Buffalo Soldiers

Approximately 180,000 African Americans served in the Union Army during the American Civil War. After the end of that conflict, Congress passed legislation that allowed African Americans to enlist in the United States' regular peacetime military. This resulted in the creation of two regiments of all–black cavalry – the 9th and 10th cavalries – and four black infantry regiments (eventually consolidated into the 24th and 25th infantries). These regiments were commanded primarily by white officers.

Whatever the origin of the nickname (whether in reference to their toughness in battle or the texture of their hair), the soldiers viewed it as one of respect, and the 10th Cavalry even used a figure of a buffalo in its coat of arms.

After the end of the Indian wars, in the 1890s, the buffalo soldiers went on to fight in Cuba in the 1898 Spanish–American War. They participated in General Pershing's hunt for the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa, in 1916–17, and even acted as rangers in Yosemite and Sequoia national parks. In 1948, President Harry Truman ended racial segregation and discrimination in America's armed forces; the last all–black units were disbanded in the early 1950s. The last surviving buffalo soldier, Mark Matthews, died in Washington DC, aged 111, in 2005.

This page is an edited version of an article by Elizabeth Nix on the History Channel website.

© Haydn Thompson 2018