War on the Run

The Epic Story of Robert Rogers and the Conquest of America's First Frontier

"This is an epic tale of America's first great war, told with novelistic flair, and bringing to life the greatest American military leader that most readers have never encountered until now."

Joseph J. Ellis, Pulitzer Prize-Winning author, Founding Brothers: the Revolutionary Generation

Hailed as the father of today's elite special forces, Robert Rogers was not only a wilderness warrior but North America's first noteworthy playwright and authentic celebrity. In a riveting biography, John F. Ross reconstructs the extraordinary achievements of this fearless and inspiring leader whose exploits in the early New England wilderness read like those of an action hero and whose innovative principles of unconventional warfare are still used today.

They were a group of handpicked soldiers chosen for their backwoods savvy, courage, and endurance. Led by a young captain whose daring made him a hero on two continents, Rogers's Rangers earned a deadly fame among their most formidable French and Indian enemies for their ability to appear anywhere at any time, burst out of the forest with overwhelming force, and vanish just as quickly. This swift, elusive, intelligence-gathering strike force was the brainchild of Robert Rogers, a uniquely American kind of war maker capable of motivating a new breed of warrior.

The child of marginalized Scots-Irish immigrants, Robert Rogers learned to survive in New England's dark and deadly forests, grasping, as did few others, that a new world required new forms of warfare. Marrying European technology to the stealth and adaptability he observed in native warriors, Rogers trained and led an unorthodox unit of green provincials, raw woodsmen, farmers, and Indian scouts on "impossible" missions that are still the stuff of soldiers' legend. Covering heartbreaking distances behind enemy lines, they traversed the wilderness in whaleboats and snowshoes, slept without fire or sufficient food in below-freezing temperatures, and endured hardships that would destroy ordinary men.

With their novel tactics and fierce esprit de corps, the Rangers laid the groundwork for the colonial strategy later used in the War of Independence. Never have the stakes of a continent hung in the hands of so few men. Rogers would eventually write two seminal books whose vision of a unified continent would influence Thomas Jefferson and inspire the Lewis and Clark expedition.

In War on the Run, John F. Ross vividly re-creates Rogers's life and his spectacular battles, having traveled over much of Rogers's campaign country. He presents with breathtaking immediacy and painstaking accuracy a man and an era whose enormous influence on America has been too little appreciated.

Dramatis Personae

Abercrombie, Capt. James.
Nephew and aide-de-camp to Major General Abercromby (q.v.), he early discerned the value of Rogers's innovations.
Abercromby, James.
Assumed command of British North American forces (1756-1758) after Loudoun (q.v.). He suffered disastrous defeat at the hands of a far smaller French garrison at Carillon (later Fort Ticonderoga).
Amherst, Jeffery.
Took over British North American forces (1758-1768) after Abercromby (q.v.). He approved Rogers's plan to attack Saint François, then later sent him west to the receive the surrender of western French garrisons at the end of the French and Indian War.
Atecouando, Jérôme.
An Abenaki sachem and diplomat from the village of Saint François, who attempted to negotiate neutrality with the British before the French and Indian War.
Ayer, Ebenezer.
Friend of Rogers's father, who mistook him for a bear and shot him dead.
Belestre, Captain François-Marie Picoté de.
Commandant of Fort Detroit, who surrendered to Rogers in 1760.
Blanchard, Colonel Joseph.
Commander of the New Hampshire provincials, he gave Rogers his first command.
Bougainville, Louis-Antoine de.
Aide-de-camp to the M. Montcalm (q.v.).
Bourlamaque, Brigadier General Francois Charles de.
Commander of Carillon (later Fort Ticonderoga).
Braddock, General Edward.
After concentrating the first large British force in North America, he built a road toward the French stronghold at the Forks of the Ohio in 1755, and was bitterly defeated and died.
Bradstreet. Lieutenant Colonel John.
Commander of bateau men during the French and Indian War.
Brown, Thomas.
A 16-year-old private when he fought alongside Rogers at the Battle on Snowshoes, he recorded his experience of being wounded and captured in a hair-raising journal.
Browne, Arthur.
Portsmouth rector, Rogers's father-in-law, and fellow member of the Masonic Lodge.
Bulkeley, Capt. Charles.
A ranger who pacified the mutiny on Rogers's Island and fought valiantly in the Battle on Snowshoes.
Burbank, Capt. Jonathan.
A faithful ranger leader, whom the Indians mistook for Rogers and horribly mutilated.
Carver, Jonathan.
Amateur mapmaker and surveyor, he served as Rogers's partner in his search for the Northwest Passage after the war. Later published his discoveries and did not credit Rogers.
Cheeksaunkun, Capt. Jacob.
The son of Naunauphtaunk (q.v.), whom Rogers' commissioned to form his own Indian ranger company.
Church, Benjamin.
An innovative and early ranger during the King Philip's War (1675-1678).
Dalyell, Capt. James.
In command of the British force dispatched to relieve the besieged Ft. Detroit during Pontiac's uprising; he fell in his first engagement with the Indians.
Dieskau, Maréchal-de-Camp Jean-Armand, Baron de.
Swiss-born mercenary French commander, who was defeated and captured by William Johnson's forces at Lake George in 1755.
Dobbs, Arthur.
Governor of colonial North Carolina (1754-1765), who had spent decades supporting the quest for the Northwest Passage and aroused Rogers's interest in the venture.
Dumas, Major General Jean Daniel.
Led a mixed French Canadian and Abenaki forces against Rogers's Saint François expedition on their return.
Durantaye, Ensign Sieur de la.
Of the Compagnies Franches de la Marine, he joined with Langy to deliver one of Rogers's most bitter defeats.
Gage, Thomas.
Largely ineffective as a senior officer at two of the largest British military disasters – Braddock's defeat and Ambercromby's disastrous assault on Carillon, he raised a regiment of regulars to replace the rangers. A sworn enemy of Rogers, he pressed hard for Rogers' court martial. Became head of British North American forces (1768-1775) after Amherst (q.v.).
George III.
King of Great Britain (1760-1820).
Gill, Joseph-Louis or "Magouaouidombaouit."
A principle chief of Saint François, who was away when Rogers' Rangers destroyed his village and took his wife and two sons prisoner.
Gladwin, Major Henry.
Commander of Ft. Detroit after the French and Indian War, he discovered Pontiac's plans to take the fort by surprise, then weathered a long seige.
Hale, Nathaniel.
Young schoolteacher turned Revolutionary War spy, he was caught and brought to confess by Rogers.
Haviland, William.
British colonel in the 27th Foot, he was a strong opponent of irregular forces. As commander of Ft. Edward, his decisions to cut Rogers's unit helped lead to one of the rangers' worst defeats at the Battle on Snowshoes.
Henry, Alexander.
Only the second British trader licensed to trade furs in the Great Lakes, narrowly escaped death during Pontiac's attack on Ft. Michilimackinac, of which he survived to write a history.
Howe, Brigadier General George Augustus, Viscount.
British officer and early adopter of ranger practices, he became a close friend of Rogers' and was killed during the attack on Carillon in 1758. His brother William replaced Gage (q.v.) as commander in chief in North America in 1775.
Langis, Jean-Baptiste Levrault de, or "Langy."
A formidable French partisan fighter, who often matched wits with Rogers in fierce skirmishes in the woods.
Langlade, Charles-Michel Mouet de.
Métis, or half Indian and French, he matched wits with Rogers at the Battle on Snowshoes and during other encounters.
Longueuil, Charles Le Moyne de.
Governor of Montreal (1749-1755), the French Canadian city that served as the center of the fur trade and gateway to the pays d'en haut.
Loudoun, John Campbell, 4th Earl of.
In 1756, he assumed command of British North American forces after Shirley (q.v.). He asked Rogers to write down the principles of successful bush warfare, which produced Rogers's Rules of Ranging. (See Appendix 1.)
Ogden, Amos.
Although wounded during the Saint François Raid, he somehow recovered on the terrible march back.
Lusignan, Paul-Louis Dazemard de.
Commandant of Crown Point (1751-1758) and afterwards at Carillon, Île aux Noix, Saint-Jean, and Chambly.
Marin, Capt. Joseph de la Malgue.
Officer in the Troupes de la Marine and a canny backwoods fighter, he turned the battle for the French against Braddock on the Monongahela, and was perhaps Rogers's most dangerous adversary.
Millan, John.
A London publisher, he put out Rogers's Concise Account, The Journals of Robert Rogers, and the play "Ponteach: Or the Savages of America."
Montcalm, Louis-Joseph de, Marquis de.
Commander of French forces in North America from 1756 to his death in 1759 at Quebec. Successfully defended Carillon (later Fort Ticonderoga) against a much larger British army in 1758.
Naunauphtaunk, Capt. Jacob.
One of the Stockbridge Indians for whom Rogers obtained a commission.
Phillips, Billy.
A backwoodsman of mixed Dutch and Indian blood, he served with Rogers with distinction as a sharpshooter at the Battle on Snowshoes. He was captured, thought dead, but escaped to rejoin the rangers for the Saint François Raid.
Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham, William.
Imperially minded British Secretary of State during the French and Indian War, he afterwards became Prime Minister (1766-1768).
Pontiac or "Ponteach."
An Ottawa chief in the Great Lakes basin, the keystone of a pan-Indian uprising against the British succession to the French trading posts after the French and Indian War. He so impressed Rogers that he made him the hero of the second oldest American play.
Putnam, Israel.
A captain of the Connecticut provincials during the French and Indian War, he joined Rogers on several scouts and was captured at the Battle of Fort Anne. Became a general in the Revolution, distinguishing himself at the Battle of Bunker Hill.
Pudney, Sr, Joseph.
Family friend of Rogers's father, James.
Roberts, Benjamin.
Indian Superintendent of Michilimackinac and implacable foe of Rogers; his prosecution of Rogers falsely as a British traitor led to Rogers's court martial.
Rogers, Elizabeth Browne.
Daughter of a well-renowned Portsmouth minister, Arthur Browne (q.v.), married Rogers on June 30, 1762. She gave birth to their son, Arthur, In 1769. Filed successfully for divorce in 1775, claiming long separations, drunkenness, and infidelity. Married sea captain John Roche.
Rogers, Richard.
Rogers's younger brother, he served with him as a ranger commander until his death by smallpox in 1757.
Roubaud, Father Pierre-Joseph-Antoine.
Curé of the settlement of Saint François when Rogers attacked it.
Rowlandson, Mary.
Carried off by Narragansett Indians in 1675, she wrote the first captivity narrative.
The young Abenaki son of Gill (q.v.), the chief of St. Francis, who was carried away on Rogers's return from Saint François and was adopted by Rogers.
Shirley, William.
The king's governor of Massachusetts (1741-1759), he assumed command of all British North American forces (1755-1756) and gave Rogers his first independent command.
Stark, John.
Rogers's boyhood friend, who distinguished himself as a ranger, then served as a Revolutionary War general; the hero of the Battle of Bennington, 1777.
Stevens, Captain Phineas.
British colonial diplomat and commander of Fort No. 4, Britain's most northern post on the Connecticut River during the French and Indian War.
Stevens, Lt. Samuel.
Ordered by Amherst (q.v.) to rendezvous with the remnants of the Rogers's rangers coming back from Saint François, he abandoned the designated spot prematurely, only hours before the starvation-ridden group straggled in. He was court-martialed and dismissed.
Sullivan, Owen.
One of the most colorful and masterly counterfeiters in colonial North America, enlisted Rogers in one of his schemes. Caught and finally hung in 1757.
Theyanoguin or "Hendrick,"
A Mahican sachem whose sage advice helped William Johnson (q.v.) shatter a formidable French column at the Battle of Lake George in 1755 at the cost of his life.
Tute, James.
Served with distinction on the Saint François Raid, later recruited by Rogers for an expedition to find the Northwest Passage.
Vaudreuil, François-Pierre de Rigaud, Marquis de.
Governor general of New France (1757-1760).
Waite, Joseph.
He fought with Rogers in the Battle on Snowshoes, then successfully commanded a splinter group on the march home from Saint François.
Walker, Reverend Timothy.
First minister of Rumford (earlier Penacook, later Concord) from 1730 to 1782.
Washington, George.
Commander of the American forces during the Revolution from 1775, and mysteriously set against Rogers at their first meeting.
Wentworth, Benning.
Royal governor of the colony of New Hampshire and a fellow mason of Rogers's in Portsmouth.


Rogers's father James and his family leave Ireland and arrive in the New World
November 1731
Robert Rogers born
Spring 1739
Family moves to Mountalona, New Hampshire frontier
March 1744
France declares war on Britain, starting King George's War
April 1748
Family farm is burned to the ground by Abenaki raiding party
January 1755
Rogers arrested on charges of counterfeiting
April 1755
Rogers enlists 50 men into the New Hampshire militia and earns a captaincy
July 1755
General Braddock's forces routed by French at the Monongahela
September 1755
Battle of Lake George. British outpost resists attack by well-trained French regulars
August 1757
Battle of Fort William Henry, major British fortress is sacked
October 1757
British Commander Loudoun asks Rogers to write down his rules of rangering
December 1757
Mutiny on Rogers's Island
March 1758
Battle on Snowshoes, Rogers's epic mid-winter fight against Jean-Baptiste Langy
July 1758
General Abercromby's large force attack is fiercely repulsed by much smaller French army at Carillon
August 1758
Battle of Fort Anne
July 1759
Carillon falls to British, renamed Ticonderoga
September – November 1759
Saint François Raid and starvation march home
September 1759
Battle of Plains of Abraham, Quebec City falls
November 1760
Fort Detroit Surrenders to Rogers
February 1763
Treaty of Paris signed, official end of Seven Year's War (and its North American arm, the French and Indian War)
June 1761
Rogers marries Elizabeth Browne, daughter of Portsmouth reverend Arthur Browne
August 1761
Rogers in South Carolina for the Cherokee Wars
Chief Pontiac spurs pan-Indian attack on Great Lakes forts
July 1763
British force sent to reinforce Fort Detroit are routed by Pontiac at Battle of Bloody Run, Rogers organizes retreat
Publishes A Concise Account, The Journals of Robert Rogers, and America's second play, "Ponteach, Or, the Savages of America"
August 1766
Rogers and Betsy arrive Fort Michilimackinac
December 1767
Rogers arrested at Michilimackinac on charges of treason
October 1768
Exonerated of charges of treason at court martial
February 1769
Betsy gives birth to their son, Arthur
June 1776
George Washington orders Rogers arrested
July 1776
Rogers escapes from prison and joins Howe's army on Staten Island
September 1776
Rogers captures the American spy Nathan Hale on Long Island
May 1795
Rogers dies in London

Rogers' Ranging Rules Appendix 1

  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 draughted, and scouts for the next day appointed.
  2. Whenever you are ordered out to the enemies 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 that that may afford your centries 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 reconnoitre, 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 favours 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 endeavour 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 surprize 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 centries 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 centry 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 any thing, 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 centries should be fixed in like manner.
  15. At the first dawn of day, awake your whole detachment; that being the time when the savages the savages chuse 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 favoured 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, chuse some spring or rivulet if you can, and dispose your party so as not to be surprised, posting proper guards and centries 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 pursue 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 endeavour, 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, battoes, or otherwise, by water, chuse 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 padling or rowing, give orders that the boat or canoe next the sternmost, 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 surprize 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 reconnoitring 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 shew; 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.

Such in general are the rules to be observed in the Ranging service; there are, however, a thousand occurrences and circumstances which may happen, that will make it necessary in some measure, to depart from them, and to put other arts and stratagems in practice; and which cases every man's reason and judgment must be his guide, according to the particular situation and nature of things; and that he may do this to advantage, he should keep in mind a maxim never to be departed from by a commander, viz. to preserve a firmness and presence of mind on every occasion.