The most famous ranger—and the father of covert warfare
As the ‘age of sail’ progressed the great nations of Europe understood that the lands and wealth of the globe were within the grasp of their imperial ambitions. Which nation would win most became a race that, inevitably, would culminate in a struggle to establish who could gain—and hold—most. The principal contestants were France and Britain and their bitter, age-old rivalry would lead to a final conflict in the middle years of the 18th century—the Seven Years War, which would be fought on bloody fields in Europe, Asia and significantly in the New World of the Americas. There colonists of each nation struggled to build lives among the indigenous Indian tribes of the eastern woodlands. Here was a war, subject to the severest weather conditions, fought among deep forests, on lakes and in huge tracts of unmapped wilderness. Regular troops of both nations were engaged, together with militias raised among local populations combined with the savage element of Iroquois and Huron Indian allies. ‘Cometh the moment, cometh the man’ and the man for that moment was Robert Rogers. This was not the place for the formal battle lines of uniformed regulars. Here the principal advantage lay in stealthily gained intelligence, surprise and the hit and run tactics of the ambuscade. So the ‘special forces’ fighter was born and the men who shared his skills were bonded together as units in the form of independent companies of rangers who could melt into the forest, subsist on it, do their silent work and reappear as silently. This is a biography of their most famous and successful commander. Rogers was no two dimensional hero, he was a man suited to his time and his war; tough, resourceful, ruthless and allegedly dishonest and unscrupulous. His successes were often marred by reverses of the most disastrous kinds. His career spanned two wars and in the second of them whilst he remained true to his allegiances the fact that he was on the losing side contributed much to his downfall. This book, a record of the life of a man whose influence on the nature of warfare to the present day is immense, makes riveting reading for all those interested in the French and Indian War and American War of Independence.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
Continued rainstorms confined the soldiers to camp for several days, during which time the savages held a veritable carnival in marketing their wild turkeys and venison. Meanwhile Pontiac had withdrawn. On November 29th, when Rogers’ lieutenants, in presence of a vastly larger French force, cut loose the white lilies of the Bourbons from the flagstaff at Detroit, and raised in their stead the colours of England, seven hundred Indians, standing by with their chief, lifted a mighty cry of wonderment and acclamation. They had been ready but a few days before to fall in annihilating strength upon the English, but had been restrained by Pontiac.<br>
During Rogers’ stay at Detroit, he often saw the proud chieftain, who dwelt with his squaws and retainers on Pèche Isle, a high, wooded islet nearby in Lake St. Clair, and—always with strong deference to Pontiac’s intense personal pride and egotism—engaged him in repeated interviews. He learned much concerning the western country, and the empire which even then the lake Indians had formed, and discovered in him “great strength of judgment, great thirst after knowledge, and great jealousy of his own respect and honour.” The chief offered the major a part of his kingdom if he would take him overseas to England and initiate him into British military, social, and commercial affairs; but at the same time made it clear that he would expect to be treated abroad with the courtesy due an independent and equal potentate. He was decisive in his assertions that the country of the western tribes was not to be bartered about among European nations as a piece of conquered territory.<br>
Now Rogers was guiding a party over this same route, but in arms against the chief, and amid widespread signs of his hostile power. On the seventh of July, in calm bright weather, the force set out, and, soon leaving the thunder and mist of the falls far behind, were by nightfall well out along the full expanse of the lake. They numbered nearly two hundred, in part veterans who had fought battles under the British flag in many climes, in part experienced provincial scouts; Rogers had direct command of the twenty men most experienced in wood service, and guided the expedition as it proceeded. Dalyell, who had served continuously in America since 1756, was of indubitable bravery and experience, there seems early to have been some jealous friction between the two men.
Through successive days of oppressive heat they coasted the south shore, moving as fast as they might; the lake was calm, the heavy green tops of the fringing woods hung languidly motionless in the full effulgence of the sun, and the sky met the water at the horizon like an inverted mirror. They finally reached the charred, wrecked ruins of the fort at Presqu’ Isle, the ground about it furrowed and littered with the works thrown up by the attacking savages; and a few days later Sandusky, where dusty trenches, converging upon a mound of ashes, and some half-burned timbers, told the same story of violence. At this point they landed to wreak vengeance upon a neighbouring village of the Wyandotte, and, after ravaging their cornfields, pushed on again by water for the mouth of the Detroit River.<br>
When they arrived here on the evening of July 28th, all was still, for the savage host, lying only a few miles above, had not even a scout out to sound the alarm. Under cover of night, paddling as rapidly as possible, they ascended the stream, and in the misty dawn, making a final dash for the beleaguered fort, gained the protection of its guns just at sunrise. As they entered, the Indian besiegers broke the silence of a fortnight with a hot fusillade, and inflicted a trifling loss upon the hindmost boats; but nothing could stop the cheers of the garrison, worn as they were with constant watching, and as the soldiery disembarked, the streets of the French village rang with their rejoicing. The barracks could not accommodate the new arrivals, and they were quartered in the homes of the habitants.<br>
The Indian army under Pontiac, then numbering more than two thousand warriors, had but recently withdrawn its main camp to a river marsh two miles above the post, whence it kept the town and fort constantly surrounded. Dalyell feared its withdrawal, and proposed an immediate attack, which was actually set on foot soon after midnight on the second day after his coming. By some it is said that a dispute between the provincials and the English regulars as to their relative fighting effectiveness was the mainspring behind the ill-judged advance. The commander’s plans were betrayed to the Indians by the French about the post, and when in the heavy gloom just before the dawn of July 31st his little corps moved out from town along a road parallel to the river, and into the pitchy forest beyond, he was attacked in force.<br>
The battle which followed is known as Bloody Run, for it surged and varied along the shores of a little stream which for hours ran crimson. The English column, stumbling along the darkness of the village road, with its flank protected by two cannon-bearing bateaux on the river opposite, was on the point of crossing this creek, when it was met in the face by the fire of the entrenched savages, forced back in confusion, re-attacked on the open side, and finally, as it still rallied stubbornly, pushed back among the first scattering houses of the town. Half of the officers were killed in the first moments of the combat, and, despite the heroic efforts of the rearguard to keep open the communications with the fort in the rear, the full body occupied several hours in its fighting retreat, which the Indians endeavoured repeatedly to cut off. After their first fire the savages scattered, and from behind trees, wood piles, barns, and outbuildings poured a galling fusillade into the ranks of the troops, still bewildered in the slowly-dissipating darkness.