African Americans have continuously served in the U.S. Military since colonial times. More than 200,000 African Americans fought for the United States in the Civil War and 38,280 lost their lives. There were hundreds of recorded acts of bravery and unselfish deeds performed by these men.
On July 28, 1866 Congress passed an Act allowing African Americans to serve in the regular peacetime Army. Four “Colored” Infantry Regiments: the 38th, 39th, 40th and 41st; and two “Colored” Calvary Regiments: the 9th and the 10th, were formed. This opened a new chapter in American military history, presenting greater opportunities for African Americans to play major roles in future military engagements as well as facilitating the settling of the West.
Once Army enlistment was approved 12,500 African American men rushed to sign-up for a five year hitch. They were all between the ages of 18-35. The pay was $13 a month, with food and clothing included. This was the best deal many of them had seen in their lifetime since most had been slaves and this was more money than they could earn as civilians.
These soldiers were not treated as well as white soldiers. They were issued old Union Army uniforms made of heavy wool that were worn during all seasons and which caused skin problems for some soldiers. They were also given broken down horses, along with repaired rifles and pistols. The living quarters were damp and dirty and the food was inferior.
Many recruits became ill, developed diseases and died. However, the men trained enthusiastically and took pride in the performance of their duties. They regarded their military service as a privilege and an honor.
In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s there were serious problems in the Western United States: bandits, horse and cattle thieves, greedy land and cattle barons, land-hungry homesteaders, dishonest government contractors and bands of marauding Indians fighting to hold on to their land which was being taken by white settlers and the railroads. Local governments were unable to manage these challenges and the U.S. Government sent the 9th and 10th Calvary Regiments to help establish law and order.
These units were consistently assigned to the harshest and most desolate posts. They were sent to subdue Mexican revolutionaries, outlaws, comancheros, rustlers, and hostile Native Americans; to protect wagon trains, stage coaches, the US Mail and railroad workers; to explore and map the Southwest; to string telegraph lines; and, to establish frontier outposts around which future towns and cities would grow.
Native Americans named them Buffalo Soldiers because of their fierce fighting ability; because they were exceedingly brave; and because of their dark curly hair (which resembled a buffalo’s coat). This term was used respectfully, and with honor.
Uncommon Valor Was A Common Virtue
Between 1870 and 1898 twenty-three (23) Buffalo Soldiers were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor- the nation’s highest award for personal bravery.