Rogers and His Rangers II

The legacy of what became known as the “Whipping Post Mutiny,” combined with the great expense of equipping the ranger companies, led Loudoun to conclude it would be better if he could train regular troops to perform the scouting and raiding duties for the army. Indeed, Prince William, the Duke of Cumberland, wrote Loudoun, “I hope that you will, in time, teach your Troops to go out on Scouting Parties, for, ‘till Regular Officers with men that they can trust, learn to beat the woods, & to act as Irregulars, you never will gain any Intelligence of the Enemy, as I fear, by this time you are convinced that Indian Intelligence & that of the Rangers is not at all to be depended upon.” In a break from tradition, Loudoun had started placing regular officers under provincial command in order for Rogers to teach them the fundamentals of ranging. Rogers accepted fifty-five “Gentleman Volunteers” for training in “ranging discipline.” In December 1757, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Gage (later of Lexington and Concord fame) offered to raise and pay for a five-hundred-man regiment of “light-armed foot,” provided the Crown compensated him and advanced him to the rank of colonel. Loudoun approved, believing that this would cut the expenses and improve discipline. In 1758 Gage began recruiting, and by May Gage’s new 80th Regiment of Foot was established with the newly minted colonel at its head. However, Gage had ignored officers with ranging experience, used very few of the men who had training under Rogers and his men, and instead filled positions with regular line officers. Gage would prove to be a competent administrator, but lacked the aggressiveness needed for battle. In time Gage’s force proved to be inept at ranging, and when they were used, they were placed under the command of Rogers.

In 1757, as Rogers trained his rangers on Rogers Island (across the Hudson from Fort Edward), he codified his method of guerrilla warfare into what has come down to us as Rogers’s “Rules of Ranging.” In attempting to standardize his rules for guerrilla warfare, Rogers distilled his concepts into twenty-eight “Standing Orders” that outlined his principles. Here he was training his men for “ranging, or wood-service, under my command and inspection; with particular orders to me to instruct them to the utmost of my power in ranging-discipline, our methods of marching, retreating, ambushing, fighting &c.” Rogers noted the list of rules were based on his own experience “which upon various occasions, I had found by experience to be necessary and advantageous.” The rules have proven to be a timeless guide to small-unit fighting. In fact, a fictionalized folksy version of the rules, originally printed in Kenneth Roberts’s 1937 novel about Rogers, Northwest Passage, follows the “Ranger’s Creed” in the U.S. Army Ranger Handbook. However, the original rules from Rogers’s journals are still studied by Army Ranger students today.

The rules cover a wide variety of subjects, even including the daily inspections during which men would 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.” The rules contain timeless pieces of advice as well. For example, Rogers cautions rangers moving on patrol, “if your number be small, march in a single file, keeping at such a distance from each other as to prevent one shot from killing two men, sending one man, or more.” When crossing wetlands where tracks are easy to follow, Rogers suggests that men shift from walking in single file to abreast “to prevent the enemy from tracking you,” then to resume their former order on dry land. Men should keep moving and camp after it is “quite dark” in an area that will permit sentries the ability to see and hear “the enemy some considerable distance.” In order to quickly respond to any threat, Rogers orders that half of the men remain awake “alternately through the night.” He calls for prisoners to be separated “till they are examined” in order to extract the most information from each. He also warns against returning from a patrol using the same route, writing, “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.” While traveling in large bodies, he required units to send out flanking parties on all sides to “prevent your being ambuscaded, and to notify the approach or retreat of the enemy.” In a rejection of standard practices of eighteenth-century European warfare, he calls for men to take cover under fire, adding, “If you are obliged to receive the enemy’s fire, fall, or squat down, till it is over; then rise and discharge at them.” He advises men to cover each other as they “advance from tree to tree, with one half of the party before the other ten or twelve yards.”

Robert Rogers foresaw many circumstances that modern fighters know well. Modern military tactics call for leaders to point out rally points for troops on patrol. If caught by an ambush and command is scattered, men automatically fall back to the rally point and set up a perimeter of defense. Rogers foresaw this, noting, “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.” The modern soldier is well acquainted with the whisper just before dawn of the order to “stand to,” which is short for stand-to-arms. The twilight hour of dawn has historically been the preferred time for a surprise attack, a crucial fact not lost on Rogers. He ordered his men at daybreak to “awake 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.” He gave practical advice for avoiding being ambushed by following main roads and using common fords. He showed them how to follow the enemy without being discovered. Rather than following directly behind them, Rogers advised his men to circle around them “to head and meet them in some narrow pass, or lay in ambush to receive them when and where they least expect it.”

In January 1758 Loudoun ordered Rogers to recruit five new companies of rangers, including a company of Natives. All were to be “able-bodies, well acquainted with the woods, used to hunting, and every way qualified for the Rangeing service.” Four of the new companies were sent to Louisburg, North Carolina, and Rogers took command of the fifth at Fort Edward.

On March 10, 1758, Rogers led a force of 183 men up from Lake George to Fort Carillon. However, the campaign started off on the wrong foot. The British commander of Fort Edward, Colonel Haviland, had previously sent out a raiding party under the future American Revolutionary War hero, Israel Putnam, and had made it public knowledge that Rogers’s command would venture out as well upon Putnam’s return. One of the men had been captured and another had deserted to the French, and it was clear to Rogers that by sending his party out at this point, the commander had lost his most valuable commodity—the element of surprise. In addition, Rogers had originally been promised four hundred men for the raid, but had only 183. Rogers had a premonition about the events that would unfold: “I acknowledge I entered upon this service . . . with no little concern and uneasiness of mind,” he recalled, “for there was the greatest reason to suspect that the French were, by the prisoner and deserter above mentioned, fully informed of the design of sending me out.” He also questioned Colonel Haviland’s motives for the orders. The rangers had nothing but problems with the regulars at the fort, and Rogers noted, “I must confess it appeared to me (ignorant and unskilled as I was then in politicks and arts of war) incomprehensible; but my commander doubtless has his reasons, and is able to vindicate his own conduct.”

The rangers utilized advance scouts, flanking parties, and even ice skates to cross the lake. On March 13, advancing on the fort, they took to the woods and used snowshoes to remain under cover of the forest. Next they split the command into two divisions and proceeded along parallel routes to within two miles of the garrison’s advanced guards. After advancing along a narrow valley following a creek, the advance scouts informed Rogers that perhaps as many as ninety-six Natives were advancing in their direction. Rogers ordered his men to drop their packs and set an ambush. After placing the men, “we waited till their front was nearly opposite to our left wing, when I fired a gun, as a signal for a general discharge upon them.” The volley killed as many as forty Natives, and the survivors retreated. Rogers ordered a charge. But they did not go far: unbeknownst to the rangers, the party they had ambushed was but an advanced guard of six hundred or more French and Indians.

Rogers ordered his men to fall back to their previous position, “which we gained at the expence of fifty men killed.” He rallied the survivors and managed to drive off the enemy. With their backs to the mountain, Rogers’s men were attacked on three sides and the rangers drove them back a third time. With around two hundred men, the Natives then proceeded to climb the mountain to their rear. Here Rogers sent a lieutenant with eighteen men to hold the ridgeline and sent more to cover his left. Rogers recorded that “the fire continued almost constant for an hour and half from the beginning of the attack, in which time we lost eight officers, and more than 100 private men killed on the spot.” Rogers and about twenty survivors retreated to the ridge and reunited with the men previously sent there. Here one of the detachments was cut off and surrounded. They were offered what they thought were good terms and surrendered; only then did they discover that their fate was to be “inhumanly tied up to trees and hewn to pieces, in a most barbarous and shocking manner.”

“I now thought it most prudent to retreat,” Rogers noted. Closely followed by Natives, the force retreated back to Lake George and gathered some of the surviving wounded with their sleds. He sent word to Fort Edward for help bringing in the wounded and resumed the march the next morning. Rogers summarized that he had faced perhaps a hundred Canadians, supported by no less than six hundred Indians; he thought his forces might have killed as many as 150 of the enemy, at a cost of nearly his entire command. Despite his prescience, Rogers never accepted responsibility for the disaster he led his men into and never questioned his own judgment in setting an ambush for an enemy force without first determining its size and composition. Instead he blamed Colonel Haviland for advertising the raid and sending out an undersized force.

Rogers and his men continued to scout and support the British in 1758, taking part in the Battle of Carillon on July 7 and 8. Now promoted to the rank of Major of Rangers, the new British commander in North America Major General Jeffrey Amherst ordered Rogers on a mission he had long sought, an attack on hostile Native settlements in Canada. By summer of 1759 the situation for the British in America had improved much. In July the British captured Carillon (or Fort Ticonderoga) and Fort Niagara. They had now taken the war directly to Canada, with the key city of Québec under siege. Amherst was also set on revenge. He had sent a delegation under a flag of truce to parley a treaty with the Abenakis at St. Francis in Québec. Amherst became incensed when he learned that his men had been taken as prisoners. Rogers noted, “this ungenerous, inhumane treatment determined the General to chastise these savages with some severity.” Amherst ordered Rogers to take a force of two hundred men and “march and attack the enemy’s settlements on the south side of the river St. Lawrence, in such a manner as you shall judge most effectual to disgrace the enemy, and for the success and honour of his Majesty’s arms.” However, he added, although the enemy had “murdered the women and children of all ages, it is my orders that no women or children are killed or hurt.”

Rogers saw this as a golden opportunity to settle an old score. These were the same people who had attacked the Great Meadow in 1745, when he was just fourteen, destroying his homestead and killing so many of his neighbors. In September 1759, half a lifetime later, Rogers paddled north from Crown Point in the company of two hundred men, with vengeance on his mind. Most were rangers, but the force also included Stockbridge Indians, Mohegans who were part of the rangers, and a few regulars. Ten days later they hid their boats at Misisquey Bay (present-day Missisquoi Bay) and began an overland march to St. Francis. They left two Natives behind to watch their boats and supplies, only to learn the French and Indians had discovered them and had a force of four hundred in pursuit. “This unlucky circumstance,” noted Rogers, “(it may well be supposed) put us into some consternation.” With their line of retreat blocked and supplies and boats captured, Rogers elected to press ahead with the mission. He sent a messenger back to Crown Point asking for supplies to be diverted over the mountains to the Connecticut River, offering the force a second route. After ten days of pushing through wetlands to avoid being easily followed, they reached the St. Lawrence about fifteen miles north of the town. Fording the river, they marched south. Climbing a tree, Rogers finally spotted St. Francis about three miles away. At around 8:00 p.m., as the light faded, he gathered two officers and left to observe the town. He found the Indians in “a high frolic or dance,” guaranteeing the element of surprise. Returning to his force at 2:00 a.m., he set out with them an hour later. Reduced by the rigors of the journey to 142 men, they quietly approached to within five hundred yards of the village, stowed their packs, and prepared to attack. Rogers waited until half an hour before sunrise; then his men swarmed through.

The surprise was complete. Rogers noted that the “enemy had not time to recover themselves or take arms for their own defence, till they were chiefly destroyed.” A few broke for their canoes along the water, only to be chased down and shot by the rangers. The rangers had no sympathy for their victims and no reason, in their own minds, to follow Amherst’s “orders that no women or children are killed or hurt”: Rogers explained that this tribe “had for near a century past harrassed the frontiers of New England, killing people of all ages and sexes in a most barbarous manner.” In a six-year period, Rogers continued, this tribe had captured or killed “400 persons.” As they looted and destroyed the village, Rogers noted, “we found in the town hanging on poles over their doors, c., about 600 scalps, mostly English.”

Rogers found two storehouses with corn that he planned on using for the return trip. Just after sunrise, he ordered that the town be burnt. Some Natives were incinerated alive, as “the fire consumed many of the Indians who had concealed themselves in the cellars and lofts of their houses.” The Catholic church was looted and its bell was taken. By 7:00 a.m. Rogers concluded that the event was over. He bragged of killing “at least two hundred Indians, and taken twenty of their women and children prisoners.” He released most, but brought away two boys and three Native girls; he also liberated five “English captives” with whom he would return. However, the French reported that Rogers and his men killed only forty people and carried away ten prisoners.

Learning that a large force of French and Indians were actively searching for them and expecting them to return via Lake Champlain, Rogers met with his officers and they agreed that the Connecticut River was their only viable route back south. After marching south for eight days, provisions began to run short. Rogers divided the command into several independent companies who—split up with guides—would lead them along different paths to a predetermined rally point at the mouth of the Amonsook River. There supplies from Crown Point should have been waiting for them; however, when they arrived, Rogers and his men discovered that the officer who had been sent from Crown Point with supplies had given up and returned hours before their arrival. After building a raft, Rogers set out with a couple of men for the nearest settlement, a frontier fort known simply as the Fort at Number 4 (now Charlestown, New Hampshire). They arrived after several days and were able to send food and rescue to the rest of the party. Men continued to drift in, and by the time he reached Crown Point on December 1, 1759, Rogers tallied forty-nine men lost since leaving St. Francis.

Rogers’s St. Francis raid is significant for several reasons. It demonstrated that General Amherst and the British had accepted “the first way of war” in America, to use Grenier’s phrase. This is war between partisan or guerrilla bands, targeting civilians and their farms and villages. It incorporates the raid and ambush and rarely includes quarter to men—and only occasionally to women and children. The British were now willing to use American rangers in place of their fickle Native allies to act as guides, scouts, and raiders. Rogers demonstrated that American forces could be just as well adapted to the same long-range raiding that the French and Indians had already practiced for a century along the frontier. Finally, it demonstrated to the French and Indians that their homelands were no longer immune from the terror they had long practiced themselves, with their own frontier raids into the northern British colonies.

The fall of Québec in 1759 and Montréal the next year marked the end of much of the Native raiding along the frontier and foretold the demise of New France. Ultimately, however, the war was not won by the guerrilla tactics practiced by Rogers and others. The British under Gage had attempted to train forces for unconventional warfare, but met with little success. Instead it was William Pitt’s use of naval and regular forces in conventional warfare that turned the tide. Cut off by blockades from trading with the French, many tribes declared neutrality, and some switched sides to the British.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *