SHAKO: Buffalo Soldiers UPDATE

February 28, 2019 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

Remembering the Buffalo Soldiers.

Buffalo Soldiers-2 10th Cav

The Buffalo Soldiers from A Company, 10th U.S. Cavalry regroup to move out after battle. Colonel Benjamin H. Grierson (center) issues orders to Lieutenant Henry O. Flipper (left), the first black graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, to keep the Chiricahua Apache renegade Victorio bottled up near the Rio Grande. (Photo courtesy http://www.donstivers.com via U.S. Corps of Army Engineers, Southwest Division)

UPDATES and CORRECTS: To add material about Buffalo Soldiers serving as early park rangers, include a photo of Buffalo Soldiers in World War II and to CORRECT that Buffalo Soldier units did not fight in World War I and only the 24th and 25th Infantry regiments still existed in World War II.–the Editor

As February and Black History month draws to a close, here at 4GWAR we’ve been wracking our brains trying to decide how best to honor the month and the people it celebrates. Should we focus on individuals like Medal of Honor recipient Sergeant Henry Johnson, or Dorie Miller, the first African American awarded the Navy Cross for his heroism at Pearl Harbor? Or should we examine a unit like the Tuskegee Airmen of the Second Word War or the Harlem Hellfighters of World War I?

In doing our research we came across four all-black units, the 9th and 10th Cavalry regiments and the 24th and 25th Infantry regiments, in the segregated Army of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Collectively, they were known as the “Buffalo Soldiers.” Created right after the Civil War, these four regiments at times battled or protected Native Americans on the plains, deserts and mountains of the American West. They charged up San Juan Hill in 1898. Five members of the 10th Cavalry were awarded the Medal of Honor for bravery above and beyond the call of duty in Cuba.  and fought insurgents in the Philippines in the early 20th Century after the United States annexed the islands in 1899. They also chased Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa with General John “Black Jack” Pershing in the 1916-1917 Mexican Punitive Expedition.

Buffalo_soldiers1

Buffalo soldiers of the 25th Infantry, some wearing buffalo robes, at Fort Keogh, Montana. (Library of Congress)

None of the regiments served as units in France during World War I, although some veteran non-commissioned officers were dispatched to other segregated units that served on the Western Front. The two cavalry regiments were disbanded in World War II but the 24th Infantry and 25th Infantry, both served in the Pacific. 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 early 1950s.

Between 1891 and 1913, Buffalo Soldiers served during the summer months in Sequoia and Yosemite national parks, in effect as the nation’s first park rangers, introducing the broad brimmed campaign hat that is now part of the standard park ranger uniform, according to historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr.   Their duties in the parks included fighting wildfire, curbing poaching of the park’s wildlife, ending illegal grazing of livestock on federal lands, and constructing roads, trail and other infrastructure, according to the National Park Service.

Buffalo soldiers WWII

Troops of the 24th Infantry, attached to the Americal Division, wait to advance behind a tank assault on the Japanese, along Empress Augusta Bay on Bougainville in 1944. (U.S. Army archive photo) 

An 1866 Act of Congress created six peacetime regiments of exclusively black soldiers. Later, these regiments were melded into four—two infantry and two cavalry—colloquially referred to as the Buffalo Soldiers. There are a few competing theories as to how they got this name, but as the National Museum of African American History and Culture notes, the soldiers “considered the name high praise.”) Throughout their history, the soldiers had a rocky relationship with the American government they served.

The regiments faced extreme and sometimes deadly racism. Especially in some towns near where they were based. Buffalo Soldiers were attacked during racial disturbances in Texas at Rio Grande City in 1899, Brownsville in 1906, and Houston in 1917. The regiments were first commanded only by whites, and the rank and file often faced extreme racial prejudice from the Army establishment, according to the museum. “Many officers, including George Armstrong Custer, refused to command black regiments, even though it cost them promotions in rank.

One who did, was Colonel Benjamin Grierson, a music teacher-turned Civil War cavalry officer (the 1959 John Wayne movie “The Horse Soldiers,” was based loosely on the long- range cavalry raid into Mississippi he led in 1863). Grierson organized the 10th Cavalry in 1866 at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Another officer was then-Lieutenant John J. Pershing who took command of a troop of the 10th Cavalry in 1895.  His nickname of “Black Jack,” stems from his service with the 10th Cavalry, although “Black” was a euphemism for the “N” word, which resentful white officers and West Point cadets attached to Pershing’s name. Tenth Cavalry troops were with Pershing’s expedition into Mexico to capture or kill Pancho Villa.  They participated in one of the last cavalry battles fought by U.S. troops at  Carrizal.

SHAKO

SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress or parade uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.

Entry filed under: Army, Latin America, National Security and Defense, SHAKO, Unconventional Warfare. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

FRIDAY FOTO (February 22, 2019) FRIDAY FOTO (March 1, 2019)

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