The Buffalo Soldier: a narrative of the Negro Cavalry in the West

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The Buffalo Soldier:
A Narrative of the Negro Cavalry in the West

Joyce K. Stevenson

Creative Writing & Literature

The Buffalo Soldiers: A Narrative of the Negro Cavalry in the West

They were black troops fighting for independence with George Washington and against the British invasion with Andrew Jackson at New Orleans, but the Civil War was the first major enlistment of black troops. At first their service was not welcome but as the casualty of white soldiers grew and blacks sought freedom behind Union line, attitudes began to change. General David Hunter organized the first regiment of black troops but the war department disbanded them. However, Colonel T.W. Higginson of Massachusetts took command of the First Regiment of South Carolina Volunteers, the “first slave regiment”. Eventually, black troops proved their worth as soldiers, although discrimination persisted and nearly 180,000 had served and 33,380 had lost their lives for freedom at the end of the war.

On July 28, 1866, an act passed through Congress enabling blacks to serve in the regular peacetime army. Six regiments of blacks troops were authorized (two cavalry and four infantry). Since the use of black troops in the peacetime army was something of an experiment, the authorizing act contained some provisions:

  • Chaplains were assigned directly to a regiment with spiritual and educational duties.

  • All officers had to be white who were required to take a special examination before a board of experienced officers appointed by the secretary of war. Two years of active field service in the Civil War. Two-third of those holding the rank of Captain or above would come from the volunteer regiments and one-third from the regular army Officers of lower rank would come from volunteer services.

On August 1866, General Ulysses Grant instructed General Philip Sheridan, commanding the division of the Gulf and General William Sherman, commanding the military division of the Missouri to organize a regiment of black cavalry in their divisions. They were the Ninth commanded by Colonel Edward Hatch of Iowa and the Tenth commanded by Colonel Benjamin Grierson of Illinois. They organize their regiment in Greenville, Louisiana and later at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. From the beginning, it was a serious problem recruiting experienced white officers. Despite enticements of fast promotion, many officers, including George Armstrong Custer, refused commissions with black units. On the other hand, blacks were eager to enlist because the army offered an opportunity for a better life both socially and economically. Their pay was small but with food, clothing and shelter provided, they had more than most could expect to earn. Their name “buffalo soldier” was given to them by the Native Americans. After one particular battle which the Native Americans had given up after several attacks, decided to stopped on top of a ridge and hollered several unflattering nicknames at the black troops, one name was “buffalo soldiers” which they accepted and wore it proudly.

The major point the author was trying to relate to the reader was that black troops was a major contributor in the development of the frontier. Despite diseases which many of them died, prejudices from the local citizens and the military, unsanitary living conditions and food, they bravely fought against large numbers of Kiowas, Comanches, Southern Cheyennes, Arapahoes, bandits, cattle thieves, murderous gunmen, bootleggers, trespasser and Mexican revolutionaries. The minor point the author mentioned was the fact that black troops were not treated the same as white troop when they violated military or civilian rules. For example, one black soldier had stolen a jar of candy from a local store, he was court martial and given a dishonorable discharge. Another black soldier fell asleep during guard duty; he was made to stand on top of a barrel from sun-up to sunset for months. In many cases, the black soldier punishment was more severe than the white soldier. Also, whenever there was a conflict between a local citizens and black soldiers, the local law would always side with the citizen. One time a black soldier was playing a guitar in a local saloon to make extra money, when he stopped because he was tired, a white cowboy told him to continue, when he didn’t, the cowboy shot him in the head. The cowboy was arrested, tried and found not guilty.

This book is significant because it reveals the contributions “buffalo soldiers” made to the development of the frontier. After reading this book, the reading would be enlightened with the creation of the black regiments. From the act passed by Congress, to General Grant instruction to General P. Sheridan and General W. Sherman to organize a regiment. The book really goes into detail like a “daily journal” from moment to moment details of the big battles to building their living quarters, to washing their clothes in a creek.

William H. Leckie was born in Runge, Texas on October 18, 1915. Dr. Leckie received his B.A. degree (1947), M.A. degree (1948) from Texas College of Arts & Industries (now Texas A&I University). He earned his Ph.D. (1953) from University of Oklahoma. At Texas College of Arts & Industries, he held faculty positions in the History department as an Assistant Professor from 1950-1953 and Associate Professor from 1953-1956. At University of Toledo, he was a Professor of History and Dean of Graduate School from 1963-1969 and Vice President of Academic Affairs in 1969.

He has received numerous honors for his accomplishments in research which are: University Faculty Research Grant (1960-61), Faculty Research Fellow (1968-69), University of Tennessee Summer Faculty Fellow (1966) and Henry E. Huntington Library Summer Fellow11

Dr. Leckie has written The Military Conquest of the Southern Plains (Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1963) and The Buffalo Soldiers: A Narrative of the Negro Cavalry in the West (Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1967).

He served in the United States Army Air Forces during World War II (1942-46) as a master-sergeant. At that time, he was placed in charge of two hundred African-American airmen en route to separation centers in the United States after an assignment in the South Pacific. On their long journey home, Leckie made many friends and after reaching their destination, the African-American soldiers shook his hand and express appreciation for his “fair treatment.

At first, Leckie found only a handful of books and articles and nothing was found in way of letters, diaries or journals but he didn’t give up. He turned to military records of the National Archives for his primary source of material but he also used information from Illinois State Historical Society, Oklahoma Historical Society, Government Publication, Periodicals, newspapers, magazines and unpublished materials. These sources combined assisted him in writing a well researched and organized book which revealed the true character of the Ninth and Tenth.

This is a well researched, thought provoking and informative book about the “buffalo soldiers” of the ninth and tenth regiments. This book allows the reader to vision while reading the daily routines, battles with Native-American, and marching proudly into a town wearing blue uniforms, looking straight ahead never blinking their eyes, knowing they are not welcome. This is the type of book that could be used to produce a documentary of the life and times of the “buffalo soldier” every page is full of colorful descriptive words about the massacre at Wound Knee or the battles between the buffalo soldier and Kiowas or the soldiers traveling 100 of miles in the cold and snow with frost bitten hands and feet because the army didn’t supply them with proper winter clothing. William H. Leckie gave honor and respect to the “buffalo soldier” just like he gave honor and respect to the African-American soldier he served with in World War II.

Cited Work
Leckie, William H. The Buffalo Soldiers: A Narrative of the Negro Cavalry in the West,

(Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1967), 260 pp.

11 Biographical information from Contemporary Authors, Volumes 21-24, (Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1977), p. 322.

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