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Veterans Day: The Buffalo Soldiers

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Buffalo Soldiers  

Active 1866–1951
Country  United States of America
Branch Seal of the United States Department of War.png United States Army
Nickname(s) “Buffalo Soldiers”
Engagements American Indian Wars
Spanish–American War
Philippine–American War
Border War
World War I
World War II

Buffalo Soldiers originally were members of the U.S. 10th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army, formed on September 21, 1866 at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. This nickname was given to the “Negro Cavalry” by the Native American tribes they fought in the Indian Wars. The term eventually became synonymous with all of the African American regiments formed in 1866:

Although several African American regiments were raised during the Civil War as part of the Union Army (including the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry and the many United States Colored Troops Regiments), the “Buffalo Soldiers” were established by Congress as the first peacetime all-black regiments in the regular U.S. Army. On September 6, 2005, Mark Matthews, who was the oldest living Buffalo Soldier, died at the age of 111. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

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A Brief History of the Buffalo Soldiers

African Americans have served proudly in every great American war.  Over two hundred thousand African American servicemen fought bravely during the Civil War.  In 1866 through an act of congress, legislation was adopted to create six all African American army units.  The units were identified as the 9th and 10th cavalry and the 38th, 39th, 40th and 41st infantry regiments.  The four infantry units were reorganized in 1868 as the 24th and the 25th infantry.  Black soldiers enlisted for five years and received $13.00 a month, far more than they could have earned in civilian life.

The 10th cavalry was formed at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and recruited soldiers from the northern states.  Colonel Benjamin Grierson was selected to command the 10th cavalry.  Colonel Edward Hatch was selected to command the 9th cavalry and he recruited soldiers from the south and set up his headquarters in Greenville, Louisiana.  The troops were led by white officers.  Many officers, including George Armstrong Custer, refused to command black regiments and accepted a lower rank rather than do so.  The black regiments could only serve west of the Mississippi River because of the prevailing attitudes following the Civil War.

The Buffalo Soldier’s main charge was to protect settlers as they moved west and to support the westward expansion by building the infrastructure needed for new settlements to flourish.

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The name “Buffalo Soldiers” has become interesting lore in itself.  There seem to be three possible reasons for the name.  One, it is said that the curly hair of the soldiers reminded them of the Buffalo.  Two, they were given the name because their fierce, brave nature reminded them of the way buffalo’s fought.  Third, it may have been because they wore thick coats made from buffalo hide during winter.  Whatever the reason, the term was used respectfully and with honor.

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History of Buffalo Soldiers of the American West (Colorado Unit) 

The Buffalo Soldiers of the American West began as the result of an oversight in the history of the West.  John Bell, an aficionado of Western history, participated in reenactments in Colorado and noticed a lack of representation of the Buffalo Soldiers. He wondered whether there were Buffalo Soldier organizations in Colorado and found that there were none.  After much research and more deliberation, John decided to start an organization of Buffalo Soldiers in Colorado in 1986.  John needed to answer the following questions before he began:

John Bell, Founder of the Buffalo Soldiers of the American West

John Bell, Founder of the Buffalo Soldiers of the American West

  • Would the unit be cavalry or infantry?
  • Where could authentic equipment and uniforms be found?
  • What would be the cost?
  • How much travel would be involved to research the history of the Buffalo Soldiers?
  • Who would be interested in becoming members and portraying the soldiers?
  • Which time period would the unit represent?

Finally, John decided that the organization would be cavalry and represent the time period between the 1870 and 1890.

John sent letters and phoned prospective members.  The first meeting was held in Westminster, Colorado in 1992.  The official name of the organization became The Buffalo Soldiers of the American West.  The group registered with the State of Colorado as a non-profit organization in 1994 and received its tax exempt status (501) ( C ) (3) from the Internal Revenue Service in 1995.

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The Buffalo Soldiers of the American West represent members of the 10th Cavalry M Company, organized in 1867 under Commanding Officer, Capt. Alvord.  Troopers of the M Company rode mix colored horses—black, brown, bay, gray, chestnut, and at times, other color combinations.  Company M, therefore, is known as the Calico Company.

The 10th Cavalry mounted units were deactivated in North Africa in 1944.

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Veterans Day Honors: The Buffalo Soldiers

Published on Nov 11, 2016

Buffalo Soldiers originally were members of the U.S. 10th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army, formed on September 21, 1866 at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. The nickname, Buffalo Soldiers was given to the “Negro Cavalry” by the Native American tribes they fought in the Indian Wars. The term eventually became synonymous with all of the African American regiments formed in 1866

Who were the buffalo soldiers?

Following the U.S. Civil War, regiments of African-American men known as buffalo soldiers served on the western frontier, battling Indians and protecting settlers. The buffalo soldiers included two regiments of all-black cavalry, the 9th and 10th cavalries, formed after Congress passed legislation in 1866 that allowed African Americans to enlist in the country’s regular peacetime military. The legislation also brought about the creation of four black infantry regiments, eventually consolidated into the 24th and 25th infantries, which often fought alongside the 9th and 10th cavalries. Many of the men in these regiments, commanded primarily by white officers, were among the approximately 180,000 African Americans who served in the Union Army during the Civil War.

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For more than two decades in the late 19th century, the 9th and 10th cavalries engaged in military campaigns against hostile Native Americans on the Plains and across the Southwest. These buffalo soldiers also captured horse and cattle thieves, built roads and protected the U.S. mail, stagecoaches and wagon trains, all while contending with challenging terrain, inadequate supplies and discrimination. It’s unclear exactly how the buffalo soldiers got their nickname. Archivist Walter Hill of the National Archives has reported that, according to a member of the 10th Cavalry, in 1871 the Comanche bestowed the name of an animal they revered, the buffalo, on the men of the 10th Cavalry because they were impressed with their toughness in battle. (The moniker later came to be used for the 9th Cavalry as well.) Other sources theorize the name originated with the belief of some Native Americans that the soldiers’ dark, curly, black hair resembled that of a buffalo. Whatever the case, the soldiers viewed the nickname as one of respect, and the 10th Cavalry even used a figure of a buffalo in its coat of arms.

When the Indian wars ended in the 1890s, the buffalo soldiers went on to fight in Cuba in the 1898 Spanish-American War; participate in General John J. Pershing’s 1916-1917 hunt for Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa; and even act as rangers in Yosemite and Sequoia national parks. In 1948, President Harry Truman issued an executive order eliminating racial segregation and discrimination in America’s armed forces; the last all-black units were disbanded during the first half of the 1950s. The nation’s oldest living buffalo soldier, Mark Matthews, died in at age 111 in Washington, D.C., in 2005.

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