War on the Run — Review

    War on the Run: The Epic Story of Robert Rogers and the Conquest of America's First FrontierWar on the Run: The Epic Story of Robert Rogers and the Conquest of America's First Frontier by John F. Ross

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Note: This expands on my review at Goodreads.

    What is it about the way U.S. history is taught that makes it uninteresting to so many Americans? I wish I knew. Perhaps the lessons we get in fourth grade — third grade was Colorado history for me — are so poorly constructed as to seem worn and trite. Regardless, it's a shame we can't do better at making history come alive for kids.

    One period of history that is being removed from the books, even in states where it occurred, is the history of the French and Indian War (that's the Seven Years' War for the Britishly inclined among you..). And that's too bad because the F&I War had such an impact on the rest of history. Not only did it see European forces changing their methods of warfare as they tried to survive, but also the war had far-reaching impacts, setting us up for the Revolution by putting a wedge between Britain and the colonists, sewing seeds that would grow into the French Revolution, and more.

    It also saw the rise of a new kind of military hero in Robert Rogers and his Rangers. This book follows Rogers and his men through the war, bringing alive in the way few sources have the harshness of the struggle they endured, not only facing enemies who would do unspeakable things to them if they were captured alive, but also the taking on the dangers of the natural world. From freezing cold to starvation, Rogers faced situations that would challenge the military of today.

    One fact completely blew my mind: After the French capitulated at Montreal, Amherst chose Rogers and his men to travel west to French frontier forts at Detroit and Michilimackinac to tell the French forces stationed there that the war was over. This entailed traveling more than 1,600 miles during fall and winter through what was still hostile territory to tell men inclined to kill them — both French and Indian — that they’d lost so please disarm and get out of here.

    Rogers did it in four months — and he did so without any loss of life. Whether dealing with people or dealing with the elements, he was such a damned good strategist. It took Lewis and Clark a year to travel 1,600 miles.

    Think about that for a moment...

    I couldn't make Rogers the hero of my story for a variety of reasons. He wasn't suited to being a romantic hero. In real life, he did marry, but his wife later divorced him. He also had a past tainted with allegations of counterfeiting and might have been saved from the noose by the outbreak of war.

    But here was a young man — he was 24 when the war started — who was capable of astonishing physical feats. Surviving without food. Staying on his feet in freezing cold while marching for hours. Encouraging his men to keep moving when their toes were frozen, their stomachs were empty and bodies were beaten down by disease and injuries. The story of his raid on St. Francis is almost unbelievable, and yet he was still on his feet by the end, pushing himself harder in order to save his men’s lives.

    When I saw his powderhorn at Fort Ticonderoga, I burst into tears because here was a real implement of war and survival for one of the greatest heroes in American history — a hero we know very little about, probably because he sided with the British during the Revolutionary War and so went from being one of the Colonies' greatest celebrities to being considered a traitor.

    The rawness of this time period, the perils, the cultural conflicts — all of this fascinates me. And this book brought it all alive. I imagine the author was sometimes imagining how Rogers felt or what he was facing, but by incorporating multiple sources, he provides a 3D glimpse of a world now gone.

    I have to admit that reading it made me want to back to the beginning of my MacKinnon’s Rangers series and start over. It also made me want to keep writing this time period forever. That probably won't happen.

    Anyone with an interest in this period will find this book fascinating. Highly recommended for history nerds and lovers of adventure.

    View all my reviews

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