African-Americans have fought in military conflicts since colonial days. However, the
Buffalo Soldiers, comprised of former slaves, freemen and Black Civil War soldiers,
were the first to serve during peacetime.
Once the Westward movement had begun, prominent among those blazing treacherous
trails of the Wild West were the Buffalo Soldiers of the U.S. Army. These
African-Americans were charged with and responsible for escorting settlers, cattle
herds, and railroad crews. The 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments 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. The combat
prowess, bravery, tenaciousness, and looks on the battlefield, inspired the Indians to
call them “Buffalo Soldiers.” Many Indians believe the name symbolized the Native
American’s respect for the Buffalo Soldiers’ bravery and valor. Buffalo Soldiers, down
through the years, have worn the name with pride.
Buffalo Soldiers participated in many other military campaigns: The Spanish American
War, The Phillippine Insurrection, The Mexican Expedition, World War I, World War
II, and the Korean Police Action.
Much have changed since the days of the Buffalo Soldiers, including the integration of
all military servicement and women. However, the story of the Buffalo Soldiers remain
one of unsurprassed courage and patriotism, and will be forever a significant part of
the history of America.
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 gallant soldiers gave their lives for the sake of freedom and their
Shortly after the Civil War, Congress authorized the formation of the 9th and 10th
Cavalry and the 38th, 39th, 40th, and 41st Infantry Regiments: Six all Black peacetime
units. Later the four infantry regiments were merged into the 24th and 25th Infantries.
In countless skirmishes and firefights, the troopers won the respect of the Plains
warriors who named “Buffalo Soldiers.” African-Americans accepted the badge of
honor and wore it proudly.
At least 18 Medals of Honor were presented to Buffalo Soldiers during the Western
Campaigns. Similarly, 23 African-Americans received the nation’s highest military
award during the Civil War.
Cathay Williams - First Enlisted Woman
On November 15, 1886, Cathay
Williams became the first African
American female to enlist and serve in
the United States Army.
Cathay Williams had to pretend to be a
man to enlist into the United States
Army. She went by the name of
William Cathay while enlisted.
Due to her being frequently
hospitalized due to strain and
smallpox, the post surgeon discovered
that Cathay Williams was a woman. He
reported this information to the post
commander and on October 14, 1868
Captain Charles Clarke discharged her
honorably from the military.