1. Who Were The Buffalo Soldiers?
The Buffalo Soldiers were a part of Army units created from legislation passed in 1866 not long after the end of the Civil War. The U.S. Congress enacted the Army Reorganization Act, and the law increased the size of the U.S. Army, but also created six all-black regiments that could serve during peacetime.
In addition to helping rebuild the nation after the Civil War, these regiments were mostly assigned to duty on the frontier. They helped protect settlers who were part of the nation’s westward expansion and they assisted in the establishment of national infrastructure, but they were also responsible for safeguarding newly protected federal lands that would go on to become the nation’s first national parks.
To answer the question ‘who were the Buffalo Soldiers?’ it is important to understand where their name came from. Sources vary, but some historians believe that the Buffalo Soldiers got their name from Native Americans who fought against the regiments on the western plains. The tribes said that the African American soldiers fought fiercely against them like a buffalo that was being hunted. Other researchers have stated that the Native Americans believed the hair and skin color of the African American soldiers resembled that of the buffalo. The name was revered, in either case, by the Buffalo Soldiers since the buffalo was a sacred animal in the Native American culture.
2. Who Were The Buffalo Soldiers In The Early Days?
One of the most well-known Buffalo Soldiers was Henry O. Flipper who was the first African American to graduate from West Point in 1877. He was commissioned a second lieutenant into the cavalry. He was the first non-white officer to lead Buffalo Soldiers when he joined the 10th Cavalry.
Unfortunately, due to racial issues of the time, Flipper, according to historians, was set up for a crime by saboteurs and eventually found guilty in a court martial, accused of conduct unbecoming and embezzling funds. He was discharged and he would spend the rest of his life trying to clear his name. President Bill Clinton eventually pardoned Flipper and today there is an award presented to West Point cadets who show perseverance during challenging times.
The question ‘who were the Buffalo Soldiers” cannot be answered without inclusion of Cathay Williams. Williams enlisted with the Buffalo Soldiers using the name William Cathay. She pretended to be male in order to serve, but her secret was discovered when she became ill and sought medical care, and doctors discovered she was a female after examination. She was eventually discharged from the U.S. Army, but she became the first African American woman to serve in the U.S. Army.
Similarly, the question ‘who were the Buffalo Soldiers” again, cannot be answered without mentioning Charles Young, who was the third African American graduate of West Point. He rose to prominence as a Buffalo Soldier and went on to become the first national park superintendent. He was also the first African American to reach the rank of colonel in the U.S. Army. It’s important to note that the Buffalo Soldiers served as stewards of the first national parks, protecting the lands from poaching, illegal logging, wildfires, and illicit cattle grazing. In addition, the Buffalo Soldiers built trails, roads, and erected telegraph lines.
3. Who Were The Buffalo Soldiers During The 1900s?
The Buffalo Soldiers served in a variety of campaigns in the southwest and on the Great Plains; more than 175 engagements. They fought against Pancho Villa and several Buffalo Soldiers earned the Medal of Honor in the decades-long war against Native Americans.
As the nation moved into a new century, the Buffalo Soldiers continued their brave service to the nation. They fought in the Spanish American War and in 1918 the 10th Cavalry fought in the Battle of Ambos Nogales where they helped cause the surrender of Mexican forces.
In World War I, segregation policies prevented many of the Buffalo Soldiers from serving in the American Expeditionary Force. The U.S. organized two divisions of segregated men, the 92nd Division and the 93rd Division. The 92nd used the name “Buffalo Soldiers” as their nickname and the 93rd would be known as the “Blue Helmets” because they donned the French helmets while serving with the French.
Much of the 92nd was relegated to logistics and support, behind the front lines and when both divisions arrived in France, General John Pershing sent the divisions to the French army to fight under French command. Some soldiers in the 92nd would see combat action in France and all of the 93rd would fight in combat. Corporal Freddie Stowers and Sergeant Henry Johnson both earned the Medal of Honor for their actions in 1918, but they did not receive the awards for many decades.
Near the onset of World War II, the remaining all-black cavalry regiments were disbanded and many of the troopers were placed into service roles around the U.S. Army. Then in 1942, the 92nd Infantry Division was reactivated and placed into service. Numerous awards for bravery in combat were presented to members of the division. The Medal of Honor was earned by John R. Fox and Vernon J. Baker in Italy in 1944. Both men would not receive the medal until 1997.
4. Who Were The Buffalo Soldiers At West Point?
Many are not aware that the Buffalo Soldiers were highly experienced in horsemanship. Serving in the cavalry made them experts in riding and in 1907 they started training West Point cadets in military riding and mounted drill. It was a role they filled at the academy for 40 years.
Other American colleges at the time might have been asking ‘who were the Buffalo Soldiers?’ because the horsemanship detachment of the Buffalo Soldiers also represented West Point in several athletic competitions, playing baseball and football, to name a few of the sports.
5. Who Were The Buffalo Soldiers In History?
A common misconception is that a soldier is only considered a Buffalo Soldiers if they were a part of the six original African American cavalry units founded in 1866. In reality, the Buffalo Soldiers got their start in 1866, but all-black Army units would exist until 1948 when President Harry S. Truman issued an executive order and ended military racial segregation. The remaining all-black Army units were dissolved in 1951.
Buffalo Soldiers as a term would be applied to any African American soldier who served in any of the all-black Army units with lineage to the original cavalry units founded in 1866. Eventually, the term would apply to African American soldiers who served in any of the all-black units.
Who were the Buffalo Soldiers? Brave, resilient, visionaries who fought for their right to serve, and then served their nation well.