At the close of the Civil War, Congress authorized the formation of regular army units composed of black soldiers with white officers. Recruited from southern plantations and from the ranks of the black volunteer units that had fought in the War, the 9th and 10th Cavalry and the 24th and 25th Infantry served continuously on the western frontier throughout the remaining three decades of Native American hostility. In Native American Territory—the Dakotas, Colorado, Montana, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona—the blacks clashed with Cheyenne, Sioux, Arapaho, Kiowa, Comanche, Ute, and Apache.
These units were nicknamed “Buffalo Soldiers,” supposedly by the Native Americans, because of the similarity between their hair and the fur of the buffalo. The four black regiments, two infantry and two cavalry, remained in the West until the Spanish-American War. During this period, the U.S. Army consisted of just ten cavalry and twenty-five infantry regiments, meaning that one in five cavalry soldiers or one in eight infantry soldiers was black.
The first black cavalry unit assigned to duty in the U.S. Army after the Civil War in April, 1867 arrived at Fort Larned. They remained at Fort Larned until April 1869. They were commanded by a white officer, Captain Nicholas Nolan. Nolan was an Irishman who had arrived in the U.S. before the Civil War. He served in the dragoons, artillery and cavalry. During and after the Civil War, African-American regiments were composed entirely of black troops, commanded exclusively by white officers. There were three exceptions, however. Although there were several appointments of African Americans to West Point during the 19th century, just three black cadets (Henry O. Flipper, John H. Alexander, and Charles Young) graduated. All were assigned to black units.
Conditions at Fort Larned were not as bad as those found at other army posts. Although the barracks had no ceiling and plaster was still missing from some of the walls, there was, at the least, a commander in charge of the post from their own regiment, Major Meredith Kidd. Treatment would be much better from this commander. When Major Kidd left the post in 1868 and the new commander arrived, Major John Yard (also of the Tenth U.S. Cavalry), things began to change.
On the morning of the January 2, 1869, at about half past six or seven o’clock the stables of “A” Co. 10th Cavalry burned down—probably a result of arson. The previous evening at the saloon run by the sutler, there was a fight over a billiards table between a couple soldiers of Company C, 3rd Infantry and two soldiers from the 10th Cavalry. Major Yard, Commanding Officer at Fort Larned, sent the Buffalo Soldiers of Company A about one-half mile from the fort to guard a wood pile, even though a severe snowstorm was raging at the time. It was said that the stables had two members of the 10th Cavalry inside and a guard from the 3rd Infantry regiment patrolled outside. None of them discovered the fire. It was reported by the 19th Kansas Vol. Cavalry, camped about four hundred yards away. Thirty-nine horses, thirty tons of hay, five hundred bushels of grain, forty saddles, forty-five Spencer carbines, forty-seven light sabers and six thousand rounds of ammunition were destroyed. Captain Nolan protested the treatment of his company in a letter to Colonel Grierson to no avail.
The truth of what really happened that January night when the stables burned down is lost in history. What we do know to be true is that the stables were gone. Friction between the black and white troops had almost reached the level of a riot.
The artist, Frederic Remington, was fascinated by the Buffalo Soldiers. Campaigning with them in Arizona, he wrote:
The Negro troopers sat about, their black skins shining with perspiration, and took on interest in the matter at hand. They occupied such time in joking and in merriment as seemed fitted for growling. They may be tired and they may be hungry, but they do not see fit to augment their misery by finding fault with everybody and everything. In this particular they are charming men with whom to serve. Officers have often confessed to me that when they are on long and monotonous field service and are troubled with a depression of spirits, they have only to go about the campfires of the Negro soldier in order to be amused and cheered by the clever absurdities of the men . . . . As to their bravery: “Will they fight?” That is easily answered. They have fought many, many times. The old sergeant sitting near me, as calm of feature as a bronze statue, once deliberately walked over a Cheyenne rifle pit and killed his man. One little fellow near him once took charge of a lot of stampeded cavalry horses when Apache bullets were flying loose and no one knew from what point to expect them next.
1. In general, where did the black soldiers come from?
a. southern plantations and volunteer units
b. northern, pro-Union groups and educational institutions
c. the Underground Railroad and freed blacks in the North
d. northern factories, shipyards, and construction crews
2. What was the source of the name Buffalo Soldiers?
a. Each soldier wore a uniform with an emblem of a buffalo.
b. Most of the Buffalo Soldiers came from upstate New York.
c. The soldiers in these units used buffalo skins to protect themselves.
d. This nickname compared the hair of the Buffalo Soldiers to the coat of the buffalo.
3. Which one of the following statements is true?
a. The Buffalo Soldiers were composed exclusively of cavalry regiments.
b. None of the Buffalo Soldiers had fought in the Civil War.
c. There were plastered ceilings in the barracks at Fort Larned in the 1860s.
d. After the fire in the woodpile at Fort Larned, there was increased tension between white and black troops.
4. After reading Frederic Remington’s description, why do you think that the black and white troops had so much animosity between them?