Buffalo Soldiers Research Museum

His Story

Colonel Charles Denton Young
A Buffalo Soldier from the Heartland

Charles Young was born in Mayslick, KY in 1864 and raised in Ripley, OH. His father served in the Union Army as a blacksmith and livery stable operator. After graduation from high school, Charles taught school for several years. He applied and was accepted to West Point Military Academy. For the first six months, he was given the silent treatment by his fellow cadets. (Another black cadet – Henry O. Flipper – received the same treatment for four years. Flipper was the first black graduate from West Point in 1877; no cadet had a conversation with him unless it was for official business.)
Young failed an engineering class taught by the world famous builder of the Panama Canal but endured a summer of coaching from him until he passed. Graduation from the Academy was no easy task. Young had no support system; yet, he earned the trait a soldier is suppose to possess – fortitude in the face of great hardship. He was a classical musician who composed pieces for the violin and piano. He was also an accomplished linguist – speaking Latin, Greek, German, French and Spanish.

Young was the third African American to graduate from West Point Military Academy. He earned his commission in 1889 and served in the 9th and 10th (Horse) Cavalries. Young was the first black commissioned officer to command a squadron of the 10th Cavalry. Brig. General John Pershing commander of the 10th Cavalry, appointed Young to Lieutenant Colonel after his outstanding performance against Pancho Villa in Mexico. Some white officers requested reassignment to other units; others of inferior rank refused to salute him but Young saluted them anyway. Seldom did he lose his temper or complain. Steadily, he did his duty.

Young was medically retired in 1917for high blood pressure and Bright’s disease – incurred during his service in Africa. To prove he was fit at age 53, Young rode his horse ‘dolly’ fro his home in Wilberforce, OH to Washington DC. Sixteen days and nearly 500 miles later when he reached the War Department (now the Pentagon), there was a flood of letters of support for Young from blacks and whites. Colonel Young was reinstated to active duty as a full colonel.

Hats off to this American Hero!

Details about his journey

Charles Young taught military science and tactics at Wilberforce University (now Central State University) and volunteered to teach French and mathematics. Due to his teaching duties, he missed field service in the Spanish-American War.

In 1898, Congress authorized a system of military attaches that were controlled by the Military Information Division – the first official US Army Intelligence Agency. Their job was to observe and make reports on the training and exercises of foreign armies. Charles Young was assigned to the military attaché in Port Au Prince, Haiti. From 1904-07, he compiled a French-English-Creole dictionary and made detailed maps of Haiti and neighboring Santo Domingo.

In 1908, he went to the Philippines where he served in six fierce battles and was promoted to captain. He returned to the US and become superintendent of the Sequoia and General Grant National Parks in California – which were maintained by soldiers. In one summer, his men built more roads than others had in the three previous years.

In 1912, he went to Liberia. He reorganized the Liberian military, supervised the construction of new roads to provide military lines of communication and made a major – the first black officer in American history to achieve this rank. He was awarded the Springarm Medal – an award for highest achievement in any field of honorable human endeavor. In a letter to Booker T. Washington, he said:

I am always willing to aid in any work for the good of the country in
general and our race in particular whether the race be found in Africa
or the United States.

He was most renowned for his leadership during the 1916 Punitive Expedition in Mexico against Pancho Villa who had murdered American citizens. Major Young led the 2nd Squadron in a cavalry pistol charge with no losses to his troops. At the Hacienda Santa Cruz de la Villegas, he rode with his squadron to the relief of Major Frank Tompkins who was severely wounded. Young’s reinforcement of Major Tompkins is credited as preventing a war with Mexico. His operations in Mexico won him a lieutenant colonelcy in the 10th Cavalry in 1916. A year later he was a promoted to colonel and was briefly the commander at Ft. Huachuca, AZ.

He was retired from the Army in 1917 but was later recalled to active duty to serve as Military Attaché to Liberia. He was on a research expedition in Lagos, Nigeria where he died in January 1922. His body was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington DC.

Colonel Charles D. Young – a Buffalo Soldiers from the Heartland – was the highest ranking black officer in the US Army during World War I

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