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Linking Yesterday with Today's Transformation




I recently noticed how two Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs) took the same "nickname" from Greek History - the legendary "Spartans." While I recognize the choice as a fan of the old 1962 movie The 300 Spartans - and applaud the new "300" - I can't help but hope some of the new BCT's look into and draw from some overlooked American terms like LongKnives, Riflemen, Sharpshooters.. ....I wrote the below in 2006:

Essay -
Linking Yesterday with Today's Transformation:
Today's Army is transforming into a modular Brigade concept, and historically minded leaders are rightly evoking the past to justify the changing of long standing units (at least by American standards) from one construct to another. Take, for example, the 2nd Armored Cavalry, recently returned from Iraq after deployment from Ft. Polk. Now stationed at Ft. Lewis and officially re-named the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, albeit it is an infantry-equipped Stryker Brigade Combat Team. It will next be re-flagged as a Brigade Combat Team under the 2nd Infantry Division, but not to go away. Subsequently it is earmarked to reappear in Germany as our lone ground force commitment to Europe. If that isn't somewhat confusing for non-Army folks to follow, it calls itself the "Second Dragoons" - which was actually, their first title when formed in 1836, in response to the increasing trouble in Florida during the Second Seminole War. They proved then that mounted troops (most were mounted) could wage a mobile fight in the mixed jungle and scrub, terrain.

So, what's in a name, right? In fact, the fighting Army is replete with such unique historical stories - the 1st Infantry is not the oldest regiment - that would be the 3rd Infantry - "Old Guard."

There is one unit seemingly forgotten and overlooked, that in light of today's transformation, if not for other reason, deserves to be remembered. It is the Regiment of Riflemen, which was "unquestionably the most effective infantry formation fielded by the United States in the War of 1812" in the estimation of its foremost historian John F. Fredriksen, author of "GREEN COATS AND GLORY: THE UNITED STATES REGIMENT OF RIFLEMEN, 1808-1821" Old Fort Niagara Assoc., Youngstown, NY, 200 or see Issue No.1 & 2, 1998, Vol. 50 of MILITARY COLLECTOR & HISTORIAN.

The argument considered:
It is my contention that the Regiment(s) of Riflemen (1st, 2nd, 3rd & 4th), forgotten as they are, justly deserve to be considered part of the evolution of the U.S. Army Ranger concept and, therefore, should be included in the Ranger historical lineage.
Consider:
1: In tactics, organization, and qualifications the US Regiment of Riflemen belongs to the Ranger story - especially as the ranger story rightly includes Morgan's Riflemen/Rangers but allows for Mosby's Rangers (a partisan-ranger outfit) belonging to an opposing army! (I also make the case for the US Sharpshooter Regiments (1st & 2nd)
2: The few military historians who have studied the US Rifle Regiments' actions are in agreement that, in the use of concealment, marksmanship, aimed fire, skirmish, ambush, raid, and spearhead tactics, they pointed the way to the future employment of "modern Ranger infantry."
3: If not recognized by the Rangers, at least the Regiment of Mounted Riflemen - today's 3rd Armored cavalry regiment - should have the decency and smarts to add this unit to its legacy.
4: A study of the US Voltigeur & Foot Riflemen organization and actions in the Mexican War justifies its inclusion in the spearhead story of ranger operations and rescue from oblivion, as with its ancestor Rifle Regiments.

For starters, I disagree with Fredriksen - an outstanding historian and fine gentleman who consented to my use of his work on this for academic-use website - and the tenor of conclusion from "Green Coats and Glory" : "Discounting incidental formations like the Voltigeurs of the Mexican War and a small Regiment of Mounted Riflemen it was not until the advent of Hiram Berdan's sharpshooters in 1861 that the United States Army possessed a unit of green-clad specialists to carry on traditions of American riflemen." pp.71-72

Upon closer scrutiny, I believe this assertion is, at best, too simplistic and, at worst, misleading.First, the U.S. Regiment of Mounted Riflemen was and is NOT an incidental unit (not that Fredriksen literally meant this)! Witness that they became the 3rd Cavalry who begat the modern 3rd Armored Cavalry and, as evidenced in Iraq to date, have seen their fair share of "foot" slogging and have "led the way" in adaptation to COIN operations (*see excerpt from article below).

Moreover, I argue that the evolution of dispersed rifled infantry tactics, the selection of uniquely skilled and fit men, and the need for specialized units to execute irregular tactics as well as the traditional skirmish, ambush and assault missions, using the best means of mobility available, truly and firmly puts the US Rifle Regiments, US Voltigeur & Foot Riflemen Regiment, and the US Sharpshooter Regiments in the US Army Dragoon, Mounted Riflemen and US Army Ranger traditions. Any of these current formations can make a legitimate claim to the legacies of these "forgotten" units. As concerns the ranger tradition, the problem has continued to be exacerbated by the "wanna make a buck" authors - so-called ranger-historians - who have foisted much repetitious scholarship on the military history buying readership. Even respected military historians have overlooked the ranger's War of 1812 and mounted past.

For example, official lineal descendants such as the rangers of the War of 1812 (Foot and Mounted) and Mounted Rangers of 1832 have been given extremely short shrift, especially when one compares their treatment with the dubious claims, on official and historical organization and mission grounds, to such glamorous units such as Mosby Rangers - CSA partisan rangers - or even the "Swamp Fox" - Francis Marion's partisans of the Revolution. It is important too to stress that these units were all mounted formations!

Through such shallow or incomplete research they have shortchanged themselves of the opportunity to include these units in a serious, chronological discussion of the legacy and evolution of the Ranger story. Stronger cases could be made for units such as the US Regiment of Riflemen and the US Sharpshooter Regiments - not the least of which was that they were regular US Army units! - than Revolutionary militia units such as Marion's partisans or Confederate Army units! (One must make an exception for Rogers and other appropriate colonial Rangers before the Revolution.)

In tactics, organization, and personnel qualifications, Riflemen and Sharpshooters, belong to the Ranger story.

In their use of concealment, aimed fire, skirmish, ambush, raid, and spearhead tactics, they truly "led the way" to the future employment of "modern" Ranger infantry. The same can be said for the Dragoon, Mounted Riflemen, and Light Infantry legacies. One need only observe the OIF COIN usage and up-armored adaptations of today's formations - be they Stryker, armored Cavalry, or Light - and then compare with the discussions of the period 1815-1850 - to see that relevance. Dragoons and Mounted Riflemen of the 1830s were evolutionary heirs of the mounted Riflemen and Rangers since colonial times. Thus the case for arguments 1 and 2.

For argument 3 - that the Regiment of Mounted Riflemen should add this unit to its legacy - here is the rest of the story: Fredriksen, in summing up, describes how, in 1837, then Major Bennet Riley (Ft. Riley Kansas named in his honor) unsuccessfully appealed to Congress in discussions on reforming a rifle regiment:
"It is my opinion that a rifle regiment should be added to the peace establishment, as two wars have shown us that rifleman are the most efficient troops that were ever deployed by our country. Where can you find troops more efficient than Morgan's riflemen of the Revolution or Forsyth's riflemen of the last war with Great Britain?"

Fredriksen further mentions another attempt in 1841 to form two rifle regiments. But he should have gone further. In 1819, Inspector General Colonel Arthur Perenneau Hayne saw clearly that consolidating the number of posts to three strategically placed positions and mounting troops of the caliber of the Rifle Regiment: "Under proper arrangement, the expense of mounting & equipping the Command would not be very considerable...thus formed and equipped the Corps could act in the Three fold capacity of Dragoons, Infantry and Riflemen." - Report of Inspection of the Ninth Military Department, 1819 - L. B. S. The Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol. 7, No. 3 (Dec., 1920), pp. 261-274

The seeds of this inclusive approach are aptly captured in Dr. Wayne R. Austerman's, "This Excellent & Gallant Rifle Corps; The Model 1803 Harpers Ferry in Service." published in Man at Arms, Vol.3, No.4, July/August 1981 (cited by Fredriksen). Dr. Austerman vividly describes the essential challenges and requirements that demanded the tactics, techniques and procedures, that an appropriately armed and mobile force would need in confronting the Plains tribes while on escort and constabulary duties in the opening west. The actions of the 6th Infantry, and particularly those of of Maj Bennett Riley, pointed directly to the need for a well-armed, mobile and highly disciplined and competent force of regulars to demand the respect of the tribes. The absorption of the dissolved Rifle Regiment into the 6th Infantry, an "illogical" organizational mistake, forced from on high, nevertheless, provided both the means (Model 1803 rifle), tactical approach (swifter dispersed rifle formations vice slow moving linear, line infantry movements) and aggressive leadership demanded in the new area of operations.

The dismounting of Dragoons and even Artillery in the Seminole Wars and the "official" dismounting and re-designation of the 2nd Dragoons in 1842, to "Regiment of Riflemen," albeit for only one year, points to the continuity of the Rifle concept. Furthermore, by examining the 1846 Congressional debate, which resulted in the creation of the US Regiment of Mounted Riflemen - today's 3rd Armored cavalry - one might see that its creation was not far removed from these earlier attempts in time or perhaps, more importantly, informed memory, to resurrect the Riflemen concept.

As it is, the basis for this linkage is easily found in the Army's own book "Army Lineage: Armor-Cavalry."

Concerning the 2nd Dragoons it is stated: "They thus became the first Rifle Corps included in the establishment for two decades, that is, since the Rifle Regiment had been disbanded in 1821. The erstwhile horsemen, who felt degraded on foot, clung hard to their dragoon organization, but they received rifles and, as far as is known, trained as riflemen. Agitation to remount them was continuous, and within a year they became the 2nd Dragoons again (later the 2nd US Cavalry). When they were reconverted, rifle corps disappeared once more from the Army, except that the President received authority from Congress to convert two or more infantry regiments into rifles if he thought it expedient. He never exercised this authority."

This last sentence, however, overlooks the ideas, executive and congressional, behind the Mounted Riflemen and Voltigeurs: Indeed, as concerns the 1846 debate, it is worth noting that the title "Two Regiments of Riflemen" was used in the Congressional articles and banner without the term "mounted." Now, this is explainable perhaps due to article space considerations yet, in reading the debate itself, it is quite apparent that the writers and Congressmen were cognizant of the tradition and uniqueness of the Regiment of Riflemen from 1808-1821.

Moreover, the "mounted versus foot" debate was only one, , and not the most important, item amongst a host of constitutional, officering and manning - "regulars versus militia," - issues at play.
"(Mr Haralson) was willing to see the President vested with the power to mount or dismount such portions of the two regiments as he might at any time deem requisite and proper. He was not of the opinion, however, for reasons which he would state, that the whole of this increased force should consist of mounted men....Although the bill itself did not designate the particular service in which this force should be employed, yet it had been announced that a portion of it at least was to be put on the line of emigration to Oregon. he asked gentlemen to consult their own good sense on this point. Would mounted men be required altogether at the stockades? Was not every man who knew anything of military matters aware, that certain services were required to be performed in and about these stockades, and that it would be useless that every man there should have a horse? A detachment of one or two companies must remain at every one of the forts, not only to protect emigration, but to protect the public property. It was indeed requisite, that a portion should be mounted, in case of Indian, attacks, or to escort emigration, if necessary, and to perform other services in which the speed of mounted men might be required--to repel invasion, or to pursue and enemy retreating into the prairies, and whom men on foot could not reach. A mixed force, therefore, at the discretion of the president, or of the commanding officer on that particular service, was required."-- Congressman Haralson, Georgia, March 26, 1846.

In actuality, the "mounted versus foot" - mission and organizational - issue was primarily a question of anticipated expenditures, the constitutionality of Executive-branch employment prerogatives and, from the opposition point of view, secretive schemes afoot (many in Congress opposed Polk's war). The US Army's experiences in the western river expeditions of 1817-1821, in which the Rifle Regiment was chosen for specific reasons and proved to play such a prominent and critical part, also informed the debate. The new regiment was to be formed "specially designed for to protect American emmigration and the commerce of the prairies." - Congressman McClernand, Illinois, April 10, 1846.

They also discussed the essential composition of the unit in terms of the source and caliber of officers and men to be recruited or transferred. What emerges from a reading here is a striking similarity between that of the Regiment(s) of Riflemen (in original intent and proven execution) and the new Regiment of Mounted Riflemen especially as concerns recruitment, caliber, and expected performance of the men - as Congressman Haralson eloquently expressed:
"What kind of me do you want on that service? ...men taken from your large cities --a trodden down, spiritless sot, such as would receive the lash, if it were requisite to apply it? Surely not. We want no such material for an army. We want men who are bound to the institutions o' the land, who love their country for their country's sake, and who acknowledge that the first great law of that country is obedience to the laws;men who in serving as privates, would not find themselves degraded. Such are the men we want; such the men who are to be found in the South, and on our western prairies, who breathe the pure atmosphere of liberty, and who know its blessings, and feel it no degradation to fight for them, if necessary. The gentleman also thought proper to speak of the insubordination of our army, and of a force to be raised from the freemen of the west. I have no fear that a regiment from the western States would bear out the description he has given.
In 1813 and 1814 the western men did not show that spirit of insubordination. They have never done so when the tocsin was sounded and the drum beat, and they were called on to serve their country; nor do I think I will ever do so. We want men acquainted with pioneer life, who have been accustomed to the woods-men who can sit in the saddle, and who know how to manage a horse, and the use of the never-failing rifle-who can pursue an enemy, and whose habit of life are such, that they can wrap themselves in a blanket at night, and comfortably in the open air, contented to be in the service of their country....By and through them,a knowledge of the country will be obtained, which would lead to its settlement, in many instances, by the discharged soldiers themselves." -- Congressman Haralson, Georgia, March 26, 1846.*American State Papers, 1789-1838 Thirty-eight volumes

When formed, a young lieutenant Grant would bemoan that Polk had chosen to play favorites in officering the Mounted Riflemen:
"Don't you think Mr. Polk has done the officers of the army injustice by filling up the new regiment of riflemen from citizens?* It is plain to be seen that we have but little to expect from him..." "NB-* Grant had applied for a command in this regiment. For political reasons the bill authorizing the equipment of the regiment specified that it should be officered from civilian ranks." - Letter to J. W. LOWE, Esq., Batavia, Ohio from U. S. GRANT, 4th Infy. - in McClure's Magazine, 1896, p 370.

If direct evidence could be found pinning Riley's 1837 testimony and his or other official's "lessons learned" from the 6th Infantry experiences to the 1846 Congressional debate and subsequent legislation establishing a new "regiment of Riflemen," albeit mounted or half-mounted, then a direct linkage could be established between the Regiment of Riflemen of 1808-1821 and the Regiment of Mounted Riflemen (1846-present).
In this way the Regiment of Riflemen could directly be included in the Mounted Riflemen's - 3rd Armored Cavalry's - story. Conceptually, however, it is easy to see and make the connection.

The short history of the U. S. Regiment of Voltigeurs & Foot Riflemen also deserves mention, if not inclusion, in the lineage of the Rangers - their battle record speaks for itself and was in the Ranger "spearhead" tradition - witness their storming of Chapultepec castle. Research convinces me that there is a direct doctrinal connection of the 1808-1821 Regiment of Riflemen (lead spearhead amphibious assault on York Upper Canada), to the 1846 Mounted Riflemen (*Brave Rifles!) and to the 1847-48 U.S. Regiment of Voltigeurs & Foot Riflemen (half foot - half mounted) - both forced to fight on foot during the Mexican-American War, despite their intended mounted capability.

The 1837, 1841, 1846 and 1847 rifle regiment discussions, legislation, and creations - resulting in the U.S. Mounted Rifle Regiment in 1846 and U.S. Regiment of Voltigeurs & Foot Riflemen in 1847 - are not "incidental"** to the story of the old U.S. Regiment of Riflemen and by extension the US Sharpshooters or, from a modern perspective, the evolution to WWII Ranger and today's Ranger or Armored Cavalry/Dragoon/Stryker formations.

In conclusion, the search for newer forms of weaponry and mobility do not obviate but rather reinforce these strong, organizational and tactical historical ties of regular US Army foot or mounted Rangers, foot or mounted Rifle formations, and Sharpshooters. The name "Corps of Rangers," "Ranger Corps," "Rifle Corps," "Regiment of Riflemen," "Rifle Regiment," or even "Rifles," had a military cultural and historical connotation that fixed it in the minds of soldiers and politicians of their day.Congress and Army bureaucrats failed to maintain, foster, and nurture in the reorganization schemes of their day. From this, as has been long known and often stated, a distinctly formidable, combat proven, and proud legacy, that directly tied the Army to its Continental and early Army "roots" was, thereby, denied and "lost" for more than one regular Army unit still serving today. For units such as the Rangers and Rifles this was doubly so.To perpetuate the folly by which a young nation's legislators and bureaucrats dealt with the army's "regimental system" of its day, is to impose a needless constraint. If the army can re-organize each decade or so (it seems) we should also be able to re-dedicate. If today's Brigade Combat Team - BCT - can adopt such non-American, but bold, nicknames as "Spartans" then surely others can "buy American" and change their nickname or add the Riflemen legacy to further foster their ESPRIT DE CORPS!




2009 -kudos to the Mountain Warrior Battalion (USAREC); see
The Legacy of the US Army "Mountain Warrior"


For a bold, and original systematic and comprehensive look at a possible inclusive unit naming/reflagging and lineage remembrance scheme, necessitated by the Army transforms to Brigade Combat Teams, I recommend a reading of Karl Lowe's:
Reshaping America’s Army
"The reorganization of the Army calls for a comprehensive reflagging to revive and maintain historic division lineages and perpetuate the esprit de corps of proud units."
ARMY Magazine - March 2005 -03/01/2005- Volume 55, Number 3

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