History of Guerrilla Warfare

Guerrilla warfare has a history nearly as long as war itself. A guerrilla is essentially a fighter who uses the terrain and unconventional tactics such as raids to defeat an often-larger enemy. It is easy to see how these tactics would have been useful in the conflicts fought in the Adirondacks. Small paths and the dense wilderness forced large armies to march in long columns. Smaller forces could then use the wilderness to sneak up on the large columns and ambush them. Furthermore, large armies struggled to supply themselves due to the terrain (Jenkins, 76). Also, the population of the region was extremely small. This made it impractical to field a large army. Finally, guerrilla warfare was so prevalent because of the presence of Native Americans throughout the period’s conflicts. This kind of irregular fighting had an immense impact on the wars of the area. These kinds of tactics enabled small armies to defeat larger and more powerful enemies. Therefore, guerilla warfare became prevalent because of its utility in the region, suggesting that the Adirondacks were especially conducive to this mode of warfare.

Guerrilla warfare took place extensively in the Adirondacks because it was so effective. War in the Adirondacks began as a series of trade wars as tribes natives spurred on by the potential benefits of trade with the Europeans, fought one another for dominance. This resulted in large amount of inter-tribal raiding which typically involved small groups of fighter’s using hit and run tactics setting a precedent that would be followed in future conflicts.

General Herkimer in the woods of the Adirondacks that made Guerrilla warfare so successful (Fred Yohn, Schenectady History)
General Herkimer in the woods at the battle of Oriskany Creek that made guerrilla warfare so successful (Fred Yohn, Schenectady History)


Guerrilla warfare reached its height during the French and Indian and the American Revolutionary wars. During the French and Indian wars, both sides used guerrilla warfare. The British unit known as the Robert’s Rangers became a highly trained and effective scouting and fighting force (Rogers, 65). Meanwhile, the French utilized their Indian allies to ambush their enemies as much as possible. This was the only way they could counteract the superior numbers of the British. In the American Revolution, guerrilla tactics proved to be extremely useful. The American’s raided the British and used the terrain to their advantage. This led to the surrender of Burgoyne and expedited the end of the war (Jenkins, 77).

A print of Robert Rogers (Thomas Heart, Library of Congress)

Ultimately, it is clear that it was the terrain of the Adirondacks that made this kind of warfare successful. The Europeans were eventually forced to change from their Europeans tactics. It simply wasn’t possible or effective to maintain large armies fighting in lines in the Adirondacks. European’s saw how effective the native’s tactics were and chose to adopt them for their own. For that reason, guerilla warfare was so prevalent in the Adirondacks


Works Cited

“History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925 General Herkimer at the Battle of Oriskany.” History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925 — General Herkimer at the Battle of Oriskany. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 May 2016. <http://www.schenectadyhistory.org/resources/mvgw/portraits/herkimer_at_oriskany.html>.

Kalma, Dennis. “Denniskalma.com.” Denniskalma.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Apr. 2016. <http://www.denniskalma.com/index.html>.

Jenkins, Jerry, and Andy Keal. The Adirondack Atlas: A Geographic Portrait of the Adirondack Park. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse UP, 2004. Print.

“NPS.gov Homepage (U.S. National Park Service).”National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior, n.d. Web. 20 Apr. 2016. <https://www.nps.gov/fost/learn/historyculture/images/SARAmapFOST.gif>.

Raspe, G.N. Robert Rogers. 1778. Print. Libary of Congress, Washington D.C.

Rogers, Robert, and Caleb Stark. Reminiscences of the French War; Containing Roger’s Expeditions with the New-England Rangers under His Command, as Published in London in 1765; with Notes and Illustrations. To Which Is Added an Account of the Life and Military Services of Maj. Gen. John Stark; with Notices and Anecdotes of Other Officers Distinguished in the French and Revolutionary Wars. Concord, NH: L. Roby, 1831. Print.