CDG 45 – Rogers’ Rangers at St. Francis, 1759
For this command decision exercise, you assume the role of British Major Robert Rogers, renowned leader of "Rogers’ Rangers," a group skilled in irregular warfare, in 1759 during the French and Indian War.
Open warfare between colonial powers France and Great Britain began in May 1754, when a force of 2,100 British troops led by General Edward Braddock marched into a disastrous ambush by French and Indians along the Monongahela River in the Pennsylvania Colony.
Many native Indian tribes allied themselves with the French, and their style of hit-and-run warfare has been the trademark of this five-year-old conflict in the North American wilderness. A favorite tactic of the tribes is to spring a quick, deadly ambush and then melt back into the forests. For the British and their American colonists, marches are often more dangerous than open battles, and woe be unto any settlers whose farms or small villages are the target of Indian attacks.
The tribesmen are not only skilled wilderness fighters, they are well armed. Many, perhaps most, carry flintlock firearms in addition to traditional bows, war clubs, tomahawks and scalping knives. They tend to attack in swarms but fight as individuals, tactics well suited to the rugged terrain.
While British regulars and most colonial militia still operate in standard, European-style linear formations you, Major Rogers, have adapted to Indian-style tactics. Your Rangers group, which started as an independent company in Massachusetts, has grown to 10 companies. Your 28 operating rules—published as "Rogers’ Rules of Ranging"—are even used to train scouting detachments with regular units.
Your men, most of whom were born and raised here in the colonies, eschew brightly colored uniforms, instead donning muted brown and dark green clothing to better blend into the forests. Like their Indian opponents, they carry tomahawks and scalping knives for close-quarters work (and collecting the bounty on Indian scalps), but their muzzleloaders are shorter than the muskets carried by regular units. The shorter barrels are handier in wilderness fighting. For added impact, several small balls are often loaded along with the primary .65-caliber ball.
Your men’s tactics mirror those of the Indians: silent approach; attack from ambush; fierce, no-quarter combat; and rapid, stealthy withdrawal after the battle.
This morning, September 12, 1759, you were summoned to the fort at Crown Point in northern New York at the Lake Champlain narrows, headquarters of General Jeffery Amherst, commander in chief of British North American forces.
The general is blunt: "Rogers, I want you to lead your Rangers on a raid to strike St. Francis, the home village of the Abenaki Indians and others of their ilk who have killed at least 600 men, women and children in their bloody depredations of the past few years."
He reasons that Indian warbands are mobile and difficult to locate, but a village is a fixed point where a brutal blow can be struck: "A merciless assault on the Indians where they live" will have a tremendous negative affect on their morale while raising that of your own side. You are to report to him tomorrow at dawn with a plan of action.
You’re not concerned about how your men will perform when they reach their objective. The greater danger is reaching that objective unseen and then finding a safe route of retreat afterward. There is also the matter of carrying and caching supplies along your route. In the evening, you call together your company commanders to get their opinions on the plans you’ve formulated.
Course of Action One:
"The first option I am considering entails embarking in whaleboats and proceeding via Lake Champlain. This is the fastest means of travel and also the most direct route. We will hug the lake’s shoreline to avoid detection. After reaching the lake’s northernmost area, Missisquoi Bay, we’ll hide our boats and supplies and travel the short distance overland to St. Francis. After the battle, we’ll replenish our supplies and retrace our route in the boats to Crown Point."
Captain Ogden wastes no time in voicing concerns. "I must respectfully point out, Major, that returning by the same route violates one of your ‘Rules of Ranging.’ Won’t we risk ambush by an alerted enemy?"
Lieutenant Lofton disagrees, saying, "Captain, the necessity for speed trumps that rule. The enemy will be confused and disorganized by our unexpected attack. If we swiftly withdraw, we’ll be beyond his reach before he can react."
"And how do we withdraw, Lieutenant, if the Indians or French discover and destroy our hidden boats?" the captain asks. "We can’t swim back to Crown Point."
Course of Action Two:
You break off further discussion, saying, "The second possible course of action is to advance north along the Connecticut River—by boat while it is deep enough to be navigable and then by foot—to its headwaters. We will then proceed over the Green Mountains to the St. Francis River, following that to the St. Francis village. Along the way, we’ll cache supplies for our return along this route."
Lieutenant Lofton speaks first this time. "Major, this route seems unnecessarily long and circuitous to me. With this plan we sacrifice one of our greatest advantages—speed. And, as Captain Ogden pointed out, returning by the same route puts us at risk of ambush; in fact, the extended distance gives the devils even more opportunity to waylay us."
Lieutenant Avery favors this plan, however. "Such a move will confound the enemy, who naturally will expect us to take the shortest route to and from St. Francis. It will also enhance our chances of surprising the Abenaki, since any scouts watching the approaches to the village will no doubt be along the most direct route between Crown Point and St. Francis."
Course of Action Three:
Land Route—Dispersed Return
"My third option for consideration," you continue, "is to keep to the forests and proceed by land along the shores of Lake Champlain and then on to St. Francis. This assures we will not be spotted on the lake’s open waters, and we won’t be dependent on boats for our safe return. We will cache supplies along the way for our return trip.
" During our withdrawal we will disperse into three groups, each taking a different route to confound pursuers. Small detachments from each group can be sent to retrieve supplies from the caches."
Lieutenant Lofton seems unimpressed. "Major, I still believe speed is our best and most important advantage. This land route restricts our pace to that of the slowest Ranger. The longer we are on the trail north, the greater the chance we’ll be discovered. Furthermore, I do not believe we should split our force during the withdrawal, creating three weaker Ranger groups that the enemy could overcome individually."
Captain Ogden interjects, "Sir, I believe this plan is the most sensible of all three. By keeping to the cover of the forests, we avoid early detection during our advance, and by splitting up on our withdrawal we will present pursuers with a dilemma—which of three trails should they follow? This also eliminates our reliance on boats which, as I said earlier, might be discovered and destroyed."
You thank your commanders and send them back to their companies while you mull over what they’ve said. At dawn, you must present to General Amherst one of these plans—or perhaps an entirely different one if such should occur to you in the hours between now and your appointment with the general.
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This text is an abridged version of Command Decision Game #45, written by Andrew H. Hershey. The full text appears in the July 2011 edition of Armchair General magazine.