Distinguished, Honorable, Glorious Roots of the Buffalo Soldiers

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The adversities and triumphs of a group of extraordinary African American Soldiers.

The art and memorabilia of the ‘Buffalo Soldiers’ have a profound meaning in history, and to former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the United States military, General Colin Powell. They line the walls of his home and office, and they have been presented to him as gifts and memorials for his service to the nation. General Colin Powell’s career represents a historical and spiritual link between the black soldiers of the Civil War era, and those of today.

How They Were Established

Six months after the Civil War, an Act of Congress to increase and fix the “Military Peace Establishment of the United States” was approved on July 28, 1866. The act authorized the formation of two regiments of cavalry composed of black soldiers. The 9th Cavalry Regiment was activated at Greenville, Louisiana, and the 10th Cavalry Regiment was activated at Fort Levanworth, Kansas. Their competent leadership was endowed through the ranks of regimental commanders Colonel Edward Hatch, of the 9th, and Colonel Benjamin Grierson of the 10th Cavalry Regiment. However, The troops were led by white officers, and many officers, including “George Armstrong Custer”, refused to command black regiments, and accepted a lower rank rather than to do so.

Controversy / Underlined Reasons for Establishment

The ” Doctrine of Manifest Destiny”, for the most part, gave what were thought of as superior privileges to dominate and control the rights and lives of American Indians in North America. Most Americans viewed Indians as incorrigible savages. Moreover, few Americans, black or white, had any idea of the frequent genocidal intent of the U.S. government toward Native Americans. Nonetheles, those who were most threatened by warring fractions – American frontier settlers – most naturally wanted government protection at any cost.

Furthermore, out of 186,000 black soldiers that participated in the Civil War, 33,000 were killed in action. The sour disposition coming from the southern and eastern population after the war didn’t want to see armed black soldiers in, or near their communities. Inasmuch, they were also afraid of seeing the market flooded by a new source of labor. Therefore, former slaves and black soldiers, whether or not they could read or write, took a long hard look at military service which offered food and shelter, education, steady pay (between 10 -13 dollars a month) medical attention and a pension.

Congress reorganized the Peacetime Regular Army in the spring of 1866. It had taken these two situations into account, and in addition to the two segregated cavalry regiments, also implemented for duty were the 38th, 39th, 40th, and 41st infantry regiments. Although , sometime later, the four infantry units were merged into the 24th and 25th infantries.

How Did The Name “Buffalo Soldiers” Come About?

During the era of the Indian Wars, an approximate twenty percent of the U.S. Cavalry troopers were black, and they fought in more than 177 engagements on a frontier that covered the plains, and land masses that stretched from Montana in the Northwest, to Texas, New Mexico and Arizona in the Southwest. The speculations about the name come from the Indian’s comparison of the soldiers kinky, black, hair resembling that of the buffalo’s mane, and also from the combat prowess, bravery, tenaciousness and looks on the battlefield. These features inspired the Indians to call them “Buffalo Soldiers” and many Native Americans believe that the name symbolizes respect for the Buffalo Soldiers bravery and valor, and throughout the years they have worn the name with pride.

Duties of the Soldiers

These African-American Soldiers did everything from conducting campaigns against Indian tribes on the western frontier, to escorting settlers, cattle herds, railroad crews, mapping territories and the protection of civilians and townships. Their main responsibility was to protect settlers as they moved west, and to support the westward expansion, by building the infrastructure that was necessary for settlements to grow. Nevertheless, the Buffalo Soldiers were often faced with racial prejudice from members of the U.S. Army and civilians in areas were they were stationed to protect from outside threats. In several instances the civilians reacted with violence toward the soldiers, and sometimes cold blooded murder, with little to no recourse being sustained.

Accomplishments of the Buffalo Soldiers

African Americans have fought in military conflicts since the Revolutionary War. But the Buffalo Soldiers, who were made up of former slaves, freemen and black Civil War veterans were the first to serve during peacetime. For over two decades, the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments fought against American Indian tribes on the western frontier. They engaged in several skirmishes against great Indian chiefs such as Red Cloud, Victorio, Geronimo and Nana. When they were not engaged in combat with Indians, both regiments built forts and roads, installed telegraph lines, located water holes,escorted wagon trains and cattle drives, rode “shotgun” on stagecoach and mail runs, and protected settlers from from renegade Indians, outlaws, and Mexican revolutionaries

Their exploits of courage and valor did not go unnoticed. They were recognized and awarded with 18 Congressional Medals of Honor for their extraordinary feats at the western frontier alone. They also participated in military campaigns in Cuba during the Spanish American War. Namely, the 10th Cavalry Regiment was a part of Teddy Roosevelt’s famous charge up “Saun Waun Hill”. During the “Mexican Expedition”, both cavalry regiments were involved in the chase of Mexican outlaw Pancho Villa. Their legacy continued with the Philippine-American War, World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. The end of the Buffalo Soldier legacy was marked in 1944, but the finalization of it didn’t actually occur until December 12th, 1951, when all infantry and cavalry regiments were integrated with other units in Korea.

In addition to the numerous military campaigns, a little known contribution of the Buffalo Soldiers should be mentioned. Beginning in 1889 through 1904, Buffalo Soldiers served as what are now coined “Official Park Rangers” in the second and third oldest parks in the United States (Sequoia and Yosemite).