The Buffalo Soldiers Were African-American Men Who Served in U.S. Army Units Created After The Civil War.

During that conflict, despite strong opposition by most high-ranking officers, almost 200,000 black soldiers and sailors had served on the Union side, proving their ability time and again. As a result, the US government decided in 1867 to create several regular African-American military units, who would assist in the ongoing US expansion into Indian territories in the Plains and lands west.

The places where the new African-American regiments were sent were certainly some of the toughest known to the Army. They took part in much of the major fighting of the Indian wars, from the High Plains to the Southwest. In the process the Buffalo Soldiers garnered 23 Medals of Honor. It is said to have been the Plains Indians who gave them their nickname of “Buffalo Soldiers,” because of their courage as well as their hair, thought to be similar in appearance to the fur between a bison’s horns. It is a name the soldiers adopted with pride, as they knew how the Indians esteemed the buffalo.

African American regiments of the U.S. Army, e.g., Ninth and Tenth Cavalries and the Twenty-fourth and Twenty-fifth Infantries, who were organized after the Civil War and remained in service to World War II. It was common for any African American soldier in World War II to be identified by the public as a Buffalo Soldier.




A short war with Mexico — The Battle of Ambos Nogales, 1918

In 1918 tensions along the United States/Mexican border were heating up.  The turmoil of the Mexican revolution, recent raids by the revolutionary Pancho Villa, and sporadic incidents of violence along the border led to heightened security among border agents and the military.  More importantly the United States was at war with Germany, sending hundreds of thousands of soldiers to fight in the trenches of the Great War.  One of the reasons the US had entered World War I was a secret telegram from the German ambassador Arthur Zimmerman to Mexico, offering an alliance if Mexico attacked the United States as well as the recovery of lost territories such as Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.  While Mexico rejected the proposal the United States feared that German influence and espionage was rife south of the border. Needless to say a suspicious eye was cast on Mexico by the United States Government.  Border security personnel on both sides were anxious and twitchy, a situation which could only lead to violence. 

On August 27th 1918 a Mexican carpenter named Zerefino Lamadrid passed through the border at Nogales, Arizona/Sonora without having a package he was carrying inspected.  US border guards suspected he was smuggling weapons and ordered him to halt.  However Mexican guards on the other side of the border ordered him to continue.  Confused as to what to do Lamadrid froze as soldiers on both sides shouted contradictory orders.  Finally when an American soldier raised his rifle a gun battle erupted between American and Mexican border guards.  In response to the shooting a garrison of Mexican Federal troops joined the growing firefight while simultaneously reinforcements arrived from the 35th US Infantry and 10th Cavalry (the Buffalo Soldiers).  Essentially a deadly misunderstanding at the border erupted into all out warfare between the United States and Mexico.  Adding to the firefight were hundreds of Mexican civilians who grabbed personal firearms and joined in with the battle.  On the American side civilians also responded by arming themselves, occupying rooftops and firing across the border.  

Under heavy fire, the 10th Cavalry crossed south of the border and led an attack into the town.  Weeks earlier Mexican soldiers had dug a series of trenches on the hilltops overlooking the town of Senora.  Before more Mexican reinforcements could arrive and occupy the hills soldiers of the 10th Cavalry captured the trenches, fortifying the position and setting up machines guns.  In response Mexican soldiers and civilians fortified a number of large buildings and used them to fire back against American targets.

At the height of the battle the Mayor of Sonora, Felix B. Peñaloza, placed a white cloth on his cane and ran through the streets begging people to stop shooting.  Peñaloza was killed when a bullet from the Arizona side of the border struck him.  With the death of Peñaloza city hall officials and the Mexican Consulate worked to end the fighting.  After almost four hours of fighting white flags rose above the Mexican customs house and a ceasefire was ordered on both sides.  Sporadic sniper fire continued for a while, but for the most part hostilities ceased.

In the aftermath of the battle a two miles border fence was erected in Nogales.  An American military investigation into the incident concluded the conflict was caused routine mistreatment of Mexican border crossers and the misconduct of Border security agents.  Incredibly the US government blamed the incident on agitation by German agents, a supposition based on nothing more than rumor, innuendo, and hearsay. The battle left six American servicemen dead as well as two civilian militiamen.  Mexican reports count 15 soldiers, although the exact number of civilian casualties is unknown.


Buffalo Soldiers

Osprey Publishing - Elite series: Buffalo Soldiers 1866-91
by Ron Field  (Author), Richard Hook (Illustrator)
Amazon, Google Books

Osprey Publishing - Elite series: Buffalo Soldiers 1892-1918
by Ron Field (Author), Richard Hook (Illustrator)
AmazonGoogle Books

“African-American soldiers played a decisive role in the US Army on the western frontier during the Plains Wars (1850-1891). First authorised by Congress in July 1866, they were organised into two cavalry and four infantry regiments, which were commanded by white officers. All were quickly nicknamed the ‘Buffalo Soldiers’ by their Cheyenne and Comanche enemies. These brave soldiers fought many native tribes over the years, including the warriors of Sitting Bull and Geronimo. This book [Buffalo Soldiers 1866-91] tells the story of these buffalo soldiers who, until the early 1890′s, constituted 20 per cent of all active forces on duty in the American West. “

“The Buffalo Soldier played an important part in the US Army’s operations during the “age of American Imperialism”, between 1898 and 1916. These men campaigned against the Spanish in Cuba (San Juan Hill, 1898), Filipino insurrectionists on Mindanao and Mexican border raiders. They went on to distinguish themselves in the trenches of World War I (1914-1918), and the sum of two divisions of these Doughboys fought with the French Army and the American Expeditionary Force.”

Photograph Of Unidentified Buffalo Soldier With Two Children

From: Photographs Of Afro-American Soldiers, Yale Collection Of Western Americana

Beyond defending territories against native attacks, the  Buffalo Soldiers were capable explorers. They mapped large portions of the Southwest and helped erect town sites. Although prejudice was rampant in the new land, the soldiers persevered. Often, their bravery was their saving grace as they faced enemies.- NY Times.com

At the outbreak of the Civil War, the government was fighting the Indians in the west. It withdrew most of its men and resources from the Indian wars, to concentrate on ending the rebellion. At the end of the Civil War, 186,000 black soldiers had participated in the war, with 38,000 killed in action. Southerners and eastern populations did not want to see armed Negro soldiers near or in their communities. They were also afraid of the labor market being flooded with a new source of labor. General employment opportunities in these communities was not available to blacks, so many African-Americans took a long hard look at military service which offered shelter, education, steady pay, medical attention and a pension. Some decided it was much better than frequent civilian unemployment. Of course in some quarters, it was thought this is an good way of getting rid of two problems at the same time. -BuffaloSoldier.net

When Congress reorganized the peacetime regular army in the summer of 1866, it had taken the above situation into account. It also recognized the military merits of black soldiers by authorizing two segregated regiments of black cavalry, the Ninth United States Cavalry and the Tenth United States Cavalry and the 24th, 25th , 38th , 39th, 40th and 41st Infantry Regiments.  Orders were given to transfer the troops to the western war arena, where they would join the army’s fight with Native Americans.


Yale Collection of Western Americana, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Private Cathay’s Secret

Rebecca O. Hayes

Private Cathay’s Secret depicts the determination and perseverance of a young slave girl, Cathay Williams. Thrust from her home on a Missouri plantation, she becomes a cook for the Union Army. Little does she realize this servitude throughout much of the Civil War will prepare her for her greatest challenge: impersonating a male soldier in the U. S. Army at the end of the war. Alongside her male companions, Williams endures hardships and performs her duties with them equally, during a time when women are not allowed to serve in the military. No one discovers her gender until she reveals it at the time of her discharge. Much has been written about the Buffalo Soldier 10th Cavalry, but infantry escapades are largely clouded in obscurity.

African-American Gun Club Hopes To Help Curb Youth Violence

by Allison Keyes

More than 200 people have been killed this year in Baltimore. Most of them were black, and most of them were shot to death, despite Maryland having one of the nation’s toughest gun laws. This comes two years after the city recorded its lowest murder rate in more than two decades.

Members of one of the few African-American social firearm clubs in the nation think teaching young people different ideas about guns might help deter them from a life of violence.

The Maryland Tenth Cavalry Gun Club, based near Baltimore in Marriottsville, Md., is an African-American firearms club that focuses as much on discipline and black history as it does on shooting. It has 163 members and takes its name from the 9th and 10th Army Cavalry, an African-American regiment known as “Buffalo Soldiers.”

Ken Brown is a big man, and the Ruger Mark III .22 long rifle semi-automatic pistol he’s loading at an outdoor gun range looks almost tiny in his hands. He’s hoping the lessons he teaches and practices at the range where the Maryland Tenth Cavalry Gun Club shoots are something he can pass on to young people in a larger context.  [Continue reading the article in its entirety and listen to full report at NPR’s CodeSwitch.]

Private Cathay Williams…

was the only woman to serve in the US Army as a Buffalo Soldier. On November 15, 1866 she enlisted in the Army as a man. Williams reversed her name William Cathay and lived as a male soldier and served until she was found out due to the last of many illnesses she suffered while a serving. She is the only documented black woman known to have served in the Army during these times when enlisting women was prohibited.

Read morel: http://www.beyondblackwhite.com/cathay-williams-black-woman-buffalo-soldier/


Cathy Williams, Buffalo Soldier

Sharon Solomon