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Sippin' Some 'Shine

 

This is the grave of Mosby Ranger William Henry Smallwood in Sharon Cemetery in Middleburg, VA. He was mortally wounded in the Rangers' fight against the 2d Massachusetts Cavalry and the 13th New York Cavalry near Mt. Zion Church in Aldie, VA on July 6, 1864. We visited his grave on September 23, 2017 as part of the Stuart-Mosby Historical Society's 37th Annual Fall Mosby Bus Tour lead by Don Hakenson and I. One of the participants on the tour, Jim Hurst (a descendant of Smallwood's and the noted Ranger Ned Hurst) saw that the marker was nearly illegible and returned the next day to clean it. Thank you, Jim!

 

An Early Example of the U. S. Ranger Unit Crest

 

The upper left quadrant contains a hatchet and powder horn against a green background, which symbolizes the early beginnings of the Rangers.  Seventeenth-century European colonists in the region of New England and Virginia formed militia units that allied themselves with friendly Indian tribes, for the purpose of protection against other hostile Indians.  In modern parlance, these units would conduct patrols and reprisals through wilderness areas – 'range' – on counter-reconnaissance or direct action missions, incorporating tactics and techniques acquired from their Indian allies, beginning in general in reaction to the Indian Massacre of 1622 in Virginia.  Early commanders of Ranger units, fighting in a series of engagements and campaigns collectively called the French and Indian Wars, were Benjamin Church, John Lovewell, and John Gorham (all serving well prior to the Revolution) but most famous to the present-day Rangers was Robert Rogers, the one most responsible for establishing a standard for such units.  These were written originally in 28 rules, now converted to the 19 Standing Orders of the Ranger Creed.  Rogers is considered the father of the modern Rangers, though the fact that he later served on the side of the British during the Revolutionary War is a delicate point often quietly overlooked.

 

In contrast, another Ranger of note at the time was Francis Marion, the "Swamp Fox" of South Carolina, and arguably Daniel Morgan of Virginia, who were very much the American patriots and scourge of the British.  The green background also commemorates Ethan Allen of the Vermont 'Green Mountain Boys', who successfully fought against the British and New York.  It can even be said that George Washington could be included in the list of early Rangers for his experience as a major in the Virginia militia, conducting joint Virginia/Iroquois expeditions against French incursions in the Ohio Country in 1753 and 1754.

 

The Confederate battle flag in the upper right commemorates the contribution of primarily Colonel John Singleton Mosby of Virginia, credited with continuing contemporary Ranger tactics in the area of northern Virginia throughout the Civil War.  He dominated the area with his 43rd Cavalry Battalion through raids and partisan warfare so thoroughly that the area came to be known as "Mosby's Confederacy".  The other official Confederate Ranger unit, McNeill's Rangers (E Company, 18th Virginia Cavalry) was led by Captain John H McNeill and then his son Captain Jesse C McNeill.  Other such leaders can include the brilliant, controversial and maligned Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest.

 

The battle flag also represents such famous units as Terry's Texas Rangers (8th Texas Cavalry), credited with its ability to lay down more firepower than any other unit in its lightening raids.  (Rangers in the early Republic of Texas developed independently from their American cousins but for similar reasons – defense against and pursuit of Indian raiding parties, bandits, and Mexican incursions.  The Texas Rangers often operated as ad hoc posses before becoming formalized as one of the most famous law enforcement agencies in the world.)  An equestrian statue of one of Terry's Texas Rangers is set on the grounds at the Texas Capitol in Austin (which, appropriately enough, is larger than the US Capitol in Washington, DC).

 

The spearhead at the bottom of the old crest represents the Rangers of World War II, organized into six independent battalions with the first five fighting in the European theatre and the 6th in the Pacific, as well as the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional), the famous Merrill's Marauders which fought in Burma.  This was the first return to a Ranger concept since the Civil War.

 

It was the 2nd Ranger Battalion (-) led by Lt Col Earl Rudder that attacked up the cliffs of the Pointe du Hoc of Normandy on D-Day (I was privileged to know Rudder years later when he was President of Texas A&M.)   The 5th Ranger Battalion, along with two companies of the 2nd, was on their left flank and tied in with the 116th Infantry of the 29th Infantry Division (the Blue and Grey), and thus together took the brutal brunt of the first wave to hit Omaha Beach.  The units on the beach were pinned down by murderous fire until elements of the 5th started picking their way up and through the German lines.  After Brig Gen Norman Cota of the 29th, noting the beginnings of some progress out of the slaughterhouse, asked the 5th's CO, Lt Col Max Schneider, what unit he was with, Cota responded with an imprecation and blurted the famous line "Well, God damn it, if you're Rangers, lead the way!"  It was more of an invitation than a command, but Schneider's troops made good on the effort and are credited with breaking the bloody hold at Omaha Beach.  A truncated version of Cota's exclamation is one of the mottos of the Rangers, now rendered as a declaration.

 

The 1st, 3rd and 4th Battalions were spearheads in the Americans' first operations in North Africa and then into Italy, and distinguished themselves at such battles as Dieppe, Arzew, Djebel el Ank (Orbata), Salerno and Anzio up until the point where they were caught in a massive and masterful ambush at Cisterna.  The 6th was the only unit assigned to the Pacific theatre, was the first ashore at Luzon and later liberated the Japanese POW Camp at Cabanatuan in a daring raid.

Merrill's Marauders, a completely separate unit but now considered part of the modern Ranger ancestry, operated as an independent regiment-sized unit in association with Chinese troops, and was essentially heavily armed light infantry supported by pack mules.  They moved and fought brilliantly through hundreds of miles of Burmese jungles, finally spending themselves in the almost pyrrhic victory at the Japanese air base at Myitkyina.