Throughout American history, those of Irish descent have played a huge role in the shaping of the United States as we know it today. From forming a bulk of soldiers in the American Civil War to President Andrew Jackson and even the culture of an entire swath of of the country -ranging from the Appalachians of Western Virginia to Eastern Texas- that was borne of the cultures of the Scots-Irish-North English, the warrior-based northern borderland Celt-derived races of the British Isles have given us many a fine warrior to claim as our own, from World War II Medal of Honor recipient Audie Murphy to Former Naval Secretary/Vietnam War veteran/Senator Jim Webb, a recipient of the Navy Cross.
However, one of the more curious stories of an Irish-American involves a man who -despite fighting on the wrong side- was instrumental in providing the foundation for one of the United States’ most beloved and celebrated military units- the United States Army Rangers.
Anyone who has read the Ranger Handbook needs no further hinting of whom we are speaking about. Heck, his “Standing Orders” are quoted on the first page.
We’re speaking, of course, about Robert Rogers, leader of Rogers’ Rangers, claimed lineage of both the American and Canadian Rangers and easily one of the more colorful characters in the American Revolution.
Born to Irish parents in a tiny Massachusetts town in 1731, Rogers would move to New Hampshire as a young lad and grow up serving in the New Hampshire Militia as a private with several scouting units on the frontier.
Like many good warriors, Rogers was a troublemaker from the get-go. In 1754, he became involved with a gang of counterfeiters, but was never brought to trial. He was a hard-drinking, hard-fighting man who was more suited to the wilderness than a town.
During the Seven Years War (also known as the French and Indian War), a young Rogers made quite a name for himself after he was given the authority to recruit his own unorthodox breed of men for the war effort. Scrounging up troublemakers, hard-nosed frontier types, farmers and even some Indian scouts, the unit -which would become known as “Rogers’ Rangers- would conduct then-revolutionary guerilla warfare tactics as they conducted countless raids on enemy encampments, often in the dead of winter or unforgiving terrain.
Unlike the strictly-managed Redcoats, Rogers and his men were given quite a bit of autonomy in how they conducted warfare. They fought using many of the same tactics that warring natives had used against them in their youth on the frontier and frequently incorporated hit-and-run tactics, selective marksmanship and even the use of tomahawks.
Rogers was so feared by the French and their Native allies that he was known amongst the Abenakis tribe as “Wobomagonda,” or “White Devil.”
Unfortunately for Rogers, he also was responsible for paying his own men. A man who understood the bond of loyalty to one’s subordinates (whom he viewed as his “equals,”) Rogers went into deep personal debt to pay his men by taking loans, a necessary evil after their regular pay was stolen while in transport. While he expected the British Army to reimburse him, it never materialized as such and his debts would be a spectre that constantly haunted him for the rest of his life.
After the fall of Quebec in 1759, Rogers was forced into half-pay retirement and received large tracts of land in New Hampshire as compensation for his wartime efforts. Selling much of it for a profit, he would find himself becoming restless and by 1763 took on command of a company of mercenaries for hire.
Rogers would be called into action a few times throughout the years, but was constantly running into debt issues when the payment for his rangers would come up short. Desperate to recoup his finances, he invested in failed business ventures and gambling, which ended poorly for him/ Eventually, he was sent to a debtor’s prison in New York, but escaped. Scurrying to England to demand his compensation and capitalize on his fame, he published several books and even wrote a play. Eventually given a commission as Royal Governor of a tract of modern-day Michigan by King George III himself, he took on his new position with great zeal until a bitter rival -a blue-blood known as Thomas Gage- had him arrested on suspicion of treason, claiming he offered to sell his province to the French if he grew weary of British rule. While he was cleared of suspicions, he was tossed back into debtor’s prison, only released after threatening to sue Gage. Upon his release, he was returned to his half-pay for the rank of Major.
As the American War of Independence loomed, Rogers was offered a commission in the Continental Army by the Continental Congress, but declined on the grounds that he was a British officer. While he would later ask George Washington for a command role in his army, Washington would have him arrested. Ever the opportunist, Rogers escaped and linked up with the British Army, taking command as a Colonel in the Queen’s Rangers.
As leader of the Queen’s Rangers, Rogers would help capture the American spy Nathan Hale, whom he tricked into admitting his espionage activities by pretending to be a patriot spy himself.
Despite being on the wrong side of the Revolutionary War, Rogers had a namesake in the American war effort- American naval commander John Paul Jones named his ship the USS Ranger in honor of Rogers and his Rangers.
By 1777, the life of a Ranger (and rampant alcoholism) took a toll on Rogers, who found himself unable to stay in his home but afraid to head back to England. Banished from his New Hampshire home by Washington (and forced into a divorce from his wife), Rogers headed to England before coming back to Canada to raise the King’s Rangers. He would eventually be fired and replaced by his brother due to his alcohol issues.
Of no further use to the British Army, Rogers would drift in between jail and constant debt, dying in obscurity. While he was buried in London, his gravesite has been lost to history.
However, Rogers’ legacy lives on as the grandfather of all North American Ranger units, from Canada to the United States. In fact, a simplified version of his “Rules for Ranging” are memorized by American Rangers to this day. Verily, Rogers and his style of combat set the groundwork for modern warfare as we know it today.
While Rogers’ twenty-eight fundamental rules of ranging have been incorporated into the Ranger Handbook, another -albeit quasi-fictional- set of rules have made it into Ranger Doctrine as well. These are known as “Roger’s Standing Orders” and are as follows:
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 never lie to a Ranger or officer.
5. Don’t never take a chance you don’t have to.
6. When we’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 had 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 20 yards ahead, 20 yards on each flank, and 20 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 own 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.
20. Don’t use your musket if you can kill ’em with your hatchet.
Be it the fundamentals of long-range patrolling, lightning-fast raids or simply being the deadliest and most fearsome unit on the block, the US Army Rangers owe Rogers a great debt in establishing the groundwork for future ranger units. While only an early part of American history, his legacy lives on- a much more fitting end for a plucky, Irish-American man who struck fear into the heart of many a soldier.
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