Book Review: The Queen’s American Rangers by Donald J. Gara (Yardley, PA: Westholme Publishing, 2015).
There have been very few studies of specific Revolutionary War units, an unusual situation given the number of Civil War unit histories. This is a field where a diligent historian can illuminate particular aspects of a regiment’s service as well as its role in the larger conflict. Donald J. Gara has provided a first-rate example of how to undertake such a study successfully with The Queen’s American Rangers, a history of one of the best known and most effective Loyalist regiments in the War for Independence.
Gara opens the book with a look at the officer who founded the Queen’s Rangers, the famous Robert Rogers whose exploits at the head of a ranger unit during the French and Indian War were legendary. The author then shifts focus to the Revolutionary-era British army, providing background information on the force that would soon incorporate the Queen’s Rangers into its ranks. Gara next discusses the recruitment of the Rangers, their early service, and Rogers’s removal from command in January 1777. Rogers’s experience in irregular warfare, Gara notes, was ill-suited for the type of war the British were fighting and made his replacement necessary.
The author moves on to chronicle the reorganization of the Queen’s Rangers, the activities of the various short-term commanders who succeeded Rogers, and the development of the Rangers into an effective fighting force during the 1777 Philadelphia Campaign. One of the greatest difficulties in writing a unit’s history is to keep the focus on the particular unit without ignoring the larger context in which the unit operated, and Gara does so masterfully. For example, in his account of the Battle of Brandywine Gara thoroughly covers not only the broader British strategy and operations but also the planning and actions of the Americans. The story of the Queen’s Rangers is thus woven seamlessly into the larger context of the war, so that readers unfamiliar with aspects of the various campaigns and battles can easily follow the course of the conflict in general along with the role of the Queen’s Rangers.
October 15, 1777, marked a new phase in the unit’s history when John Graves Simcoe was appointed its commander. It was under Simcoe that the Queen’s Rangers distinguished themselves as arguably the best Loyalist unit in British service. Gara covers aspects of the Rangers’ service such as training and foraging in addition to combat operations, all of which are narrated in an engaging manner that holds the reader’s interest. While the standard of the author’s scholarship is high, as demonstrated by the scope of his research, the text is free of the dry presentation that mars many academic works.
The Queen’s Rangers were involved in too many battles, raids, and skirmishes to discuss here; suffice it to say that Gara describes all of them in detail, capturing the drama of daring maneuvers and bloody combat that took place in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York in the middle years of the war. The author then follows the Queen’s Rangers southward to the siege of Charleston in 1780, their return to the north and immediate immersion in action in New Jersey, and their participation in Benedict Arnold’s raid in Virginia in 1780-1781. Gara provides a detailed account of British operations in Virginia through the surrender at Yorktown in October 1781, where most of the Rangers were captured. As further evidence of his attention to detail, Gara then provides a chapter on the activities of a detachment of Queen’s Rangers’ cavalry that served in South Carolina during 1781. The final chapter follows the soldiers of the Rangers into imprisonment after Yorktown.
Readers interested in Loyalist military units in general or the Queen’s Rangers in particular will find this a valuable book, as will anyone with even a general interest in the American Revolution. Perhaps other writers will follow Gara’s lead and add their own histories of other units, American, British, and Loyalist, to expand our knowledge of the War for Independence.