The Regiment's Commanding Officers - Between Rogers and Simcoe (Part Two)

Replacing French was another Regular Army officer, Major James Wemyss of the 40th Regiment of Foot.  At the time that he was appointed to take command of the Rangers, he was being employed as the Aide de Camp to Major General William Tryon, the Commander of all Provincial Forces.

Wemyss joined the British Army as an ensign on 16 April, 1766 at the age of seventeen.  He progressed steadily through the ranks, and was commanding the Regiment’s Grenadier Company when it was sent to America in June, 1775.  A younger and more vigorous officer than French, he continued to train the Rangers and to keep them occupied with patrolling.

In early June, 1777, the Regiment was transferred from New York to New Jersey, where they were brought to full strength by the absorption of the men and officers of a loyalist unit that had been raised in New Hampshire.  This unit had been commanded by Major William Stark, who along with his brother John Stark, had served as Captains with Robert Rogers during the Seven Years War.  One of the New Hampshire officers, Aeneas Shaw, would later command the Queen’s Rangers while stationed at York.

On the 13th of June, the newly reformed Queen’s American Rangers saw their first large scale battle.  Eighteen thousand British and Provincial soldiers engaged a few thousand rebels under the command of George Washington near Perth Amboy, NJ.  Overall, the fighting was inconclusive as Washington could not be enticed or trapped into committing his force to decisive battle, but the Rangers acquitted themselves well and took few casualties.  They were now considered amongst the sturdier of the Provincial Forces, and began to be employed alongside Regular regiments.

It was under Wemyss’ aggressive leadership that the Rangers acquitted themselves so well at the Battle of Brandywine, receiving the highest accolades from senior British Army officers.  Given the state of the Regiment only nine months earlier, it is clear that French and Wemyss had worked miracles during their tenures.  Wemyss also led the Regiment during the Battle of Germantown, where he was wounded.

On the 15th of October, 1777, the name of the Regiment was changed from the “Queen’s American Rangers” to simply the “Queen’s Rangers,” and a new, permanent commanding officer was appointed from the 40th Regiment of Foot – John Graves Simcoe.

Wemyss was returned to duty as an aide de camp, although he later took command of the 63rd Regiment of Foot.  Employed on campaign in South Carolina, he continued to build a reputation as an aggressive, even ruthless, commander.  He was known for burning the homes of rebels, and hanging those who refused to provide assistance to the British cause.  Wemyss was wounded in the arm and knee during a bayonet charge at the Battle of Fishdam Ford.  Left on the field by his retreating men he was captured by the rebels. He ended his military service as the Colonel of the Fifeshire Regiment of North British Militia, a militia unit raised against the possibility of invasion by Napoleon.

Simcoe was 26 years old when he took command of the Rangers, and so had the opportunity to have a long association with the Regiment.  He had recently been wounded while commanding the Grenadier Company at the Battle of Brandywine, and came to the Rangers with definite ideas of how to train, structure and lead a regiment.  A serious minded student of military science and history, he proved to be an able risk-taker whose military theories worked well in practice.

John Graves Simcoe’s deeds are well documented, and while he deserves much credit, it is doubtful that the Regiment he commanded would have been as successful as it was without the efforts of Christopher French and James Wemyss.