’ hearts when least expected.

In October, 1759 Rogers, along with 200 men raided the Abenaki Indians at Saint Francis, covering hundreds of miles overland and by boat, battling harsh elements for nearly a month. The raid was successful but Rogers’ command was virtually wiped out on their way back by pursuing French and Indian irregulars. The most important result of this raid was that it showed that is was possible to strike at an enemy formerly thought to have been out of reach. The St. Francis raid greatly increased the prestige and myth of Rangers.

Rogers’ Rangers accompanied Wolfe’s expedition against Quebec in the Montreal Campaign of 1760, and participated in the western campaign as far as Detroit and Shawneetown. They were sent by General Amherst to take possession of the northwestern posts, including Detroit. In the West, in 1763, Rogers and his men distinguished themselves in the Battle of Bloody Ridge.

The reputation as first-rate fighters was earned in the 18th century and since than has been continuously renewed by Rangers killing and dying on the battlefields of the world.

Major Robert Rogers’ Rules of Discipline

These volunteers I formed into a company by themselves, and took the more immediate command and management of them to myself; and for their benefit and instruction reduced into writing the following rules or plan or discipline, which, on various occasions, I had found by experience to be necessary and advantageous, viz.

I. All Rangers are to be subject to the rules and articles of wars to appear at roll-call every evening on their own parade, equipped each with a firelock, sixty rounds of powder and ball, and a hatchet, at which time an officer from each company is to inspect the same, to see they are in order, so as to be ready on any emergency to march at a minute’s warning; and before they are dismissed the necessary guards are to be drafted, and scouts for the next day appointed.

II. Whenever you are ordered out to the enemy’s forts or frontiers for discoveries, if your number is small, march in a single file, keeping at such a distance from each other to prevent one shot from killing two men, sending one man, or more, forward, and the like on each side, at the distance of twenty yards from the main body, if the ground you march over will admit of it, to give the signal to the officer of the approach of an enemy, and of their number etc.

III. If you march over marshes or soft ground, change your position, and march abreast of each other, to prevent the enemy from tracking you (as they would do if you marched in a single file) till you get over such ground, and then resume your former order, and march until it is quite dark before you encamp, which do, if possible on a piece of ground that may afford your sentries the advantage of seeing or hearing the enemy at some considerable distance, keeping one half of your whole party awake alternately through the night.

IV. Some time before you come to the place you would reconnoiter, make a stand, and send one or two men in whom you can confide, to look out the best ground for making your observations.

V. If you have the good fortune to take any prisoners, keep them separate till they are examined, and in your return take a different route from that in which you went out, that you may the better discover any party in your rear, and have an opportunity, if their strength be superior to yours, to alter your course, or disperse, as circumstances may require.

VI. If you march in a large body of three or four hundred, with a design to attack the enemy, divide your party into three columns, each headed by a proper officer, and let these columns march in single files, the columns to the right and left keeping at twenty yards distance or more from that of the center, if the ground will admit, and let proper guards be kept in the front and rear, and suitable flanking parties at a due distance as before directed, with orders to halt on all eminences, to take a view of the surrounding ground, to prevent your being ambushed, and to notify the approach or retreat of the enemy, that proper dispositions may be made for attacking, defending, etc. And if the enemy approach in your front on level ground, form a front of your three columns or main body with the advanced guard, keeping out your flanking parties as if you were marching under the command of trusty officers, to prevent the enemy from pressing hard on either of your wings, or surrounding you, which is the usual method of the savages, if their number will admit of it, and be careful likewise to support and strengthen your rear guard.

VII. If you are obliged to receive the enemy’s fire, fall, or squat down, til it is over, then rise and discharge at them. If their main body is equal to yours, extend yourselves occasionally; but if superior, be careful to support and strengthen your flanking parties, to make them equal with theirs, that if possible you may repulse them to their main body, in which case push upon them with the greatest resolution, with equal force in each flank and in the center, observing to keep at a due distance from each other, and advance from tree to tree, with one half of the party before the other ten or twelve yards, if the enemy push upon you, let your front fire and fall down, and then let your rear advance thro’ them and do the like, by which time those who before were in front will be ready to discharge again, and repeat the same alternately, as occasion shall require; by this means you will keep up such a constant fire, that the enemy will not be able easily to break your order, or gain your ground.

VIII. If you oblige the enemy to retreat, be careful, in your pursuit of them, to keep out your flanking parties, and prevent them from gaining eminences, or rising grounds, in which case they would perhaps be able to rally and repulse in their turn.

IX. If you are obliged to retreat, let the front of your whole party fire and fall back, till the rear has done the same, making for the best ground you can; by this means you will oblige the enemy to pursue you, if they do it at all, in the face of a constant fire.

X. If the enemy is so superior that you are in danger of being surrounded by them, let the whole body disperse, and every one take a different road to the place of rendezvous appointed for that evening, which must every morning be altered and fixed for the evening ensuing, in order to bring the whole party, or as many of them as possible, together, after any separation that may happen in the day; but if you should happen to be actually surrounded, form yourselves into a square, or if in the woods, a circle is best, and, if possible, make a stand till the darkness of the night favours your escape.

XI. If your rear is attacked, the main body and flankers must face about to the right or left, as occasion shall require, and form themselves to oppose the enemy, as before directed, and the same method must be observed, if attacked in either of your flanks, by which means you will always make a rear of one of your flank-guards.

XII. If you determine to rally after a retreat, in order to make a fresh stand against the enemy, by all means endeavor to do it on the most rising ground you can come at, which will give you greatly the advantage in point of situation, and enable you to repulse superior numbers.

XIII. In general, when pushed upon by the enemy, reserve your fire till they approach very near, which will then put them into the greater surprise and consternation, and give you an opportunity of rushing upon them with your hatchets and cutlasses to the better advantage.

XIV. When you encamp at night, fix your sentries in such a manner as not to be relieved from the main body till morning, profound secrecy and silence being often of the last importance in these cases. Each sentry, therefore, should consist of six men, two of whom must be constantly alert, and when relieved by their fellows, it should be done without noise; and in case those on duty see or hear anything, which alarms them, they are not to speak, but one of them is silently to retreat, and acquaint the commanding officer thereof, that proper dispositions may be made and ail occasional sentries should be fixed in like manner.

XV. At the first dawn of day, awaken your whole detachment; that being the time when the savages choose to fall upon their enemies, you should by all means be in readiness to receive them.

XVI. If the enemy should be discovered by your detachments in the morning and their numbers are superior to yours, and a victory doubtful, you should not attack them till the evening, as then they will not know your numbers, and if you are repulsed, your retreat will be favoured by the darkness of the night.

XVII. Before you leave your encampment, send out small parties to scout round it, to see if there be an appearance or track of an enemy that might have been near you during the night.

XVIII. When you stop for refreshments, choose some spring or rivulet if you can, and dispose your party so as not to be surprised posting proper guards and sentries at a due distance, and let a small party waylay the path you came in, lest the enemy should be pursuing.

XIX. If, in your return, you have to cross rivers, avoid the usual fords as much as possible, lest the enemy should have discovered, and be there expecting you.

XX. If you have to pass by lakes, keep at some distance from the edge of the water, lest, in case of an ambuscade, or an attack from the enemy, when in that situation, your retreat should be cut off.

XXI. If the enemy pursue your rear, take a circle till you come to your own tracks, and there form an ambush to receive them, and give them the first fire. numbers.

XXII. When you return from a scout, and come near our forts, avoid the usual roads, and avenues thereto, lest the enemy should have headed you, and lay in ambush to receive you, when almost exhausted with fatigue.

XXIII. When pursue any party that has been near our forts or encampments, follow not directly in their tracks, lest you should be discovered by their rear guards, who, at such a time, would be most alert; but endeavor, by a different route, to head and meet them in some narrow pass or lay in ambush to receive them when and where they least expect it.

XXIV. If you are to embark in canoes, bateaux, or otherwise by water, choose the evening for the time of your embarkation, as you will then have the whole night before you, to pass undiscovered by any parties of the enemy, on hills, or other places, which command a prospect of the lake or river you are upon.

XXV. In paddling or rowing, give orders that the boat or canoe next the sternmost, wait for her, and the third for the second, and the fourth for the third, and so on, to prevent separation, and that you may be ready to assist each other on any emergency.

XXVI. Appoint one man in each boat to look out for fires, on the adjacent shores, from the numbers and size of which you may form some judgment of the number that kindled them, and whether you are able to attack them or not.

XXVII. If you find the enemy encamped near the banks of a river, or lake, which you imagine they will attempt to cross for their security upon being attacked, leave a detachment of your party on the opposite shore to receive them, while, with the remainder, you surprise them, having them between you and the lake or river.

XXVIII. If you cannot satisfy yourself as to the enemy’s number and strength, from their fire, etc., conceal your boats at some distance, and ascertain their number by a reconnoitering party, When they embark, or march, in the morning, marking the course they steer, etc., when you may pursue, ambush, and attack them, or let them pass, as prudence shall direct you. In general, however, that you may not be discovered by the enemy on the lakes and rivers at a great distance, it is safest to lay by, with your boats and party concealed all day, without noise or show, and to pursue your intended route by night; and whether you go by land or water, give out parole and countersigns, in order to know one another in the dark, and likewise appoint a station for every man to repair to, in case of any accident that may separate you.

Journals of Major Robert Rogers

STANDING ORDERS

1. Don’t forget nothing.

2. Have your musket clean as a whistle, hatchet scoured, sixty rounds powder and ball, and be ready to march at a minute’s warning.

3. When you’re on the march, act the way you would if you was sneaking up on a deer. See the enemy first.

4. Tell the truth about what you see and what you do. There is an Army depending on us for correct information. You can lie all you please when you tell other folks about the Rangers, but don’t ever lie to a Ranger or officer.

5. Don’t never take a chance you don’t have to.

6. When you’re on the march we march single file, far enough apart so one shot can’t go through two men.

7. If we strike swamps, or soft ground, we spread out abreast, so it’s hard to track us.

8. When we march, we keep moving till dark, so as to give the enemy the least possible chance at us.

9. When we camp, half the party stays awake while the other half sleeps.

10. If we take prisoners, we keep ’em separate till we have time to examine them, so they can’t cook up a story between ’em.

11. Don’t ever march home the same way. Take a different route so you won’t be ambushed.

12. No matter whether we travel in big parties or little ones,each party has to keep a scout twenty yards on each flank and twenty yards in the rear, so the main body can’t be surprised and wiped out.

13. Every night you’ll be told where to meet if surrounded by a superior force.

14. Don’t sit down to eat without posting sentries.

15. Don’t sleep beyond dawn. Dawn’s when the French and Indians attack.

16. Don’t cross a river by a regular ford.

17. If somebody’s trailing you, make a circle, come back onto your tracks, and ambush the folks that aim to ambush you.

18. Don’t stand up when the enemy’s coming against you. Kneel down, lie down, hide behind a tree.

19. Let the enemy come till he’s almost close enough to touch. Then let him have it and jump out and finish him up with your hatchet.