18661866–1918: Buffalo Soldiers
Serving on American Frontiers
After the Civil War in 1866, Congress created six all-Black Regular Army regiments: the 9th and 10th Cavalry, and the 38th, 39th, 40th, and 41st Infantry (later combined into the 24th and 25th Infantry). The regiments were composed of many USCT veterans commanded by commissioned white officers and noncommissioned Black officers. The first Black commissioned officer to lead them was Lt. Henry Ossian Flipper, also the first Black graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, in 1877. These regiments formed the core of the Buffalo Soldiers—possibly named for their heavy buffalo-hide coats. The name became a generic reference to all Black soldiers, and today it refers to U.S. Army units that trace their lineage back to the 1866 regiments.
The Buffalo Soldiers were initially assigned to patrol the indigenous peoples of the Great Plains and Southwest territories, including participating in conflicts during the Indian Wars. Buffalo Soldiers also served during the Spanish-American War (1898), where the 10th Cavalry rode beside Theodore Roosevelt and the Rough Riders in Cuba. Commended for their valor, 18 Buffalo Soldiers earned the Medal of Honor. They also left behind a lasting civilian legacy: they built roads, escorted the U.S. mail, and were some of the first National Park rangers. Col. Charles Young made history as the first Black Acting Military Superintendent of Sequoia and General Grant National Parks in 1903. Young, the third African American to graduate from West Point, was the highest-ranking African American in the U.S. military upon his death in 1922.