The Queen’s American Rangers Donald J. Gara (Yardley, PA: Westholme Publishing, 2015
Contrary to popular belief, significant fighting in the American Revolution took place between rebel and loyalist Americans. Donald Gara superbly demonstrates this in his chronicle of one of the most effective loyalist military regiments, The Queen’s American Rangers.
Other authors, such as Thomas Allen’s Tories: Fighting for the King in America’s First Civil War, have presented a survey of loyalist military support for the British Cause.[i] However, Gara’s book is unique as he follows a particular regiment throughout the eight-year war. The closest in format is Ernest Cruikshank’s The King’s Royal Regiment of New York, which describes backcountry fighting during several fighting seasons in upstate New York.[ii]
Robert Rogers, the famed French and Indian War partisan, formed the Queen’s American Rangers at the outset of the Revolution. His recruiting officers canvassed the New York City area for loyalists willing to fight and enlisted them to join Robert’s rangers on Staten Island. Rogers led the Queen’s American Rangers during the initial combat around New York City, but could not adapt from a partisan fighter to a regimental commander in a conventional army. Gara describes him as a “fish out of water” and had to be replaced.[iii]
After two very short-term commanders, Captain John Graves Simcoe was appointed to lead the now renamed Queen’s Rangers. A 26-year old, Simcoe proved to be a resourceful and highly successful battlefield commander. A serious student of military science and history, contemporaries noted Simcoe for his mastery of military tactics, energy for battle, and his ability to sense appropriate command risks. He prided himself on never leaving a soldier on the battlefield to be captured. On a personal level he could be vain, boastful and seek more credit than was due for military successes. However, patriot forces respected and feared him.
Gara depicts Simcoe as an innovative regimental officer highly capable of independent command in uncertain situations. In several cases, Gara describes how the Simcoe passed off his unit as a Patriot force (both clothed in green) to surprise superior forces. Another Simcoe innovative tactic was the use of cavalry with his ranger unit. He trained a hussar unit, a light, highly mobile cavalry unit consisting of smaller men to work in concert with his light, mobile infantry.
The book contains exhaustive accounts of all the large and small battles fought by the Queen’s American Rangers. The battle accounts are chocked full of detailed data including complete lists of the British and American units engaged as well as an account of the numbers of killed, wounded and captured on both sides by both sides. He even provides the names of the Queen’s American Rangers who were killed in battle. Sometimes these facts distract from the overall story and the extensive detail does not aid the reader’s comprehension of the central thesis.
An important omission is a discussion of the composition of the Queen’s Rangers officer corps and enlisted ranks. The officer compliment included both regular British army officers and provincial commission. Also the enlisted men came both from within and outside of the colonies and Britain. For a discussion of the composition of these loyalist forces see The New York Loyalists.[iv]
By focusing on Simcoe and detailed battle descriptions, Gara prose can be dry and does not provide a description of the morale and mood of the individual soldiers during the ups and downs of the conflict. We don’t know the ebbs and flows of the soldiers’ thoughts. And interesting questions of why enlistments and desertions occurred were left unaddressed – only that they happened. At the war’s end, the loss of property and the inability to go home had to be major concerns for the Loyalists. The Loyalist fighters emotions around the war’s events and outcomes would have been an important addition by Gara.
However, Gara’s basic conclusion is highly valuable and relevant today. Under Simcoe’s leadership the Queen’s American Rangers became one of the most successful units in American Revolution. As proof, the British government recognized its accomplishments by incorporating the unit as part of the British Army in 1782.
I highly recommend this book to readers seeking a more complete picture of military affairs during the revolution. It provides a more balanced view of the Revolutionary War and demonstrates that in many ways it was America’s first civil war.
[i] Thomas B. Allen, Tories: Fighting for the King in America’s First Civil War (New York: Harper-Collins, 2010).
[ii] E. A Cruikshank and Gavin K Watt, The King’s Royal Regiment of New York (Toronto: G.K. Watt, 1984).
[iii] Donald J Gara, The Queen’s American Rangers, 2015, 45.
[iv] Philip Ranlet, The New York Loyalists (Knoxville: Univ. of Tennessee Press, 1986).