African Americans have served in the United States Army since the Revolutionary War. They were, however, segregated in all black units until the Korean War.
In 1866, Congress approved legislation creating six all African American Army regiments: two cavalry (the 9th and 10th) and four infantry (the 38th, 39th, 40th and 41st). These units represented the first African American professional soldiers in a peace-time army. Some of the recruits for the new units were formerly slaves. Many others served in the Union Army during the Civil War.
Another reorganization of the Army a short time later led to the merger of the four infantry regiments into two units: the 24th and 25th.
The nickname "Buffalo Soldiers" was originally given to the 10th Cavalry by Cheyenne warriors out of respect for their fierce fighting in 1867. The Native American term used was actually "Wild Buffaloes", which was translated to "Buffalo Soldiers." In time, all African American Soldiers became known as "Buffalo Soldiers." Despite second-class treatment these soldiers made up first-rate regiments of the highest caliber and had the lowest desertion rate in the Army.
In the late 1800's and early 1900's, these units were consistently assigned to the harshest and most desolate posts. They were sent to subdue Mexican revolutionaries, outlaws, comancheros, rustlers, and hostile Native Americans; to explore and map the Southwest; to string telegraph lines; and to establish frontier outposts around which future towns and cities grew.
All four units fought in the Indian Wars of the American West and were, in part, responsible for the defeat of Geronimo, the notorious Apache leader Victorio, William "Billy the Kid" Bonney and Mexican bandit Francisco "Pancho" Villa. During the Spanish American War of 1898, it was the 9th and 10th Cavalry Corps which drew the fire that led to the decisive and successful charge up Kettle Hill, and San Juan Heights in Cuba.The Buffalo Soldier legacy continued into the 20th Century. They served in the Philippines and China. Units also fought in WWI and WWII.
The following Buffalo Soldiers and their officers were awarded the Medal of Honor for their service during the Indian Wars or the Spanish American War.
Medal of Honor Winners
Sgt. Thomas Boyne
Sgt. Thomas Boyne
Second Lieutenant, George R. Burnett Place and date: At Cuchillo Negro Mountains, N. Mex., 16 August 1881. Entered service at: Spring Mills, Pa. Birth. Lower Providence Township Pa. Date of issue: 23 July 1897. Citation. Saved the life of a dismounted soldier, who was in imminent danger of being cut off, by alone galloping quickly to his assistance under heavy fire and escorting him to a place of safety, his horse being twice shot in this action.
Second Lieutenant Matthias W. Day Place and date: At Las Animas Canyon, N. Mex., 18 September 1879. Entered service at: Oberlin, Ohio. Birth: Mansfield, Ohio. Date of issue: 7 May 1890. Citation: Advanced alone into the enemy's lines and carried off a wounded soldier of his command under a hot fire and after he had been ordered to retreat.
Sgt. John Denny, Indian Campaigns- for carrying a wounded comrade to safety under fire at Las Animas Canyon, New Mexico, September 18, 1879
Second Lieutenant Robert Temple Emmet. Place and Date: At Las Animas Canyon, N. Mex, 18 Sep 1879. Inducted: New York, N.Y. Born: New York, N.Y. Date of issue 24 Aug 1899. Citation: Lt. Emmet was in G Troop which was sent to relieve a detachment of soldiers under attack by hostile Apaches During a flank attack on the Indian camp, made to divert the hostiles Lt. Emmet and 5 of his men became surrounded when the Indians returned to defend their camp. Finding that the Indians were making for a position from which they could direct their fire on the retreating troop, the Lt held his point with his party until the soldiers reached the safety of a canyon. Lt. Emmet then continued to hold his position while his party recovered their horses. The enemy force consisted of approximately 200.
Captain Francis S. Dodge, Troop D. Action: Near White River Agency, Colo., 29 September 1879. Entered service at: Danvers, Mass. Born: 11 September 1842, Danvers, Mass. Date of issue: 2 April 1898. Citation: With a force of 40 men rode all night to the relief of a command that had been defeated and was besieged by an overwhelming force of Indians, reached the field at daylight, joined in the action and fought for 3 days.
Cpl. Clinton Greaves, Indian Campaigns- for gallantry in hand-to-hand fighting with Indians at Florida Mountains, New Mexico, June 24, 1877
Sgt. Henry Johnson, Indian Campaigns- at Milk City, Colorado on October 2-5, 1879, "Sergeant Johnson voluntarily left the fortified shelter and under heavy fire at close range made the rounds of the pits to instruct the guards; fought his way to the creek and back to bring water to the wounded."
Sgt. George Jordan, Indian Campaigns-twice recognized for unusual heroism: May 14, 1880 lead 25 man force which repulsed over 100 Indians at Carrizo Canyon, New Mexico and on August 12, 1881 held position against superior numbers of enemy.
Sgt. Thomas Shaw, Indian Campaigns- for heroism in action at Carrizo Canyon, New Mexico, August 12, 1881
Sgt. Emanuel Stance, Indian Campaigns- for gallantry displayed as an Indian Scout, May 20, 1870, Kickapoo Springs, Texas. Stance was the first African American recipient of the Medal of Honor during the Indian War era.
Pvt. Agustus Walley, Indian Campaigns- for action in an engagement against Apaches, Cuchillo Negro Mountains, New Mexico August 16, 1881 (Recommendation for second MOH for service during Spanish-American War). Walley is buried near his hometown of Reisterstown. Maryland.
1st Sgt. Moses Williams, Co I, Action: At foothills of the Cuchillo Negro Mountains, N. Mex, 16 Aug 1881. Born: Carrollton, La. Issued: 12 Nov 1896. Citation: Rallied a detachment, skillfully conducted a running fight of 3 or 4 hours, and by his coolness, bravery, and unflinching devotion to duty in standing by his commanding officer in an exposed position under a heavy fire from a large party of Indians saved the lives of at least 3 of his comrades.
Cpl. William O. Wilson, Citation: for bravery during the Sioux campaign in 1890. Action: Sioux Campaign, 1890. Inducted: St. Paul, Minn. Born: Hagerstown, Md. Issued: 17 Sep 1891.
Sgt. Brent Wood, Co B, Action: New Mexico, 19 Aug 1881. Inducted: Louisville, Ky. Born: Pulaski County, Ky. Issued: 12 Jul 1894. Citation: Saved the lives of his comrades and citizens of the detachment.
Medal of Honor Winners
Captain Louis H. Carpenter
Captain Louis H. Carpenter
Sgt Mjr Edward L. Baker, (later promoted to Second Lt.) Spanish-American War- for leaving cover, and under fire, rescued a wounded comrade from drowning, July 1, 1898
Second Lieutenant Powhattan H. Clarke, Company K Place and date: At Pinito Mountains, Sonora, Mex., 3 May 1886. Entered service at: Baltimore, Md. Birth: Alexandria, La. Date of issue: 12 March 1891. Citation: Rushed forward to the rescue of a soldier who was severely wounded and lay, disabled, exposed to the enemy's fire, and carried him to a place of safety.
Pvt Dennis Bell, Spanish-American War- for voluntarily going ashore in Toyabacoa, Cuba, in the face of the enemy and rescuing wounded comrades, June 30, 1898
Pvt. Fitz Lee, Spanish-American War- for voluntarily going ashore in Toyabacoa, Cuba, in the face of the enemy and rescuing wounded comrades, June 30, 1898
Sgt. William McBryar, Indian Campaigns- for bravery in battle with Apache Indians in Arizona Territory, May 15, 1890
Sgt. William Tompkins, Spanish-American War- for voluntarily going ashore in Toyabacoa, Cuba, in the face of the enemy and rescuing wounded comrades, June 30, 1898
Pvt. George H. Wanton, Spanish-American War- for voluntarily going ashore in Toyabacoa, Cuba, in the face of the enemy and rescuing wounded comrades, June 30, 1898.
(The 41st and 38th Infantry were reorganized to form the 24th Infantry in the fall of 1869.)
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