Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Buffalo Soldiers

"Lone Star Historian 2" is a blog about the travels and activities of the State Historian of Texas during his second year. Bill O'Neal was appointed to a two-year term by Gov. Rick Perry on August 22, 2012, at an impressive ceremony in the State Capitol. Bill is headquartered at Panola College (www.panola.edu) in Carthage, where he has taught since 1970. For more than 20 years Bill conducted the state's first Traveling Texas History class, a three-hour credit course which featured a 2,100-mile itinerary. In 2000 he was awarded a Piper Professorship, and in 2012 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wild West Historical Association. Bill has published over 40 books, almost half about Texas history subjects, and in 2007 he was named Best Living Non-Fiction Writer by True West Magazine. In 2013 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by his alma mater, Texas A&M University - Commerce. 

Tenth Cavalry company in dress uniforms on
Fort Davis parade grounds.
Lt. Henry O. Flipper in 1877 became
the first African-American to
graduate from West Point. Assigned to
the Tenth Cavalry, Flipper served in
Texas at Forts Concho, Elliott, and Davis.
It was easy to select a blog topic for Black History Month. During the past few weeks I’ve made two long tours through Central and West and South Texas to photograph frontier forts for a book for Arcadia Publishers, Frontier Forts of West Texas, to be published in the fall of 2016. One trip of a few days covered a little more than 1,000 miles, while the second journey, to far West Texas and along the Rio Grande, extended for nearly 2,000 miles. At most of these nineteenth century posts, as proclaimed in exhibits and brochures, frontier “Buffalo Soldiers” served with faithfulness and pride.

Col. Edward Hatch commanded the
Ninth Cavalry from 1866-1889.
Col. Benjamin Grierson commanded
the Tenth Cavalry from 1866-1890.
Grierson was a music teacher prior
to the Civil War. He created a
regimental band by procuring
instruments and training his musicians.
During the Civil War black regiments, led by white officers, fought with notable skill and courage. The army was reduced and reorganized after the war. Ten cavalry regiments were retained, and the Ninth and Tenth were black units. In addition, there were four black infantry regiments, the Thirty-eighth through the Forty-first. But in 1869 there were further reductions, and while all ten cavalry regiments were maintained, sixteen infantry regiments were eliminated. The remaining two black units became the Twenty-fourth and Twenty-fifth Infantry Regiments.

Company barracks at Fort Concho. There were serious
racial tensions between the citizens of nearby
San Angelo and the Buffalo Soldiers.
All four black regiments saw service in Texas. About six companies would establish regimental headquarters at a large base such as Fort Concho, Fort Griffin, Fort Richardson, or Fort Davis, while the other six troops would be deployed to smaller outposts. For all frontier soldiers, white as well as black, daily activities usually were mundane: construction or maintenance of post buildings, stringing miles of telegraph wire, while enduring Spartan living conditions and harsh discipline. Troopers also guarded mail coaches and wagon trains and surveying crews, and cavalry patrols rode in pursuit of mounted war parties. 

Barracks interior at Fort McKavett.
Throughout the West during the post-Civil War Indian campaigns, the majority of fighting against horseback warriors was done by cavalrymen. Colonels of the Ninth and Tenth Cavalry Regiments were Edward Hatch and Benjamin Grierson. Colonels Hatch and Grierson were able combat leaders, and their men were courageous and resolute in battle. Indeed, thirteen black troopers were awarded the Medal of Honor for valor in Texas. The tightly curled hair of the black soldiers reminded Plains Indians of the hair on the head of buffalo. Bison was the staff of life of Plains Indians, and as a gesture of respect they called the black troopers “Buffalo Soldiers.”

Exhibit at the Buffalo Soldiers
National Museum in Houston.
Enlisted men earned from $13 monthly for privates to $22 for sergeants, in addition to meals, housing, and uniforms. This was better than most black men could do in the Old South after the Civil War, and the quality of enlistees was high. The quality of white recruits was much lower, because opportunities for white civilian were far greater, and the desertion rate was quite high. But the desertion rate among Buffalo Soldier regiments was the lowest in the army. Reliable, loyal, and courageous, Buffalo Soldiers established an admirable record on the frontier of Texas.


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