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Black soldiers fought in General George Washington's army during the Revolutionary War, and served with Andrew Jackson at New Orleans in 1815. In 1861, Colonel T.W. Higginson took command of the First Regiment of South Carolina Volunteers, the first black regiment in the service of the United States. By the end of the Civil War, some 186,000 black soldiers had fought to preserve the Union. Of these, more than 33,000 died. But it was not until the federal government was faced with a severe shortage of soldiers to combat hostile Indians in the West that the courage and bravery of black soldiers would be recognized by history.
The federal government had had to withdraw thousands of white troops from the American West to fight in the war, leaving vast stretches of the frontier vulnerable to attacks from Indians. On June 28, 1866, an Act of Congress authorized the creation of six regiments of black troops, two of cavalry and four of infantry. The first two regiments of black soldiers were organized on September 21, 1866 -- the 9th Cavalry, at Greenville, Louisiana, under command of Colonel Edward Hatch, and the 10th Cavalry, at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, under command of Colonel Benjamin Grierson. These are the two regiments that would become known to history as the "Buffalo Soldiers." (The black infantry regiments organized under the act were the 24th, 25th, 38th, 39th, 40th and 41st.)
Once organized and trained, the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments were sent to the Western frontier, where they built fords and roads, strung telegraph lines, protected railroad crews, escorted stages and trains, protected settlers and cattle drives, and fought Indians. The Plains Indians are said to have coined the name "Buffalo Soldiers" for these troops, owing to the fierceness with which the men fought. The men accepted the name with pride.
In addition to battling opposing forces, black soldiers had to fight ignorance, prejudice and hatred. The Army had difficulty recruiting white officers willing to train and command black soldiers. They were given the Army's worst equipment, clothing and food. And, to make matters even worse, they often faced hatred and violence from the very people they had pledged to protect. Despite these hardships, the Buffalo Soldiers always fought with distinction. In fact, the Buffalo Soldiers had the lowest desertion rate in the army, and the alcoholism rate among the troops was far below the average for white troops. By the time the regiments were disbanded, twenty members of the 9th and 10th Cavalry had been awarded Congressional Medals of Honor, the highest award given for outstanding performance under enemy fire.
Elements of the 9th and 10th Cavalry went on to fight in Cuba, and played a major role in the Rough Riders' charge up San Juan Hill. The 10th later accompanied General John J. Pershing on his expedition against Pancho Villa. In 1941, the 9th and 10th were formed into the 4th Cavalry Brigade, under the command of General Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., and stationed at Camp Funston, Kansas. All horse cavalry regiments (black and white) were disbanded in 1944, bringing the proud history of the Buffalo Soldiers to an end.
Buffalo Soldiers National Museum www.buffalosoldiermuseum.com
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This page was last updated on 09/21/2018.