A commander’s account of the campaigns of his famous regiment
Robert Rogers and his Rangers are familiar to students of the early wars of America. During the French and Indian War, they won lasting renown originating an operational style that has endured to be an essential component of modern armies. Scant few years after the defeat of France in the New World another war would come. It would be a bitter conflict between Crown and colony, neighbour against neighbour, friend against former friend. As the emergent American nation began its painful birth, its people divided between those who fought for old allegiances and those who sought independence. Robert Rogers allied himself to the British cause. As a 'loyalist' he formed a new regiment--The Queen’s Rangers. Commanded by John Simcoe, with whose name they would forever be associated, these rangers embodied the spirit of their forebears. They were light troops, clad in green, expert shots, skilled in scouting and ambush. Now there was even a mounted contingent--the Huzzars. This fascinating book chronicles the campaign Queen’s Rangers against the new Continental Army, Militia and its old enemies the French and the fierce Indians of the Eastern Woodlands--every action described in detail by their leader.
Upon the arrival at Monmouth, the Queen’s Rangers covered headquarters; the army halted the next day, and foraged.
On the morning of the 27th, the Queen’s Rangers marched, at two o’clock, and occupied the post from which the second battalion of light infantry were drawn, to march with the second division, under General Kniphausen: a great extent of ground was to be guarded, and the whole corps lay upon their arms. In the morning, about seven o’clock, orders were brought to Lieutenant-Colonel Simcoe, “to take his Huzzars and try to cut off a reconnoitring party of the enemy, (supposed to be M. Fayette,) who was upon a bald hill, and not far from his left.”
As the woods were thick in front, Lieutenant-Colonel Simcoe had no knowledge of the ground, no guide, no other direction, and but twenty Huzzars with him; he asked of Lord Cathcart, who brought him the order, whether he might not take some infantry with him, who, from the nature of the place, could advance nearly as expeditiously as his cavalry? His Lordship assenting, Lieutenant-Colonel Simcoe immediately marched with his cavalry, and the grenadier company, consisting of forty rank and file. He had not proceeded far, before he fell in with two rebel Videttes, who, galloping off, the cavalry were ordered to pursue them, as their best guides; they fled on the road down a small hill, at the bottom of which was a rivulet; on the opposite rising, the ground was open, with a high fence, the left of which reached the road, and along which, a considerable way to the right, a large corps was posted. This corps immediately fired, obliquely, upon the Huzzars, who, in their pursuit of the Videttes, went up the road, and gained their left, when Ellison, a very spirited Huzzar, leapt the fence, and others followed.
Lieutenant-Colonel Simcoe, in the meantime, brought up the grenadiers, and ordered the Huzzars to retreat; the enemy gave one universal fire, and, panic struck, fled. The Baron Stuben, who was with them, lost his hat in the confusion. Lieutenant-Colonel Simcoe rode along the fence, on the side opposite to which the enemy had been, posting the grenadiers there; the enemy fired several scattering shots, one of which wounded him in the arm. For some seconds, he thought it broken, and was unable to guide his horse, which, being also struck, ran away with him, luckily, to the rear; his arm soon recovering its tone, he got to the place where he had formed the Huzzars, and with fourteen of them, returned towards a house, to which the right of the enemy’s line had reached.
Upon his left flank he saw two small parties of the enemy; he galloped towards them, and they fled: in this confusion, seeing two men, who, probably, had been the advance of these parties, rather behind the others, he sent Sergeant Prior, and a Huzzar, to take them, but with strict orders not to pursue too close to the wood. This the Sergeant executed; and, after firing their loaded muskets at the large body which had been dislodged and was now rallying, the prisoners were obliged to break them, and to walk between the Huzzars and the enemy.
The business was now to retreat, and to carry off whomsoever might be wounded in the first attack. The enemy opposite seemed to increase, and a party, evidently headed by some general officer, and his suit, advancing, to reconnoitre: it suggested to Lieutenant-Colonel Simcoe, to endeavour to pass, as on a similar design; and, for this purpose, he dispatched a Huzzar to the wood in his rear, to take off his cap, and make signals, as if he was receiving directions from some persons posted in it The party kept moving, slowly, close to the fence, and towards the road; when it got to some distance from the house, which has been mentioned. Lieutenant-Colonel Simcoe called out audibly, as if to a party posted in it, “not to fire till the main body came close,” and moved on slowly parallel to the enemy, when he sent Ryan, an Huzzar, forward, to see if there were any wounded men, and whether the grenadiers remained where he had posted them, adding, “for we must carry them off or he with them;” to which the Huzzar replied, “to be sure, your honour”
On his return, and reporting there was nobody there, Lieutenant-Colonel Simcoe struck obliquely from the fence, secured by a falling of the ground from danger, over the brook to the wood, where he found Captain Armstrong had, with great judgment, withdrawn his grenadiers. From thence he returned to camp, and sending his prisoners to the General, went himself to the baggage, his wound giving him excruciating pain, the day being like to prove very hot, and there not appearing the least probability of any action.
Two Huzzars, and three of the infantry, were wounded in this skirmish; one of the Huzzars died at Monmouth after the action; the other, who was able to have marched, was left by the Hospital, and fell into the hands of the enemy. It is obvious that, of all descriptions of people, the Rangers were the last who should have been left as prisoners, since so many deserters from the enemy were in the corps: the soldiers had the utmost reliance upon their own officer’s attention to this particular.
The enemy who were defeated, consisted of that corps of Jersey militia which in General Lee’s trial, is said “to have given way,” by the evidence of the field officer who brought up fresh troops and cannon to support it. They were those detachments, which Sir Henry Clinton’s letter says, “the Queen’s Rangers fell in with among the woods, and dispersed,” and who, probably, as Washington’s account says, “were the Jersey militia, amounting to about seven or eight hundred men, under the command of General Dickenson.” They were destined to attack the baggage, but made no other attempt that day.
Lt Col. Simcoe, who was half way up a tree, on the top of which was a drummer boy, saw a flanking party of the enemy approach. The troops had scarcely fallen into their ranks, when a smart firing was heard from the Indians, who had lined the fences of the road, and were exchanging shot with Lt. Col. Emmerick, whom they had discovered. The Queen’s Rangers moved rapidly to gain the heights, and Lt. Col. Tarleton immediately advanced with the Huzzars, and the Legion cavalry. Not being able to pass the fences in his front, he made a circuit to return further upon their right; which being reported to Lt. Col. Simcoe, he broke from the column of the Rangers, with the grenadier company, and, directing Major Ross to conduct the corps to the heights, advanced to the road, and arrived, without being perceived, within ten yards of the Indians.
They had been intent upon the attack of Emmerick’s corps, and the Legion; they now gave a yell, and fired upon the grenadier company, wounding four of them, and Lt Col. Simcoe. They were driven from the fences; and Lt. Col. Tarleton, with the cavalry, got among them, and pursued them rapidly down Courtland’s-ridge. That active officer had a narrow escape; in striking at one of the fugitives, he lost his balance and fell from his horse; luckily, the Indian had no bayonet, and his musket had been discharged. Lt Col. Simcoe joined the battalion, and seized the heights. A Captain of the rebel light infantry, and a few of his men, were taken; but a body of them, under Major Stewart, who afterwards was distinguished at Stony Point, left the Indians, and fled.
Though this ambuscade, in its greater part, failed, it was of consequence. Near forty of the Indians were killed, or desperately wounded; among others, Nimham, a chieftain, who had been in England, and his son; and it was reported to have stopped a larger number of them, who were excellent marksmen, from joining General Washington’s army. The Indian doctor was taken; and he said, that when Nimham saw the grenadiers close in his rear, he called out to his people to fly, “that he himself was old, and would die there;” he wounded Lt. Col. Simcoe, and was killed by Wright, his orderly Huzzar.
The Indians fought most gallantly; they pulled more than one of the cavalry from their horses; French, an active youth, bugle-horn to the Huzzars, struck at an Indian, but missed his blow; the man dragged him from his horse, and was searching for his knife to stab him, when, loosening French’s hand, he luckily drew out a pocket-pistol, and shot the Indian through the head, in which situation he was found. One man of the Legion cavalry was killed, and one of them, and two of the Huzzars, wounded.