THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR THROUGH THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
During the American Revolution (1775-1784), the individual states and the continental government made widespread use of Rangers. On June 14, 1775, with war on the horizon, the Continental Congress resolved that six companies of expert riflemen be immediately raised in Pennsylvania, two in Maryland, and two in Virginia. In 1777, this force of hardy frontiersmen provided the leadership and experience necessary to form the organization George Washington called the Corps of Rangers. Dan Morgan commanded the Corps of Rangers.
The type of fighting used by the first Rangers was further developed during the Revolutionary War by Colonel Daniel Morgan, who organized the unit known as Morgan’s Riflemen. These men, clad in frontiersman buckskin garb, schooled in the Indians’ methods of forest fighting, and armed with the deadly, accurate frontiersmen’s rifles were without equal. Their service ran from 1775 to 1781, and some of their most famous battles were fought at Freeman’s Farm during September 1777 and at the Battle of Cow Pen during January 1781, against General Cornwallis’ crack British troops. According to remarks by General Burgoyne, a famous British general, Morgan’s men were the most famous corps of the Continental Army. All of them crack shots.
Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox, organized another famous Revolutionary War Ranger element. Marion’s Partisans, numbering anywhere from a handful to several hundred, operated both with and independently of, other elements of General George Washington’s Army. Operating out of the Carolina swamps, they disrupted British communications and prevented the organization of loyalists to support the British cause, thus contributing materially to an American victory. Their service also was from 1775 to 1781, and like Colonel Daniel Morgan, they fought against Cornwallis’ army. The Swamp Fox used many of Rogers’ standing orders during his engagements in and out of the swamps of Carolina.
Marion’s group took part in the capture of Fort Johnson and in the victory of Charleston (1775). This victory gave the southern states a respite from fighting for nearly three years. Again active in 1780, Marion was instrumental in the capture of Fort Watson and Fort Motte, South Carolina, the following year. The loss of Fort Motte, on the line of communication between Camden and Charleston, was a great blow to the British cause. Marion’s men also commanded the first line at the Battle of Eutaw Springs, taking prisoners in one of the decisive battles of the Revolutionary War.
A favorite retreat of Marion’s fighters was Snow Island. Deep swamps bordered the island, and great quantities of game and livestock existed inland. Marion’s men were able to launch sudden attacks from the island in any direction, surprising, killing, or capturing bands of Tories gathering to aid the British. After each action, they would withdraw once again to the safety of the swamps.
The British Colonel Tarleton once pursued Marion’s band through swamps and defiles for 25 miles. Arriving at a seemingly impassable swamp, Tarleton halted and cursed, the damned fox, the devil himself could not catch him Marion was to be known thereafter as the Swamp Fox
Marion’s men were good riders and expert shots. They kept close watch on the British, and detachments struck blow after blow, surprising and capturing small parties of soldiers. They continually raided outposts, scouting parties, and lines of communication. There was no certain defense against Marion’s guerrillas and their activity necessitated the presence of British regulars, even in conquered regions. This organized partisan activity was most successful against an enemy of superior forces and discipline.
Marion’s style of fighting was distasteful to the British commanders. It interfered with their plans for ensuring and perpetuating their possession of the southern country, which they sought to achieve by establishment of military posts in different parts of North and South Carolina. Marion’s rapid movements and secret expeditions cut off communication between posts and threw the whole system of government and military surveillance into confusion, aiding greatly in the Revolutionary cause.
Also active during the Revolutionary War was Thomas Knowlton’s Connecticut Rangers. This force of less than 150 handpicked men was used primarily for reconnaissance. Knowlton was killed leading his men in action at Harlem Heights.
The frontier war was bitter and hard fought; the British incited Indian tribes against the American settlements. However, some of the Ranger companies became so efficient that Indian raids practically ceased in their areas of operation.
The British Army was particularly adept in employing loyalists Ranger units, like John Butlers Corps of Rangers, in raiding and ambushing Americans along the frontier. In some instances, American and British Rangers engaged one another in combat.
THE WAR OF 1812
The British government again incited Indian tribes against the frontier during the War of 1812 (1812 -1815). Several independent companies of United States Rangers were raised from among the frontier settlers as part of the regular army. Throughout the war, they patrolled the frontier from Ohio to Western Illinois on horseback and by boat. They participated in many skirmishes and battles with the British and their Indian allies. Several companies were also raised by frontier states (in the present Midwest).
RANGERS OF THE 17TH, 18TH, AND 19TH CENTURIES AND THE INDIAN WARS
The United States government and several frontier states continued to use Rangers as protection against hostile Indians. During 1832-1833, the United States Army maintained a 600-man battalion of Mounted Rangers on the prairies and plains of the Western frontier. In 1835, Texas began using Rangers for the defense of its frontier. Companies commanded by experienced men, such as Jack Hayes, were constant danger to Indian war parties. During the war with Mexico (1846 -1848), some Texas units served under the direction of the United States Army.
During the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, Rangers were volunteers who were looked upon as specialized, elite soldiers. They conducted the types of operations that are still considered as Ranger specialties; ranging (reconnoitering an area for information or searching for target opportunity), raiding, ambushing, attacking across unusually difficult terrain, and spearheading attacks. Indians were commonly recruited to serve as guides, scouts, and Rangers. During operations, Rangers used the best available means of transportation. If the circumstances permitted, they rode horseback; however, their horses were used for transportation only. They usually dismounted and fought on foot. They also used boats whenever possible. Rangers conducted waterborne patrols and amphibious raids as early as the late seventeenth century. Units in New England sometimes conducted their winter ranging operations on snowshoes and ice skates.
The early Rangers received little formal training. The most successful units were those that were composed of men who were familiar with living and working in the forests, on the prairies, or on the plains. Such men were very independent and only good leaders could secure their best performance.
From the 1600’s until the end of the frontier in the late 1800’s, it was a tradition that Rangers provided their own weapons, clothing, equipment, and horses. In return, they were paid higher wages than other soldiers were. For example, a United States Ranger (1812 -1815) received one dollar per day; triple the normal Army pay. Rangers seldom wore standard uniforms; however, their weapons and equipment were often standard within companies. Their firearms were normally the very best that could be purchased.
Several famous men served as Rangers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. For example, Daniel Boone was a North Carolina Ranger for a short time, probably in 1759, stationed at Fort Waddell at the fork of the Yadkin River. Three of his sons commanded Ranger companies during the War of 1812. Nathan Hale was commanding a company in Thomas Knowlton’s Battalion of Connecticut Rangers during the Revolutionary War, when he volunteered for the spy mission that led to his execution by the British on September 22, 1776. In Illinois, during the Black Hawk War of 1832, Abraham Lincoln was a member of the State Frontier Guard whose members were called Rangers. He served in Elijah Illes’ company during the period May 29 -June 16, 1831. He provided his own arms and horse. Lincoln reenlisted as a Ranger in Jacob Early’s company and served from June 20 to July 10, 1831. He ranged in Northwestern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin on the lookout for hostile Indians.