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Buffalo Soldiers

1866 – 1951
Nationality: American
Notable: Military Regiments

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The U.S. military’s first all-Black regiments were established during the Civil War. When the war ended some of the soldiers continued to serve and after Congress passed the Army Organization Act in 1866 it allowed for the creation of two cavalry and four all-Black infantry regiments. The mission of the newly created regiments was to maintain order on the Western front as America expanded. Officially, the soldiers were members of numbered regiments but they were given the nickname “Buffalo Soldiers” by Native Americans though the exact reason for the name is unknown.

The 9th Cavalry Regiment was formed in New Orleans, Louisiana in August and September 1866 and spent the winter and early part of 1867 in training. In April 1867, they were sent to San Antonio, Texas to take control of the road to El Paso by repelling local Native Americans who had been forced off their land and onto reservations. The 10th Cavalry Regiment was organized in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas and was then posted to Fort Riley in August 1867 to guard the construction of the Pacific Railroad.

Wages for the soldiers were relatively low at $13 per month but many had enlisted because the wages and treatment were better than they were for most Black civilians. But, the Buffalo Soldiers still faced discrimination both within the military and in contact with the public. The Army Organization Act stipulated that all of the regiments’ officers would have to be White. Troops faced harsh weather and exposure to the elements but as with other soldiers were often given inadequate supplies and outdated equipment that were leftovers from the Civil War. Despite these injustices, the regiments still displayed immense discipline and were noted for having the Army’s lowest rates of desertion, court-martials, and drunkenness.

In a touch of irony, the Buffalo soldiers were members of an oppressed people who proved to be an effective fighting force against another group of oppressed people. Tasked with helping to secure the push West, the regiments ensured law and order by functioning as armed escorts and keeping frontier traders in line. But, because their primary role was to assist in the control of Native Americans in the frontier, they were deployed to fight in battles that would come to be known as the Indian Wars.

Before leaving their training grounds in Fort Leavenworth, the 10th Cavalry Regiment fought the Cheyenne near the Saline River. In 1874, the 9th Cavalry fought against various Native American tribes in the Red River War after which they were joined by the 10th Cavalry Regiment in Texas. The Buffalo Soldiers engaged in an estimated 150-200 battles against Native Americans which had pushed and kept most of the tribes on reservations by 1880. The cavalry regiments were next sent to what was then referred to as the Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) to push White settlers off of Native American land where they had illegally settled.

After the Western front achieved some stability, the Buffalo Soldiers were deployed to Florida in the late 1890s to fight in the Spanish-American War. They saw action in the Battle of San Juan Hill, were sent overseas to the Philippines, and guarded the Mexican border during World War I. In addition to fighting in battles, the Buffalo soldiers served as firefighters and park rangers by helping to protect some of California’s national parks from wildfires and poachers.

The Buffalo Soldiers continued to exist and served mostly in their original form until the 1940s. During that decade the cavalry regiments were combined with another cavalry division and the newly formed group served during World War II. Towards the end of World War II, the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments were disbanded. President Truman integrated the military in 1948 with the enactment of Executive Order 9981. Within a few years, the military’s all-Black regiments had been disbanded.

Bibliography

  1. History.com Editors, ed. 2017. “Buffalo Soldiers.” History.com. A&E Television Networks. December 7, 2017. https://www.history.com/topics/westward-expansion/buffalo-soldiers.
  2. “Buffalo Soldiers.” 2018. National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior. October 18, 2018. https://www.nps.gov/chyo/learn/historyculture/buffalo-soldiers.htm.
  3. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. 2019. “Buffalo Soldier.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. August 20, 2019. https://www.britannica.com/topic/buffalo-soldiers.

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