THE HISTORY OF U.S. ARMY RANGERS

by Laura Boyd

This week Army Rangers from around the world are massing at Fort Benning, Georgia for Ranger Rendezvous, an event spanning several days where Army Rangers show off their skills. More than 10,000 spectators attend this four-day event, which includes an airborne operation. This event has been held every two years (in conjunction with Regimental Change of Command) since 1987, but the history of Rangers in America stretches back to the seventeenth century.

Originally Rangers were Soldiers who “ranged,” or traveled, between the early colonists’ settlements and Native American tribes to alert each of raids from hostile tribes. Benjamin Church changed this concept by 1676. Instead of acting as an early warning system, Rangers became a mixed group of colonists and friendly Native Americans who fought against hostile Native Americans when other military troops were fruitless.

Benjamin Church.

During the French and Indian War, the Army Rangers refined the skills they used today. Major Roberts Rogers developed the Rangers by capitalizing on techniques that were characteristic of American frontiersmen. To standardize the training and tactics, Rogers created the “28 Rules of Ranging.” These rules not only focused on orderliness like the typical Army, but also on stealth. Of these 28 rules, 19 are still orders that are in use by the Army Rangers today.

Robert Rogers Sketch by G.N. Raspe, 1778.

During the American Revolution veterans of the Army Rangers, such as Major General Israel Putnam and Brigadier Generals John Stark and Moses Hazen, played a major part in winning the war. George Washington thought Rangers should be employed by local frontier security, which meant that most formal units served very little in the Revolutionary War. However, two Ranger units actually served in the Continental Army starting in 1776. In addition to these Army Rangers, former Rangers from South Carolina and Georgia also served and slowly transformed into mounted infantry.

Commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Knowlton, the unit operated well as a light infantry unit at the battle of Harlem Heights on September 16, 1776. However, Knowlton suffered a mortal wound at this battle. Two months later the unit was captured when Fort Washington surrendered.

Battle of Harlem Heights, J.C. Armytage.

In October of 1776, the Army authorized Whitcomb’s Rangers. Benjamin Whitcomb for the unit with two companies of New Hampshire Rangers at Fort Ticonderoga, New York. They acted mostly as spies and scouts. Some small groups of men would even travel behind enemy lines for days or even weeks. Some would even travel into Canada dressed as Indians. At the end of the war, Whitcomb’s Rangers were disbanded. The officers retired and the enlisted men join the ranks of the infantry.

Re-enactors from New Hampshire Society Sons of the American Revolution (NHSSAR) portray Whitcomb’s Rangers.

During the War of 1812, the Rangers were called upon again. These companies were made of men from the frontier settlements. The patrolled the frontier on horseback or by boat and participated in battles with the British and enemy Native American tribes. One of the most famous group of Rangers, Mosby’s Rangers, actually fought against Union troops during the Civil War. Confederate troops under the command of Colonel John would raid Union Army camps and share the loot with the local populace. These raids would catch the Union Army by surprise by using guerrilla-style warfare. This style of warfare has become the characteristic fighting technique of the Army Rangers today.

The 43rd Battalion, Virginia Cavalry, known as Mosby’s Rangers.

Today’s modern Rangers can trace their lineage back to the establishment of the 1st Ranger Battalion on June 19, 1942 in Carrickfergus, Ireland. Throughout the war, Army Rangers from the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th 5th, 6th, and the 29th Ranger Battalions, as well as the 75th Ranger Regiment, distinguished themselves in some of the war’s most famous battles. In China, Burma, India, Tunisia, the Philippines and Europe, the Rangers proved lived up to their proud heritage. Brigadier General Noman Cota said it best at Omaha Beach, “Well, god damn it, if you’re Rangers, lead the way!” And they did.

Army Rangers and Filipino guerrillas celebrating the successful raid to free POWs held by Japanese at Cabanatuan prison camp in the Philippines in 1945.

The Rangers were disbanded at the end of World War II and the Korean War. However, at the end of the Vietnam conflict, the Army saw a need for an elite, rapidly deployable light infantry. In 1975, General Creighton Abrams established the 1st Ranger Battalion. By 1984, the 75th Ranger Regiment, and the Army Rangers as we know them today were born (again).

General Creighton Abrams, Jr.

Army Rangers were some of the first units deployed to Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom along with some CIA officers and Navy SEALs.

Rangers from Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment and a multipurpose canine pause during a nighttime combat mission in Afghanistan, 13 February 2012.

As the Rangers celebrate Ranger Rendezvous, the National Museum of the United States Army wants to say, “Hooah, Rangers, lead the way!”