The United States Military Still Uses the 18th Century Robert Rogers’ Rules of Ranging

An old, non-authentic portrait of Robert Roger...
Non-authentic portrait of Robert Rogers. There is no known artist rendition of Roger’s exact likeness.

Captain Robert Rogers (Major Rogers, as listed in his Journals), was one of the more colorful characters in American history. He was an incredible military leader who adapted wilderness tactics which equipped the British in The French and Indian War (or The Seven Years War as it’s known in Europe). From 1754 until 1763, both French and British armies employed native Americans and American colonists in settling their dispute. Rogers’ assistance in leading scout parties and expeditions into the wild was an immense contribution to England’s eventual victory. In addition to his leadership, he also proved an able instructor, training both colonists and British officers in the art of wilderness fighting

Rogers may not have been the first to attire himself in native fashion, but many believe that he is the first to demand his company of rangers to wear clothes which suited the forests of America. He was the first to employ camouflage effect in the woods. His men wore leather breeches of Indian-dressed elk or deerskin, leggings of coarse woolen cloth or dried pelts wrapped loosely around the legs or tied with garters; moccasins made of strong elk or buckskin; dressed, soft shirts made of tow-cloth steeped in a tan-vat to the color of dry leaf; and short green coats. Trousers were also worn dyed the same color as the shirts. In July of 1767, near Lake George, NY, Rogers penned his rules of ranging. Lord Loudoun had ordered Rogers to train a detail of men in wilderness tactics. In doing so, he may also have been the first person to train his men using live ammunition. The setting and object of the instruction is best described in Rogers’ own words, as recorded in his Journals:

In Benjamin West’s 1770 painting “The Death of General Wolf”, the figure in the green coat is purported to be Robert Rogers. He was present at the Battle of Quebec on Sept. 13, 1759 and supposedly was witness to the British general’s death.

“About this time Lord Loudoun sent the following volunteers in the regular troops, to be trained to the ranging, or wood-service, under my command and inspection; with particular orders to me to instruct them to the utmost of my power in the ranging discipline, our methods of marching, retreating, ambushing, fighting, &c. that they might be the better qualified for any future services against the enemy we had to contend with, desiring me to take particular notice of each one’s behavior, and to recommend them according to their several deserts.”

“These volunteers I formed into a company by themselves, and took the more immediate command and management of them to myself; and for their benefit and instruction reduced into writing the following rules or plan of discipline, which, on [several] occasions, I had found by experience to be necessary and advantageous.” These rules continued to prove their value over a hundred and fifty years later, when Lt. Colonel William Darby of the U.S. Army issued them verbatim to the First United States Ranger Battalion in World War II.

Colonial rangers during the French & Indian War

All who heard about Roger’s exploits in the wilderness, proclaimed his sagacity and bravery, whether the stories involved marching into battle, preparing an ambush, navigating dense forest, or surviving in the forest. Nevertheless, emerging from war a heroic figure does not guarantee success as a civilian. Rogers lapsed into a drifting semi-failure once peace was restored. He was unable to follow normal pursuits such as routine employment, family responsibilities or financial solvency. His lack of honesty, disregard for the opinions and the orders of his superiors, and frequent bouts of drunkenness led his military superiors to regard him with distrust.

Queen’s Ranger – loyalists who fashioned themselves after Rogers’ Rangers.

Prior to the American Revolution, Rogers’ time in England was wrought with debt and imprisonment. When he returned to the colonies, he offered his services to the Americans and was jailed in Philadelphia. He escaped while en route to a New England prison and made his way to New York City and there met an old comrade, Lord Howe. He received command of The Queen’s Rangers, a unit that he recruited in the regions around New York City. Drunkenness led to his dismissal in 1777 and he lost his commission, including his half-pay. After two uneventful years recruiting for the British, he returned to England, penniless and pursued by his creditors. He died in squalid conditions in 1795.

Rogers was forgotten until Francis Parkman recounted the exploits of Rogers’ Rangers in his popular Montcalm and Wolfe novel for boys published in 1884. In 1935, Rogers’ contribution to the French and Indian war, including his decline, was given generous space in the Dictionary of American Biography. Kenneth Roberts featured him in his 1937 historical novel, Northwest Passage. Hollywood made a movie of the same title in 1940 with the popular actor Spencer Tracy portraying Rogers.

The Twenty-eight Rules:

  1. All Rangers are to be subject to the rules and articles of war; to appear at roll-call every evening, on their own parade, equipped, each with a firelock, sixty rounds of powder and ball, and a hatchet, at which time an officer from each company is to inspect the same, to see they are in order, so as to be ready on any emergency to march at a minute’s warning; and before they are dismissed, the necessary guards are to be drafted, and scouts for the next day appointed.
  2. Whenever you are ordered out to the enemy’s forts or frontiers for discoveries, if your number be small, march in a single file, keeping at such a distance from each other as to prevent one shot from killing two men, sending one man, or more, forward, and the like on each side, at the distance of twenty yards from the main body, if the ground you march over will admit of it, to give the signal to the officer of the approach of an enemy, and of their number, &c.
  3. If you march over marshes or soft ground, change your position, and march abreast of each other to prevent the enemy from tracking you (as they would do if you marched in a single file) till you get over such ground, and then resume your former order, and march till it is quite dark before you encamp, which do, if possible, on a piece of ground which that may afford your sentries the advantage of seeing or hearing the enemy some considerable distance, keeping one half of your whole party awake alternately through the night.
  4. Some time before you come to the place you would reconnoiter, make a stand, and send one or two men in whom you can confide, to look out the best ground for making your observations.
  5. If you have the good fortune to take any prisoners, keep them separate, till they are examined, and in your return take a different route from that in which you went out, that you may the better discover any party in your rear, and have an opportunity, if their strength be superior to yours, to alter your course, or disperse, as circumstances may require.
  6. If you march in a large body of three or four hundred, with a design to attack the enemy, divide your party into three columns, each headed by a proper officer, and let those columns march in single files, the columns to the right and left keeping at twenty yards distance or more from that of the center, if the ground will admit, and let proper guards be kept in the front and rear, and suitable flanking parties at a due distance as before directed, with orders to halt on all eminences, to take a view of the surrounding ground, to prevent your being ambuscaded, and to notify the approach or retreat of the enemy, that proper dispositions may be made for attacking, defending, &c. And if the enemy approach in your front on level ground, form a front of your three columns or main body with the advanced guard, keeping out your flanking parties, as if you were marching under the command of trusty officers, to prevent the enemy from pressing hard on either of your wings, or surrounding you, which is the usual method of the savages, if their number will admit of it, and be careful likewise to support and strengthen your rear-guard.
  7. If you are obliged to receive the enemy’s fire, fall, or squat down, till it is over; then rise and discharge at them. If their main body is equal to yours, extend yourselves occasionally; but if superior, be careful to support and strengthen your flanking parties, to make them equal to theirs, that if possible you may repulse them to their main body, in which case push upon them with the greatest resolution with equal force in each flank and in the center, observing to keep at a due distance from each other, and advance from tree to tree, with one half of the party before the other ten or twelve yards. If the enemy push upon you, let your front fire and fall down, and then let your rear advance thro’ them and do the like, by which time those who before were in front will be ready to discharge again, and repeat the same alternately, as occasion shall require; by this means you will keep up such a constant fire, that the enemy will not be able easily to break your order, or gain your ground.
  8. If you oblige the enemy to retreat, be careful, in your pursuit of them, to keep out your flanking parties, and prevent them from gaining eminences, or rising grounds, in which case they would perhaps be able to rally and repulse you in their turn.
  9. If you are obliged to retreat, let the front of your whole party fire and fall back, till the rear hath done the same, making for the best ground you can; by this means you will oblige the enemy to pursue you, if they do it at all, in the face of a constant fire.
  10. If the enemy is so superior that you are in danger of being surrounded by them, let the whole body disperse, and every one take a different road to the place of rendezvous appointed for that evening, which must every morning be altered and fixed for the evening ensuing, in order to bring the whole party, or as many of them as possible, together, after any separation that may happen in the day; but if you should happen to be actually surrounded, form yourselves into a square, or if in the woods, a circle is best, and, if possible, make a stand till the darkness of the night favors your escape.
  11. If your rear is attacked, the main body and flankers must face about to the right or left, as occasion shall require, and form themselves to oppose the enemy, as before directed; and the same method must be observed, if attacked in either of your flanks, by which means you will always make a rear of one of your flank-guards.
  12. If you determine to rally after a retreat, in order to make a fresh stand against the enemy, by all means endeavor to do it on the most rising ground you come at, which will give you greatly the advantage in point of situation, and enable you to repulse superior numbers.
  13. In general, when pushed upon by the enemy, reserve your fire till they approach very near, which will then put them into the greatest surprise and consternation, and give you an opportunity of rushing upon them with your hatchets and cutlasses to the better advantage.
  14. When you encamp at night, fix your sentries in such a manner as not to be relieved from the main body till morning, profound secrecy and silence being often of the last importance in these cases. Each sentry therefore should consist of six men, two of whom must be constantly alert, and when relieved by their fellows, it should be done without noise; and in case those on duty see or hear anything, which alarms them, they are not to speak, but one of them is silently to retreat, and acquaint the commanding officer thereof, that proper dispositions may be made; and all occasional sentries should be fixed in like manner.
  15. At the first dawn of day, awake your whole detachment; that being the time when the savages choose to fall upon their enemies, you should by all means be in readiness to receive them.
  16. If the enemy should be discovered by your detachments in the morning, and their numbers are superior to yours, and a victory doubtful, you should not attack them till the evening, as then they will not know your numbers, and if you are repulsed, your retreat will be favored by the darkness of the night.
  17. Before you leave your encampment, send out small parties to scout round it, to see if there be any appearance or track of an enemy that might have been near you during the night.
  18. When you stop for refreshment, choose some spring or rivulet if you can, and dispose your party so as not to be surprised, posting proper guards and sentries at a due distance, and let a small party waylay the path you came in, lest the enemy should be pursuing.
  19. If, in your return, you have to cross rivers, avoid the usual fords as much as possible, lest the enemy should have discovered, and be there expecting you.
  20. If you have to pass by lakes, keep at some distance from the edge of the water, lest, in case of an ambuscade or an attack from the enemy, when in that situation, your retreat should be cut off.
  21. If the enemy pursues your rear, take a circle till you come to your own tracks, and there form an ambush to receive them, and give them the first fire.
  22. When you return from a scout, and come near our forts, avoid the usual roads and avenues thereto, lest the enemy should have headed you, and lay in ambush to receive you, when almost exhausted with fatigues.
  23. When you pursue any party that has been near our forts or encampments, follow not directly in their tracks, lest they should be discovered by their rear guards, who, at such a time, would be most alert; but endeavor, by a different route, to head and meet them in some narrow pass, or lay in ambush to receive them when and where they least expect it.
  24. If you are to embark in canoes, battues, or otherwise, by water, choose the evening for the time of your embarkation, as you will then have the whole night before you, to pass undiscovered by any parties of the enemy, on hills, or other places, which command a prospect of the lake or river you are upon.
  25. In paddling or rowing, give orders that the boat or canoe next the sternpost, wait for her, and the third for the second, and the fourth for the third, and so on, to prevent separation, and that you may be ready to assist each other on any emergency.
  26. Appoint one man in each boat to look out for fires, on the adjacent shores, from the numbers and size of which you may form some judgment of the number that kindled them, and whether you are able to attack them or not.
  27. If you find the enemy encamped near the banks of a river or lake, which you imagine they will attempt to cross for their security upon being attacked, leave a detachment of your party on the opposite shore to receive them, while, with the remainder, you surprise them, having them between you and the lake or river.
  28. If you cannot satisfy yourself as to the enemy’s number and strength, from their fire, &c. conceal your boats at some distance, and ascertain their number by a reconnoitering party, when they embark, or march, in the morning, marking the course they steer, &c. when you may pursue, ambush, and attack them, or let them pass, as prudence shall direct you. In general, however, that you may not be discovered by the enemy upon the lakes and rivers at a great distance, it is safest to lay by, with your boats and party concealed all day, without noise or show; and to pursue your intended route by night; and whether you go by land or water, give out parole and countersigns, in order to know one another in the dark, and likewise appoint a station every man to repair to, in case of any accident that may separate you.
Rangers acting as pickets and skirmishers using the more accurate grove bored Kentucky Long Rifles.

Modern version (edited, and still referred to in modern Ranger publications):

  1. During the Revolutionary War, Colonel Thomas Knowlton would command what would be known as ‘Knowlton’s Rangers.’ Knowlton was one of Rogers’ Rangers during the previous war and modeled his rangers tactics on Rogers’ Rules.

    All Rangers are subject to the rules of war.

  2. In a small group, march in single file with enough space between so that one shot can’t pass through one man and kill a second.
  3. Marching over soft ground should be done abreast, making tracking difficult. At night, keep half your force    awake while half sleeps.
  4. Before reaching your destination, send one or two men forward to scout the area and avoid traps.
  5. If prisoners are taken, keep them separate and question them individually.
  6. Marching in groups of three or four hundred should be done in three separate columns, within support distance, with a point and rear guard.
  7. When attacked, fall or squat down to receive fire and rise to deliver. Keep your flanks as strong as the enemy’s flanking force, and if retreat is necessary, maintain the retreat fire drill.
  8. When chasing an enemy, keep your flanks strong, and prevent them from gaining high ground where they could turn and fight.
  9. When retreating, the rank facing the enemy must fire and retreat through the second rank, thus causing the enemy to advance into constant fire.
  10. If the enemy is far superior, the whole squad must disperse and meet again at a designated location. This scatters the pursuit and allows for organized resistance.
  11. If attacked from the rear, the ranks reverse order, so the rear rank now becomes the front. If attacked from the flank, the opposite flank now serves as the rear rank.
  12. If a rally is used after a retreat, make it on the high ground to slow the enemy advance.
  13. When laying in ambuscade, wait for the enemy to get close enough that your fire will be doubly frightening, and after firing, the enemy can be rushed with hatchets.
  14. At a campsite, the sentries should be posted at a distance to protect the camp without revealing its location. Each sentry will consist of 6 men with two constantly awake at a time.
  15. The entire detachment should be awake before dawn each morning as this is the usual time of enemy attack.
  16. Upon discovering a superior enemy in the morning, you should wait until dark to attack, thus hiding your lack of numbers and using the night to aid your retreat.
  17. Before leaving a camp, send out small parties to see if you have been observed during the night.
  18. When stopping for water, place proper guards around the spot making sure the pathway you used is covered to avoid surprise from a following party.
  19. Avoid using regular river fords as these are often watched by the enemy.
  20. Avoid passing lakes too close to the edge, as the enemy could trap you against the water’s edge.
  21. If an enemy is following your rear, circle back and attack him along the same path.
  22. When returning from a scout, use a different path as the enemy may have seen you leave and will wait for your return to attack when you’re tired.
  23. When following an enemy force, try not to use their path, but rather plan to cut them off and ambush them at a narrow place or when they least expect it.
  24. When traveling by water, leave at night to avoid detection.
  25. In rowing in a chain of boats, the one in front should keep contact with the one directly astern of it. This way they can help each other and the boats will not become lost in the night.
  26. One man in each boat will be assigned to watch the shore for fires or movement.
  27. If you are preparing an ambuscade near a river or lake, leave a force on the opposite side of the water so the enemy’s flight will lead them into your detachment.
  28. When locating an enemy party of undetermined strength, send out a small scouting party to watch them. It may take all day to decide on your attack or withdrawal, so signs and countersigns should be established to determine your friends in the dark.
  29. If you are attacked in rough or flat ground, it is best to scatter as if in rout. At a pre-picked place you can turn, allowing the enemy to close. Fire closely, then counterattack with hatchets. Flankers could then attack the enemy and rout him in return.

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Clements, William L.  & Rogers, Robert,  Journal of Major Robert Rogers.  1918 reprinted from a 1765 publication with introduction:  American Antiquarian Society, New York, NY.

Cuneo, John R., The Early Days of the Queen’s Rangers August 1776 – February 1777.  1958:  Military Affairs vol. 22 pages 65-74.

Peckham, Howard H., Journals of Major Robert Rogers Reprinted from the original editionof 1765 with Consulting Editor.  1961:  Corinth Books, New York, NY.

Ross, John F. War on the Run: The Epic Story of Robert Rogers and the Conquest of American’s First Frontier.  2009:  Bantam Books, New York, NY.

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