Fighting on arrival, Fighting for survival
January 16, 2010 11:30 PM   Subscribe

Following the end of the Civil War, Congress enacted “An Act to Increase and Fix the Military Peace Establishment of the United States”, which … included the establishment of two regiments of cavalry and four regiments of infantry to be composed of “colored men”. For the first time in the United States history black men had a place in the regular army.

These African-American units served during periods of aggressive US expansionism, first on the Western frontier, where they earned their famous nickname, the Buffalo Soldiers, probably from the Cheyenne or Apache warriors who they fought. Later, they distinguished themselves helping win the Battle of San Juan Hill in Cuba (leading the Corporal of the Rough Riders to state: “If it hadn't been for the black cavalry, the Rough Riders would have been exterminated") and also served in the Philippines (though not without controversy) during the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars. They chased Pancho Villa around Chihuahua and protected Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

Compelling stories from these units include that of Cathay Williams, who posed as a man so she could join up, and unusual missions, like the 25th Infantry "Iron Riders", an African American bicycle corps whose 24 day-long 1,900-mile trip from Missoula to St. Louis, Missouri inspired their supervising officer to say that "the bicycle has a place in modern warfare".

Segregation of the US military was ended by executive order in 1948. The reality of integration took longer, and it wasn't until the end of the Korean War that the military was officially integrated and the African-American units were disbanded. The Buffalo Soldiers are gone now, but next time you're in San Francisco you can pay your respects.
posted by serazin (11 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
"the first time"? There were black infantry regiments that fought for the Union in the Civil War itself.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:21 AM on January 17, 2010

Chocolate Pickle, those were volunteer regiments, not R.A.
posted by orthogonality at 12:54 AM on January 17, 2010

Good post. I plan to read a lot of this (and get lost in links) over the next hours.

Though, I'd change "the corporal" to "a corporal" to agree with the source.
posted by bugmuncher at 3:58 AM on January 17, 2010

I was in army in 47--segregated--and Korea--50,integrated under truman
posted by Postroad at 6:30 AM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Jesus Postroad, I always assumed you were about my age or a few years older. I'd like to hear your perspective on how the Army integrated.
posted by orthogonality at 7:22 AM on January 17, 2010

Yeah Postroad - I'd be very interested to hear about your experiences.
posted by serazin at 7:29 AM on January 17, 2010

The Buffalo Soldiers National Museum is here in Houston, always wanted to visit. This gives me even more motivation, thanks.
posted by arcticseal at 8:06 AM on January 17, 2010

Excellent post. I've always been fascinated by just how big a role war and sports have played in nudging us closer towards equality.

Also, thirding the request to hear more about Postroad's experiences.
posted by lord_wolf at 9:26 AM on January 17, 2010

Holy shit, that front page of newspaper in the second-to-last link is crazy. "Posse, Bent on Lynching, Searches Woods for Prey" is the next biggest headline, and pretty much every other story seems to be about race. Was that normal for the late 40s?
posted by creasy boy at 9:34 AM on January 17, 2010

It was a black newspaper.
posted by serazin at 1:47 PM on January 17, 2010

Fort Davis had Buffalo Soldiers stationed there. When you visit the historic site, one attraction is a regularly scheduled showing of a documentary about the fort. It's narrated by Kareem Abdul Jabbar.
posted by battleshipkropotkin at 2:54 PM on January 17, 2010

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