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The Buffalo Soldiers

    With the release of the movie "Glory", made by Tri- Star Pictures in 1989, we saw the first real interest in the part that Negroes played in our Military history. But this did not start with the Buffalo Soldiers or even the American Civil War. It started much earlier.

The Early Years

Negro Troops marched in the ranks of Washington's armies, in the cause of independence. They served with Andrew Jackson at New Orleans in 1815 to repel the British invaders. But it was their first large scale employment during the American Civil War, that they made their real entrance into American History.

54th Mass (Glory)
54th Mass, Glory

American Civil War Period

When Confederate batteries fired on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. Negroes were eager to wear the Union blue, but it wouldn't come easy.

On the first anniversary of Fort Sumter, General David Hunter organized a Negro regiment. But his effort was abortive and the regiment was "turned off without a shilling, by order of the War Department." Seven months later Colonel T. W. Higginson of Massachusetts took command of the First Regiment of South Carolina Volunteers, the first slave regiment mustered into the service of the United States. By the end of the war 180,000 Negroes had served in the Union army and taps had sounded over the bodies of 33,380 of them. Yet, they didn't fight only in Union Blue. Sadly, little has ever been written of the Negroes that served in the Confederate Army, so we know little of their reasons for fighting for the Confederacy or the outcome of these efforts.

We know that the Negro soldiers fought bravely and the first Medal of Honor awarded to a black soldier was awarded for Battery Wagner, S.C.. This is the main battle shown in "Glory".

Since the filming of "Glory," there has been mentioned of the Negro soldier several times in documentaries, such example as "Buffalo Soldiers", Re-discovering America, narrated by David Hartman. All this has sparked a growing interest, which has brought a whole new group of re-enactors onto the playing field. Many have chosen to portray the Negro soldier of what is referred to as the Indian War period, the Buffalo Soldier. As I write, not more than a hundred and fifty miles away in southern Arizona, a movie about the Buffalo Soldier has just been filmed by Turner Productions. It stars Danny Glover and will probably be release later this year. I await, curiously, their interpretation. We, as re-enactors have to give Hollywood credit in TRYING to clean up, this past anachronism to their new movie making.

Indian Wars Buffalo Soldier
Buffalo Soldier

Post American Civil War

Shortly after the American Civil War on July 28th, 1866, provisions were made for the Negroes to serve in the regular peacetime army. Six regiments, 2 of Cavalry and 4 of infantry were authorized. For twenty- four years these regiments campaigned on the Great Plains along the Rio Grande, New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, Colorado and finally in the Dakotas. The Ninth (9th) and Tenth (10th) U.S. Cavalry Regiments duties included guarding the mail, escorting and / or guarding stage coaches, cattle drives, railroads crews and surveyors. They built roads and telegraph lines, mapped and explored. They played a major part in building the west and making it safe for the coming westward expansion.

White Officers

In the beginning there were no black officers and the military was not willing to deal with this issue. It was still unclear how the Negroes would hold up in the Military in the peacetime army.

The process of recruiting officers for these new regiments was a slow process and by February 1867, only 11 officers had reported to duty. While waiting for the necessary number of officers, the troopers became surly and unruly.

Mutiny

In March, 1867 Colonel Edward Hatch received orders transferring his regiment to Texas. Two companies, L and M were to take station at Brownsville on the Rio Grande while the remaining 10 companies were to encamp near San Antonio and undergo further training. But marching orders had come to soon. Hatch had little more than an ill- disciplined mob on his hands and the stage was set for violence and tragedy. Enroute to San Antonio mutiny flared in K company and was suppressed only with great difficulty. When the city was reached, no brass bands turned out to welcome black men in blue uniforms, after all this had been Confederate territory, and friction developed quickly between the troopers and citizens. Clashes with the police became an almost daily occurrence. Serious trouble was only a matter of time, and it came on April 9th as too few officers strove to control their men. Mutiny broke out in A, E and K companies, and before order was restored, young Lieutenant Seth Griffin of A Company received a mortal wound and Lieutenant Fred Smith of K company was forced to shoot two of his own troopers.

Colonel Hatch placed the blame on a shortage of officers. Captain W. W. Albert, of the Sixth Cavalry, was assigned to investigate the mutiny. His report found that many of the men were "too light, too young and had a weak constitution". He should of added that careless or indifferent recruiters had enlisted far too many men who were unfit for military service.

Enlistment

Recruits were plentiful, though officers were scare. Negroes were eager to enlist, as the army gave them the chance for social and economic betterment. Something difficult to achieve in a society all but closed to them. The American Civil War was over, but many knew nothing of the world outside, the world beyond the city or plantation they had spent their whole life on. They could not go back, now they were free, but many did not have skills to go forward or a place to go. So many felt that the army would be a new home. To others, it was the adventure of being sent west to help tame an untamed wilderness. Perhaps this could lead them to their great dream. The dream of building a new life on their own land.

Those who were accepted, for the minimum of 5 years, received the basic troopers pay of thirteen dollars per month, plus quarters, meals and uniforms. They felt they were now on their way to acceptance, little did they know of the hardship they would face in the west. Most started with uniforms and equipment that was castoff remnants of both American Civil War armies. New recruits used cotton compressors as barracks, ate boiled beef, hash, beans, corn bread and occasionally sweet potatoes, molasses and coffee, not much better off than what they had come from. But to most, the major inducement for enlistment was the prospect of learning how to read and write. They felt this would bring them closer to learning and earning the respect of the white men, and by knowing what the white man new would help them survive and prosper.

Mounts

The cavalry had always been given the finest of horses, but not the Negroes. They received the crippled and sickly horses left from the American Civil War. But they quickly learned that sometimes your horse could be the difference between life and death. They soon learned to care for their horses better than they cared for themselves.

Movement West / 1867 Period

The Ninth and Tenth Cavalry began a journey in spring and summer of 1867, that would lead them to two decades of continuous service on the Great Plains and in the mountains and deserts of New Mexico and Arizona. Upon arriving at Fort Stockton and Davis they found to their dismay that the forts were in disrepair and required complete rebuilding. So work details were put together at once, cutting logs, making adobe bricks, constructing sinks and erecting quarters and corrals. With so much work to be done there was little time for complaint.

Then in late October a revenge-bent party of Kickapoos drew first blood from the Buffalo Soldiers. They ambushed and killed Corporal Emanuel Wright and Private E. T. Jones of D company, as they escorted the mail from Camp Hudson to Fort Stockton.

By December a force of Kickapoos, Lipans, Mexicans and some white renegades, estimated at nine hundred strong, attacked the bivouac of Captain William Frohock and K Company at Fort Lancaster, some seventy-five miles (as the crow flies) east of Fort Stockton. This was the Buffalo Soldiers first opportunity to face their foes "toe to toe". It turned into a vicious three- hour fight, leaving K Company in possession of the field. Their victory was twenty dead and a large number wounded. But they had also suffered, the loss of three herd guards. Privates Andrew Trimble, William Sharpe and Eli Boyer were taken by surprise, roped and dragged away. Now missing and presumed dead. But this fight proved the virtues of hard work, discipline and a sense of purpose. It showed the Ninth that they were combat effective, at least to the ones that fought that day.

1880's Indians

In the 1880's after years of campaigning the majority of the Apaches where driven into reservations at San Carlos and Fort Apache, but renegades still remained at large. With the serious outbreaks in 1881 - 82, General Crook returned to Arizona and restored peace, but 500 Chiricahua and Warm Springs outlaws, one being Nana himself were holed up in the mountains of northern Mexico, ready to launch raids into Arizona.

In March of 1883 a small band of theses Indians under Chatto struck like a hurricane in southern New Mexico and Arizona. A number of ranches were looted and burned. In just 6 days, 25 people were killed, and 1 young boy captured. Then like wraiths the Apaches disappeared across the border, leaving citizens and troops in a state of shock.

General Crook reacted swiftly by gathering a powerful force along with a large body of Apache scouts to cross into Mexico and invade the Sierra Madres. In a 3 week campaign, Crook forced the surrender of the Chiricahua irreconcilables. Out of this Chatto, Geronimo, Nachez, Loco, Benito, Mangus and their followers, as well as Nana and his Warm Springs Apaches, agreed to march to the San Carlos reservation where they were to remain under control of the army.

1886 Fort Apache

Lieutenant Colonel Wade, Commanding at Fort Apache and more than half the companies of the Tenth were sent to arrest and transport more than 400 Apache men, women and children to Holbrook, Arizona, where they were entrained to Fort Marion.

One hostile chief, Mangus and his band remained at large after separating from Geronimo. On September 18th a detachment of H Company under Captain Charles Cooper found a trail in the White Mountains, and a pursuit of more than 40 miles over rough terrain led to a small party of Apaches. After a running 15 mile fight the troopers cornered the Indians and forced their surrender. Now the chapter was over with the last holdout - Mangus, 2 warriors, 8 women and children. Arizona was finally at peace.

The Name "Buffalo Soldiers"

Named by the Indians partly because of the Negro's dark and strange kinky hair was so similar to the buffalo, but most importantly it was a sign of respect. The Indians felt that like the mighty buffalo, the Buffalo Soldiers fought ferociously to the end. Their motto became "Ready and Forward."

The Years To Follow

The Tenth went on to fight in the Spanish - American War, participating in Teddy Roosevelt's famed charge up San Juan Hill. Then on to serve in the Philippine Insurrection. Many a young officer cut their teeth serving with the Buffalo Soldiers, some went on to become famous, like John J. "Black Jack" Pershing who served with the Tenth Cavalry as a young lieutenant. And the rest is history.

Copyright 1988 Francis E. Morrone

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Additional Buffalo Soldier Information

Information about Buffalo Soldiers, Cavalry and Dragoons (pictures)

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Uniforms of the Buffalo Soldiers

     The Buffalo Soldiers wore the same uniforms as the rest of the U.S. Army of the same time period. The only difference was due to delivery times. New uniforms and equipment were delivered in the order of the regiment (IE: 1st Cavalry received the first shipments, then the 2nd, etc.) That meant that the 9th & 10th Cavalry received their uniforms and equipment after the other 8 regiments of Cavalry received theirs and the same with the 24th and 25th Infantry. This meant that it was usually about 4 years after an new uniform regulation came out before the 9th Cavalry, 10th Cavalry, 24th Infantry and 25th Infantry Regiments received their new equipment.

  For early Indian Wars Buffalo Soldier uniforms (until 1876 or so), see American Civil War uniforms.

  For most of the Indian Wars Buffalo Soldier uniforms (1876 on), see Indian War uniforms.

Last Updated: 2013
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