Every once in a while, one hears a name or a phrase that prompts you to investigate. While watching an old western movie, the term “Buffalo Soldier” was mentioned. More than that, these soldiers were fierce fighters and formidable to say the least. Just a small bit of searching turned up some great history and added some pride and honor to old military traditions. Here now are the African American infantrymen that fought in the old west Indian wars and our country’s Civil War.
In 1866 congress created legislation that would form six all African American army units, the 38th, 39th,40th, 41st, and in 1868 the 24th and 25th infantry. Black soldiers enlisted for five years and received $13.00 a month which was more than most could make at civilian occupations. The 10th cavalry was formed at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and was comprised of black soldiers from northern states. The 9th cavalry was formed and comprised of black soldiers from southern states. The troops were led by white officers. Many officers, including George Armstrong Custer, refused to command black regiments and accepted lower rank rather than do so. However, a young captain later called “Blackjack Pershing”, led a group of black infantry to success in the Battle of San Juan Hill. The African American units could only serve west of the Mississippi River because of prevailing attitudes following the Civil war.
The Buffalo Soldier’s main objective was to protect settlers as they moved westward and to support westward expansion by helping to build and protect new settlements and provide an environment for them in which to flourish. Aside from their garrison routines and details, they performed such duties as building roads and forts, riding shotgun on stagecoach and mail routes, protecting the builders of railroads, escorting cattle drives and wagon trains, locating water holes, installing telegraph lines, and protecting the settlers from bandits and renegades.
There are many theories for the name Buffalo Soldier. Three of the most likely are it is said the wooly appearance of the hair was reminiscent of the Buffalo, they were given the name because their fierce, brave nature reminded them of the manor in which buffaloes fought, and it may have been the thick buffalo hide coats they wore in winter. Whatever the reason, it was a term of endearment, respect and honor.
African Americans have served proudly in every great American war. As with the vast majority of us, we are slowly marching to that end where no matter in what ethnic group one belongs, we are all Americans. But only a few can boast that great, great grandfather was a “Buffalo Soldier.”
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Remember Kuna VFW Post 7019 welcomes any and all veterans. We have a monthly meeting, second Wednesday at 7:30 PM in the Kuna Senior Center.