History of the Buffalo Soldiers
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. Twenty three 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.