When the United States military decided to establish a counterpart to the British Commandos during World War II, they didn't have to go far for inspiration in naming the unit.
The United States has had ranger units at many times in the past, soldiers who "ranged" over vast areas beyond the posts manned by conventional troops, operating in small units or, as was often the case with the Texas Rangers, individually.Â The most famous military ranger organization was that of Major Robert Rogers during the French and Indian Wars.
Rogers was the General Patton of his day, known throughout the British colonies for his exploits. In modern times, the exploits of Rogers Rangers were captured in the Kenneth Roberts book, "Northwest Passage" filmed in 1940.
There were several ranger units made up of colonial recruits who knew the land attached to the British Army during the French and Indian Wars, but Rogers Rangers led the pack. The British used the rangers for special operations and reconnaisance.
Unlike the middle-aged actor Spencer Tracy who portrayed him, the real Major Robert Rogers of New Hampshire was a well-seasoned frontiersman who was only half Tracy's age (b. 1731). He was in his mid-20's when Europe's Seven Years War became North America's French and Indian War (1754-1763). Within a year of joining the Crown forces, Rogers was putting together his rangers.
Wearing distinctive green uniforms, aided by Indians and even free blacks, Rogers trained the men in small unit tactics and musket target practice which the regulars disdained as wasteful. The rangers began to undertake numerous small but important combat missions until 1758. In that year, the rangers were ambushed after an ambush of their own and lost nearly 125 rangers. For awhile it was believed Rogers was lost too.
In 1759, Rogers Rangers were dispatched on what would be their greatest achievement, a punative mission against the tribal village of Saint Francis on the St Lawrence River. It was the home of the much hated Abenaki, who had been responsbile for many attacks on homes and farms in New England on behalf of the French.Â Two hundred Rangers set off from Crown Point, New Hampshire, and reached Saint Francis on October 3, 1759, where they launched an attack with great success and great loss of life among the Abenaki. The Abenaki scaled back their attacks on the colonists.
After completing the attack, the rangers returned on foot to Fort Wentworth where Rogers left the starving men and went on to successfully fetch food for his men. It was this mission that was portrayed in the book and movie, Northwest Passage.
Among Rogers accomplishments, was the codifcation of the principles of his trade, referred to as Roger's Rules of Ranging, and even today those are basic to the teachings passed on to Army Rangers. Among the 28 rules were such practical advice as if attack larger forces at night to hide your weakness, be on your guard for enemy attack at first light, and keep prisoners separated so they can't agree on their stories.
After the French and Indian Wars ended, Rogers never was able to equal his earlier success. He published his Journal containing his account of activities during the war and it became a best-seller. Alcoholism laid him low, however. He was never to fight for the American cause and, in fact wound up serving with a ranger unit on the British side. On the Continental side, veterans of Rogers Rangers were among the minutemen who meet the British troops at Lexington and Concord in 1775. And John Paul Jones named his ship Ranger in honor of Rogers Rangers.
He died in debt in England May 18, 1795. Today, a Connecticut-based reenactment group portrays Rogers Rangers at special living history events throughout New England. A similar unit is set up in Grand Rapids, Michigan. All of this in honor of one of the great warriors of the early history of this nation.
"Jaeger's Battalion," Rogers Rangers http://www.rogersrangers.com/
"Robert Rogers," Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Rogers_(soldier)
"Rogers Rangers French and Indian War," Rogers Rangers www.rogersrangers.org/rogers/index.html
Roninspoon, "Rogers Rangers Standing Orders," Everything2 http://everything2.com/title/Rogers%2520Rangers%2520Standing%2520Orders