african-americans have participated in every conflict in u.s. history but not until 1866 did congress authorize the formation of six black regiments in the u.s. army. two were horse borne units - the 9th and 10th cavalry - and four were infantry regiments - the 38th, 39th, 40th & 41st. a consolidation of the armed forces in 1869 reduced the foot soldiers to two units - the 24th & 25th infantry regiments.
troopers linwood greene, jr., uell flagg,
louis garrett, and lorenzo denson
somerset, kentucky -- september 2000
these soldiers served at remote outposts, in extremely harsh conditions, & were a low priority in receiving goods & equipment. these regiments earned the name buffalo soldiers from indians who held their fighting spirit & intense courage in high regard. they fought in the indian and spanish-american wars and in the philippines, cuba & mexico. when not in battle, they built forts & roads, installed telegraph lines, escorted wagon trains, surveyed roads, & protected settlers. they faced discrimination by white soldiers & settlers but had the lowest desertion rate of any army unit. many earned the congressional medal of honor.
lt. henry o. flipper was the first black to graduate from the us military academy at west point in 1877; life at the academy and in the army was difficult and controversial. he was eventually court martialed but 100 years later, he was cleared of charges and pardoned by former president bill clinton.
other soldiers’ stories include a woman buffalo soldier, cathy williams, who served from 1866-1868; major charles young, an 1889 west point graduate who rode his horse from ohio to washington dc in 1917 to prove his military fitness; and baseball player, jackie robinson who enlisted during world war ii.
in 1941, general benjamin o. davis was the first black man to command the regiments. in 1944 with the mechanization of the army & equipment, these regiments were disbanded.