Simcoe and The Queen’s Rangers, Part 3

The Queen’s Rangers, Lieutenant-Colonel Simcoe goes on to state, in his  Military Journal,  obtained a great many recruits, and it is very remarkable that neither that corps nor the Volunteers of Ireland had a single man who deserted from them, while there were such opportunities and apparent reasons to do it. Lieut.-Col. Simcoe, on his return from Elizabethtown Point, where the enemy passed, had information that a party of plunderers had crossed from the Jersies to the other end of the Island. He detached the Hussars in pursuit of them, but they fled, on the Staten Island militia collecting together. The frost still continuing there were many reports and a general expectation that the enemy would again adventure upon the Island, with superior force, with sufficient provisions to attempt some greater purpose, and patroles were constantly made on all the roads by which they could possibly approach, by order of General Sterling.

The Queen’s Rangers had formerly experienced how ready General Sterling was to represent their services, and they now in common with the other troops, had a further proof of his good inclinations, it being inserted in general orders of the 21st of January,

‘Brigadier Gen. Sterling is happy to inform the troops on this Island of his Excellency Gen. Knyphausen’s fullest approbation of their behavior, and the good countenance they showed when the rebels were upon this Island, which the brigadier had reported to the Commander-in-chief; and his Excellency desires his thanks may be given to them.’

On the 25th [of January], Lieut.-Col. Simcoe gave out the following order: ‘That he expects the order relative to officers and soldiers sleeping in their clothes be strictly complied with, such recruits excepted whom the officers commanding companies may judge as yet unequal to the duties of the regiment; if any half-bred soldier disobeys this order, the first officer or non-commissioned who meets with him, will deliver him to the officer on guard to be put on some internal duty. The Lieut.-Col. has particular satisfaction in seeing the General’s approbation of that good countenance which enabled him, on the late inroad of the enemy, to rest perfectly at ease without augmenting the duty of the regiment. He knows its universal spirit, and certain from the fidelity of those on guard, that the garrison cannot be snatched away by surprise, is confident that Richmond redoubts will be too dear for the whole rebel army to purchase.’

Planned Capture of George Washington

Lieut.-Colonel Simcoe formulated a plan to capture “Mr. Washington,” as he called him, by making a secret march from Staten Island to Morristown. While waiting for Sir Henry Clinton’s conclusions, the Hussars were ordered to march to New York, with a convoy, over the ice. Lieut.-Colonel Simcoe goes on to say : “It would seem that the same negligence in Gen. Washington’s quartering in front of his army had attracted the notice of Captain Beckwith, Gen. Knyphausen’s aide-de-camp, and he had formed a plan to carry off that General, for which purpose cavalry were collected at New York, and among others Captain Beckwith obtained the Hussars of the Queen’s Rangers, of whom he had a good opinion. Brig.-Gen. Sterling communicated to Lieut.-Col. Simcoe the purpose for which the cavalry was withdrawn, as it was intended that a general movement from Staten Island should favor the enterprise.

“Since it did not take place on so large a scale as was at first designed, Lieut.-Col. Simcoe received orders ‘to send a party to surprise the enemy’s post at Woodbridge or Rahway, and to give a general alarm’; this party was to cross the ice at one o’clock in the morning, and not to return until nine or ten. Accordingly Lieut.-Col. Simcoe passed the ice with two hundred infantry at one o’clock; Major Armstrong with some infantry, the cavalry and cannon occupying the heights, at the Old Blazing Star [Rossville], to cover their return. The snow prevented all possibility of marching but in the beaten road; there were no posts in Woodbridge.”

Lieut.-Colonel Simcoe then gives a detailed account of his adventures in New Jersey, where they had a warm engagement with the Continental militia. After that he continues: “The party returned to Richmond without further molestation. The Queen’s Rangers lost only one man, already mentioned; a few were wounded, but they bore no proportion to the number whose cloths were struck by the enemy’s bullets, fired at a distance, through intervening thickets, or more probably by those who had not recollection enough to ram down their charges. The enemy’s loss was supposed to be more considerable, as many of them were seen to fall and the whole of the affair being between single men, the Rangers were better marksmen than the Jersey militia. Captain Beckwith had found it impracticable to carry his attempt into execution, from an uncommon fall of rain which, encrusting the top of the snow, cut the fetlocks of his horses and rendered it absolutely impossible for him to succeed. The Hussars soon afterward returned to Staten Island. The ice floating on the 22d of February, the Sound became impassable. The soldiers were permitted to undress themselves at night, and in case of alarm they were directed to accoutre in their shirts, and to form at their posts.

“Lieut.-Col. Simcoe, on his arrival at Staten Island from imprisonment, had applied to the Commander-in-chief to request that he might join the army to the southward. He had also written in the strongest terms to Earl Cornwallis, soliciting his lordship to support his application. ln case his wishes should not take place, he was anxious to be of what service he thought the present situation of the Queen’s Rangers would admit; for this purpose he made application through the proper channel to General Knyphausen for discretionary permission to beat up the enemy’s forts in the Jersies, and to have boats sufficient to transport three hundred infantry and sixty cavalry, to be manned by the Rangers, and to be left totally to his own disposal.

He proposed by this means to countenanced desertion, then so prevalent in Washington’s army, and to keep the whole coast in continued alarm. He had the most minute maps of the country and the best guides, and the Loyalists, without doubt, would have universally joined him. The first enterprise he meant to attempt was to surprise Col. Lee at Burlington. * * * Lee’s corps were excellently mounted and disciplined; he himself was active and enterprising, and had that weight in the Jersies which capacity and power, with a very free use of it, could give to the possessor. The importance it would have been of to the intended system of operations to have seized upon Col. Lee and demolished his corps is best illustrated by remarking that, although Burlington is nearly seventy miles from Staten Island, he was understood to have his pickets eight or ten miles in his front for his security.

“Lieut.-Col. Simcoe’s proposals were approved of by Generals Knyphausen, Sterling and Tryon. Some of their boats were sent to him, and the remainder were in forwardness when, on the 23d of March, 1780, the infantry of the corps received orders to embark for Charlestown, which it did on the 4th of April. Captain Wickham was left with the Hussars in the town of Richmond, and the duty of the redoubts was taken by a party of two subaltern officers and sixty rank and file, from the 82d regiment, under his directions; this detachment was in a few days relieved by the 22d regiment. The Hessian regiment of Ditforth, Queen’s Rangers, Volunteers of Ireland, and Prince of Wales Volunteers, under command of Col. Westerhagen, sailed on the 7th [of April]. The Queen’s Rangers anchored in Stono inlet on the 18th, and camped before Charlestown, (S. C.,) on the 21st.

New Bridge Rebel Outpost Captured and Battle of Springfield

Captain Wickham, of the Hussars, had by no means been idle while at Richmond. The post was such as might have been a temptation to an enterprising enemy; but General Knyphausen, by frequent and well-concerted expeditions, had kept the rebels fully employed in their own cantonments, the Jersies. On one of these attempts, the Hussars of the Rangers were eminently distinguished, as was detailed to Lieut.-Col. Simcoe by Captain Wickham, and by him read to the Commander-in-chief, who was highly satisfied with it. The report mentions, ‘that on the 15th of April, the cavalry on Staten Island, consisting of Cornet Tucker and twenty of the 17th regiment, light dragoons, Capt. Wickham with a troop of forty-five men and Capt. Diemar with his Hussars, forty men, crossed Cole’s ferry, and marched to English neighborhood, where they joined Major DuBuy, with three hundred of the regiment DuBose, and fifty of Colonel Robinson‘s corps. At New Bridge Sergeant McLaughlin, with six of the Rangers in advance, fell in with and either killed or took the whole of a small rebel outpost.

“On the 21st of June the regiment landed at Staten Island, and marched to Richmond redoubts. At midnight Lieut.-Col. Simcoe received orders to proceed instantly to the Jersies, where General Knyphausen, having thrown a bridge of boats over the Sound, near Elizabethtown Point, was encamped. The Hussars of the regiment here joined the corps.”

Then followed an event that formed one of the very blackest pages in English military history — the battle of Springville, N. J., the burning of the village, and the wanton murder of the wife of Pastor Caldwell. The “Queen’s Rangers” took part in it, of course. They returned to Staten Island in the night. On the 10th of July, (1780), Lieutenant-Colonel Simcoe joined his regiment and immediately left Staten Island, going over to Long Island. He received this message from Major Andre, then serving as Adjutant-General of the army on Staten Island: “The General assures you that the Rangers shall be pitted against a French regiment the first time he can procure a meeting.” We further quote from Simcoe’s Military Journal:

“The Queen’s Rangers crossed from Long to Staten Island and marched to Richmond redoubts on the 8th of October. * * * The Commander-in-Chief, thinking it proper, in the general orders, to publish the high idea which he entertained of Major Andre, both as a gentleman and an officer, and the sense he entertained of the loss his King and country had met with in his death, Lieut.-Colonel Simcoe, who had considered his execution as a barbarous and ungenerous act of power in the American General, and who had certain and satisfactory intelligence that the French party in general, and M. Fayette in particular, who sat upon his trial, urged Mr. Washington to the unnecessary deed, took the opportunity in his orders to the Queen’s Rangers, the officers and soldiers of which personally knew and esteemed Major Andre, to inform them that, ‘he had given directions that the regiment should immediately be provided with black and white feathers as mourning, for the late Major Andre, an officer whose superior integrity and uncommon ability did honor to his country and to human nature. The Queen’s Rangers will never sully their glory in the field of any undue severity; they will, as they have ever done, consider those to be under their protection who shall be in their power, and will strike with reluctance at their unhappy fellow subjects who, by a system of the barest artifices, have been seduced from their allegiance, and disciplined to revolt. But it is the Lieut.-Col.’s most ardent hope that on the close of some decisive victory, it will be the regiment’s fortune to secure the murderers of Major Andre, for the vengeance due to an injured nation and an insulted army.’

“It was generally supposed about the latter end of October that the enemy meditated some attempt on Staten Island. M. de Fayette was in the neighborhood of Elizabethtown, in force and with boats on travelling carriages. Lieut.-Col. Simcoe by public conversation, the means of spies, and by marching to Billopp’s Point in the dusk of the evening, so as to be discovered from the opposite shore, and then returning by ways which the enemy could not see, had endeavored to attract their notice and possess them with a belief that an inroad into the Jersies was in contemplation. As M. Fayette arrived in the vicinity the very day subsequent to this feint, it was reasonable to believe that his march was in consequence, and that the boats with him were destined to facilitate his passage across the small creeks with which the Jersies are intersected, in case of the British troops making any incursions into that country. Every proper precaution was taken by the troops in Richmond to prevent a surprise.

On the 12th of November official information was sent by the Adjutant General to Lieut.-Col. Simcoe that his post was the object of Fayette’s design, and that it probably would be attacked on that or the ensuing night. He immediately declared in orders: ‘The Lieut -Colonel has received information that M. Fayette, a Frenchman, at the head of some of his majesty’s deluded subjects, has threatened to plant French colors on Richmond redoubts. The Lieut.-Colonel believes this report to be a gasconade; but as the evident ruin of the enemy’s affairs may prompt them to some desperate attempt the Queen’s Rangers will lay in their clothes this night, and have their bayonets in perfect good order.’

“The Highlanders immediately assembled and marched to the redoubt, which, in the distribution of posts, was allotted to them to defend, and displaying their national banner, with which they used to commemorate their saint’s day, fixed it on the ramparts, saying,  ‘No Frenchman or rebel should ever pull that down.’ The Rangers were prepared if an attack should be made on the Watering Place, which appeared to be most probable, to march out and attack any division which might be placed, as had been in Lord Sterling’s attempt, to mass the troops in Richmond. Two field pieces, six pounders, and Captain Aulthause‘s company of riflemen had reinforced them.

“Lieut.-Col. Simcoe made himself acquainted with the landing places and the intervening grounds, in the minutest particular, and he had the Commander-in-Chief’s directions to abandon his post, ‘If the enemy should land in such force as to make, in his opinion, the remaining there attended with risk.’ The defects of Richmond were not sufficiently obvious for such inexperienced men as the rebel generals to seize upon and profit by at once. How far they might attract the instantaneous notice of the scientific French officers, supposed to be acting with them, it was not easy to foresee. Had the enemy been in a situation to have attacked the place by regular approaches, Lieut.-Col. Simcoe would have done his best endeavors to have maintained it; but had any General, at the head of a very superior force on the moment of his appearance, placed twenty or thirty field pieces on two separate eminences which enfiladed the redoubts, and formed a column to penetrate under cover of the cross fire, he had resolved to abandon what he considered in case of such a disposition to be untenable.

“A false alarm, which was give by an armed vessel stationed in Newark Bay, occasioned a considerable movement in the army, and troops from New York embarked to reinforce Staten Island; the post at Richmond was supposed to be the object of an attack. On the first gun being fired, patrols had been made on all sides by the cavalry, and the infantry slept undisturbed, Lieut.-Col. Simcoe apprehending the alarm to be false. The Rangers were very alert on guard, and proud of their regimental character of not giving false alarms, or being surprised; and the sentinel, as Lieut.-Col. Simcoe remarked in orders upon the only omission which ever came under his cognizance, ‘felt a manly pleasure in reflecting that the lives and honor of the regiment were entrusted to his care, and that under his protection his comrades slept in security.’

Surrender at Yorktown

On the 11th of December, 1780, the Queen’s Rangers embarked on an expedition to Virginia, under the command of General [Benedict] Arnold. They were very active in all the movements of the British army and formed a part of the troops commanded by Earl Cornwallis at Yorktown. When it was certain that the entire force under that distinguished general must surrender. Colonel Simcoe, according to his own writing, “sent Lieut. Spencer to his Lordship to request that as his corps consisted of Loyalists, the object of the enemy’s civil persecution, and deserters, if the treaty was not finally concluded, that he would permit him to endeavor to escape with them in some of those boats which General Arnold had built; and that his intention was to cross the Chesapeake and land in Maryland, where, from his knowledge of the inhabitants of the country and other favorable circumstances, he made no doubt of being able to save the greatest part of the corps and carry them into New York. His Lordship was pleased to express himself favorably in regard to the scheme; but said he could not permit it to be undertaken, for that the whole of the army must share one fate. The capitulation was signed on the 19th of October. Earl Cornwallis, on account of Lieut-Col. Simcoe’s dangerous state of health, permitted him to sail for New York on the “Bonetta,” which by an article in the capitulation, was to be left at his disposal, a sea voyage being the only chance, in the opinion of the physicians, by which he could save his life. On board of this vessel sailed as many of the Rangers, and of other corps, deserters from the enemy, as she could possibly hold. They were to be exchanged as prisoners of war, and the remainder of Earl Cornwallis’ army were marched prisoners into the country. Lieut.-Col. Simcoe, on his arrival at New York, was permitted by Sir Henry Clinton to return to England.

“Many of the soldiers, who were prisoners in the country, ‘were seized,’ says Col. Simcoe, ‘as deserters from Mr. Washington’s army. Several enlisted in it to facilitate their escape, and being caught in the attempt, were executed. A greater number got safe to New York, and, had the war continued, there was little doubt but the corps would have been re-assembled in detail. The Rangers were so daring and active in their attempt to escape that, latterly, they were confined in a ‘ goal.’ Captain Whitlock, who commanded them while prisoners in the country, was one of the captains who drew lots with Captain Asgil to suffer for Huddy‘s death.’

Captain Saunders was the last commandant of the Queen’s Rangers in this country. They were, afterwards, both cavalry and infantry enrolled in the British army; but the corps was disbanded at the ensuing of peace, and many of the officers, and most of the soldiers, settled on the lands to which they had a claim in Nova Scotia.

“The following is an extract from ‘the general return of officers and privates surrendered prisoners of war, the 19th of October, 1781, to the allied army under command of General Washington, taken from the original muster rolls’:

“Queen’s Rangers — 1 Lieut. -Colonel, 1 Major, 10 Captains, 15 Lieutenants, 11 cornets, 3 quartermasters, 2 surgeons, 24 sergeants, 5 trumpeters, 248 rank and file — total, 320. ”

John Graves Simcoe, courtesy of the Bibliothèque et Archives Canada

It may be useless now to further recall the character and acts of Colonel Simcoe while serving his king on Staten Island. Let the century that has intervened soften our feelings toward a vanquished foe. When the war ended he was a prisoner and went directly to England where he became a member of Parliament, while holding a commission as Lieutenant-Colonel in the regular army. When Canada was divided into two provinces, Simcoe was appointed Governor of Upper Canada. His headquarters were at York, now called Toronto. It seems that then his chief ambition was to increase the prejudice of the Canadians and Indians against the people of the United States, and the unpleasant, and frequently bitter, feeling existing in that province toward our people to-day, can be traced to the bigotry and vindictiveness of John Graves Simcoe. In 1796 he was appointed Governor of Saint Domingo, and in 1798 he was commissioned a Lieutenant General in the British army. He was sent to join Lord St. Vincent in the expedition to Portugal, and died a few moments after he landed.

Leave a Reply