African-Americans have fought with distinction in all of this country's military engagements. However, some of their most notable contributions and sacrifices came during the Civil War. During that conflict, more than 180,000 African-Americans wore the Union Army blue. Another 30,000 served in the Navy, and 200,000 served as workers on labor, engineering, hospital and other military support projects. More than 33,000 of these soldiers gave their lives for the sake of freedom and their country. 23 African-Americans received the nation's highest military award during the Civil War.
On July 28, 1866, Congress established a peacetime army, drastically reducing the size of the force, and abolishing all the African-American units created during the Civil War. Four new cavalry regiments were created. Two were composed of colored men. Four new "colored" infantry units were also created. The six new black units were the 9th and 10th Cavalry and the 38th, 39th, 40th and 41st Infantry. The four black regiments, two infantry and two cavalry, remained in the West until the Spanish-American War. During this period, the U.S. Army consisted of just 10 cavalry and 25 infantry regiments, meaning that one in five cavalry soldiers and one in eight infantry soldiers were black. Nicknamed Buffalo Soldiers supposedly by the Indians because of the similarity between their hair and the coat of the buffalo, many soldiers of the black regiments were recruited from the United States Colored Troops, which served in the Civil War. Other enlistees came from the New Orleans area, the fringes of the southern states and from large northern cities. The Buffalo Soldiers, comprised of former slaves, freemen and Black Civil War soldiers, were the first to serve during peacetime.
Buffalo Soldiers were responsible for escorting settlers, cattle herds, and railroad crews. They also conducted campaigns against American Indian tribes on a western frontier that extended from Montana in the Northwest to Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona in the Southwest. Throughout the era of the Indian Wars, approximately twenty percent of the U.S. Cavalry troopers were Black, and they fought over 177 engagements. Buffalo Soldiers participated in many other military campaigns: The Spanish American War, The Philippine Insurrection, The Mexican Expedition, World War I, World War II, and the Korean Police Action. The 9th and 10th Cavalries' service in subduing Mexican revolutionaries, hostile Native Americans, outlaws, comancheros, and rustlers was as invaluable as it was unrecognized. It was also accomplished over some of the most rugged and inhospitable country in North America. A list of their adversaries included Geronimo, Sitting Bull, Victorio, Lone Wolf, Billy the Kid, and Pancho Villa - reads like a "Who's Who" of the American West.
Lesser known, but equally important, the Buffalo Soldiers explored and mapped vast areas of the southwest and strung hundreds of miles of telegraph lines. They built and repaired frontier outposts around which future towns and cities sprang to life. The Buffalo Soldiers consistently received some of the worst assignments the Army had to offer. They also faced fierce prejudice to both the colors of their Union uniforms and their skin by many of the citizens of the post-war frontier towns. Despite this, the Buffalo Soldiers developed into the most distinguished fighting units in the Army.
Black History Month Article by
Gloria Smith, Historian
|Unidentified soldier, 25th Infantry
African American Soldiers
Some of Tucson's early African American settlers came to the Southwest as members of the 24th and 25th U.S. Infantry Regiments and 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments. All of these units were stationed at Ft. Huachuca and other southwest Arizona forts at some time. These Black regiments fought against Native American warriors in the Indian Campaigns and went with General John Pershing when he rode into Mexico to fight Pancho Villa.
The Native Americans gave the nickname "Buffalo soldiers" to these soldiers. They did this because they respected the fighting ability of the Black troops. In addition to their other soldiering duties, some of these soldiers acted as scouts and others as bilingual interpreters. The first Black graduate of West Point, Lt. Henry O. Flipper, served at Ft. Huachuca. Some of Tucson's African American community today are the descendants of these soldiers.
World War II brought a fresh influx of African American soldiers to Tucson. Both Davis-Monthan Air Base and Ft. Huachuca played a role in training troops for combat duty. A USO for Black soldiers was established across from Estevan Park. Kathryn Maxwell, the wife of Dunbar School principal Morgan Maxwell, would meet the trains as an American Red Cross volunteer. She would offer coffee and doughnuts to African American soldiers. Her daughter, Kathryn Dixon explained, "In some areas the Red Cross did not serve black soldiers. My mother, in order to make sure that did not happen here, would meet the train." [Sanchez]
Soldiers were separated by race through World War II. At Davis-Monthan, the nickname given to the barracks housing Black soldiers was "Rattlesnake Gulch." After the end of the war, President Harry S. Truman issued an executive order in July 1948 ending segregation in the armed forces.
Despite the order of President Truman, Davis-Monthan remained segregated after World War II. When Master Sergeant Fred Archer was stationed at Davis-Monthan in August of 1949, he was told, "Sarge, you're gonna have trouble here!" Master Sergeant Archer had received his rank in 1943 and outranked most of the other Master Sergeants at the base. However, all African Americans were assigned to a single Squadron, whose duties included driving the garbage trucks. This was not an appropriate assignment for one of the post's top Master Sergeants! By the end of 1949, Squadron F was deactivated and Archer was assigned duties appropriate to his rank and abilities. [Sanchez]
|Chaplain George W. Proleau, ca 1920
Through the years African American soldiers have demonstrated skill and courage in serving their country, Arizona Territory, and the State of Arizona. Many of these men experienced intolerance and racial discrimination during their service, yet they were still willing to place their lives in danger in times of trouble. Tucson is fortunate that so many of these men and their families and descendants have chosen to make their home in southwestern Arizona.
Hi, I meant to contribute something like this to your webpage, written just for the Western Buffalo Soldiers. This comes from my work done for the UA Library. Gloria Smith
Click here for more of "In the Steps of Esteban"
THE WEST 1865 TO 1897
Click here for History of Black Seminole Scouts
Colonel Allen Allensworth
Henry Flipper, Land Claim
Cathay Williams Female Buffalo Soldier