Ranging then and now: Rogers, Simcoe, Knowlton and other Rangers

May 25, 2021
Categories:Stuff and Things

The frontiersmen and scouts of Roger’s Rangers were asymmetrical warfare experts before there even was a Continental Army (and long before anyone coined the term Asymmetrical Warfare). Once the Continental Army was established, many of those in the first 10 Rifle Companies they raised were veterans who’d been trained by Robert Rogers.

Rogers Rangers in battle with French and Indians: painting by Ron Embleton.

A painting by Ron Embleton depicts a troop of Rogers Rangers in hand to hand combat with French soldiers and Indian allies, somewhere in a snow-covered wilderness.

Image credit above: Rogers Recon, by Pamela Patrick White.

Robert Rogers

Considered to be the father of modern light infantry, Ranger, and Ranger-like units, Robert Rogers is one of the most oft-quoted and widely studied small unit leaders in history.

“My Lord, this Gentleman has been known to me since 1755, when finding him an Active man I raised him to the rank of  Provincial Officer and employed him on Scouting service there being very few people than to be had fit for the purpose, he has since been advanced by several of the Commanders In Chief for his alertness in that way.”

Letter to the Earl of Shelburne from Sir William Johnson on the recruitment of Robert Rogers as a scout, October 26, 1767


Though Rogers Rangers fought for the British, it was prior to the American Revolutionary War. Many of them, veterans by the time of that later conflict, used their skills as woods-wise irregulars on behalf of the Colonials. But not all of them. Some remained loyal to the Crown.

Rogers Rangers

The men of the Ranging companies were typically skilled woodsmen. They scouted and fought with an effective mix of some contemporary military equipment, though not employing traditional tactics. Rather they employed techniques they’d learned on the frontier, as well as many adapted from the Native Americans they variously fought against and alongside.

In addition to the now-iconic tomahawk, their primary firearm was the battle rifle of the day – meaning a musket. Often, though not always, a smoothbore flintlock such as .75 caliber “Brown Bess”. It’s possible some Rangers carried an early version of the .69 French Charleville or later Model 1754 Musket as well. Some may have had access to a shorter “dragoon” model, but this would have been a rarity if it happened at all.

“…Rogers practiced–and largely invented–a new form of deep woodland warfare, innovating and synthesizing techniques and tactics as he went…[He taught his soldiers] not to fight with lash-taught resolution but to think for more than themselves–a shattering break with past European practices. From the woods of New England emerged…a motivator of warriors as individuals, who could draw them far beyond their perceived abilities.” 

John F. Ross, War on the Run

“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.”

Robert Rogers Plan of Discipline c. 1756 (Journals of Major Robert Rogers) 

One of Rogers Rangers in the French and Indian War

One of Rogers Rangers (a private) depicted as he might have been equipped during the French and Indian War c. 1758. Painting by Don Troiani.

The British in America prized the reconnaissance, scouting, and intelligence gathering) abilities of Rogers Rangers but were reputedly uncomfortable with their non-traditional tactics, dress, equipment, and demeanor. The unit was formally disbanded as a military formation in 1761 but was later revived with Loyalist (i.e. pro-British) soldiers and used for the same purpose during the American Revolutionary War.


This brings us to…

The Queen’s Rangers

The Queen’s Rangers (also known as the Queen’s American Rangers, as opposed to the King’s Rangers, q.v.) were a mostly contemporary evolution of Roger’s Rangers. They were one of the Loyalist regiments raised during the American Revolutionary War to fight for the British against the Colonies. Raised in part by Major Rober Rogers, the unit was later commanded by John Graves Simcoe (which is why they were informally referred to as “Simcoe’s Rangers”).

Knowlton’s Rangers

Perhaps the most famous of Knowlton’s Rangers is Nathan Hale. You know him best from a little sentence that goes something like…“I regret that I have but one life to give for my country.”

Maybe you’ve heard of it.

Knowlton’s Rangers, authorized by George Washington and recruited by Lt. Col. Thomas Knowlton in 1776, was established in large part to conduct reconnaissance and espionage on behalf of the Continental Army. It is an ancestor of modern US military intelligence formations.

Other Ranger Units

Other Ranger units (on both sides of the American Revolutionary War, and for that matter other countries as well) include Butler’s Rangers, Gorham’s Rangers, the “Continental Ranger Regiment”, and, predating all of them, the Ranger company formed by Col. Benjamin Church during King Philip’s War.

You should read Entertaining Passages relating to Philip’s WarChurch’s memoir.

Check back for updates, this is an ongoing project. 

Army Rangers Today

A current formation of the Canadian Army, and of course of the US Army, as well as the Defence Forces of Ireland, are directly descended from the original Roger’s Rangers and subsequent Queen’s Rangers.

To wit:

75th Ranger Regiment

Queen’s York Rangers

Army Ranger Wing (Sciathán Fiannóglaigh an Airm)

Note: Fianóglach = Ranger

This is a work in progress.
Check back occasionally as you’re able: this article will be updated frequently, the tactics and leadership of these ranging units is of great interest to many of us!
Hit us with your comments, anecdotes, or additions to this article in the comments below!

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