WAR ON THE RUN: The Epic Story of Robert Rogers and the Conquest of America’s First Frontier, John F. Ross, Bantam, hardcover, 548pp, index, color insert, maps
Major Robert Rogers was and remains the most famous person to come out of the French and Indian Wars, what Winston Churchill described as the real first world war. In its unending dispute with England, France decided the next war would be fought in North America rather than further devastating Europe. Plans went awry and the war spread uncontrollably from there not only to Europe, but even as far as India.
Rogers melded the military skills of Europe with the combat skills and sensibilities of the American Indians. As redcoated British regulars stumbled all over the place, repeatedly inviting defeat, Rogers consistently delivered victories with a motivation and toughness emulated by his direct descendants, the U.S. Army Rangers, established during World War Two
The ultimate test was the raid on St Francois on the St Lawrence River, a successful effort to knock the Abenaki out of the war. The trek to St Francois (often referred in other books as St Francis) was straight forward enough, the raid was brutally successful, recovering dozens if not hundreds of scalps hanging from scalp poles in the village center. It did act to neutralize the Abenaki. But from there, Rogers men had to return by land route — their boats and food cache had been discovered — and his men staggered along, dying of hunger, until reaching a location where they would find provisions. Unlike the movie based on the novel about the raid, Northwest Passage (1940), there was no food waiting for them (technically, it wasn’t. In the movie the food showed up long minutes after they did). The relief column had, in fact, just left, leaving fires still smoldering. Rogers pushed downriver and finally reached the fort where food was sent back to the rendezvous point.
Despite his fame, the post-war years were tough on Rogers. High level enemies, subordinate to his protector, Lord Amherst, devoted their efforts to bringing Rogers down. They denied him money to pay debts he had personally incurred as he tried to keep the Rangers going, lied about him, and helped frame him for treason.
Later, during the Revolutionary War, patrician Virginia landowner George Washington mistrusted the froniersman Rogers, at least partly due, perhaps to his low birth, and refused to take him on.
Rogers joined the Loyalists and fought numerous small actions and personally captured spy Nathan Hale.
A major problem was that Rogers was so successful he had become a legend. In a time when communications were crude, rumor was printed as fact and had him in very delicate circumstances. In fact, his focus had turned to finding the Northwest Passage. Britain missed its chance to alter the history we now know. It was another 40 years or so before Lewis and Clark were sent west by the third president, Thomas Jefferson.
Rogers instead died in squalor in London, unappreciated by the empire he had served so well during the French and Indian War, opposed by better-bred, high-ranking men who were his inferiors.
His legacy lives on among special operations units around the world who live by Roberts Rules of Ranging, the first military manual issued in the New World.
A very welcome book with plenty of detail about Rogers career from formative years through his wartime experiences and after, even his record during the Revolutionary War. If Rogers interests you at all, this is the book to get to get a full picture of this man of unflagging will.