After the Civil War, settlers moved westward in increasing numbers. When fighting broke out with Indians, the Army was often called in to quell the uprisings.
In 1866, Congress authorized the formation of regiments of black Soldiers: the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments and the 24th, 25th, 38th, 39th, 40th and 41st Infantry Regiments to deploy in the west to fight the Indians.
The infantry regiments were later consolidated into the 24th and 25th Infantry Regiments.Many of these black Soldiers were veterans of the Civil War. Altogether, some 5,000 black Soldiers — 10 percent of the total force — guarded the western frontier from 1866 to 1891.
The infantry regiments also subdued cattle rustlers, outlaws and Mexican bandits and revolutionaries.
Black Soldiers fought so bravely and ferociously during a battle with Cheyenne warriors in 1867 that the Cheyenne nicknamed them “Wild Buffalo.”Over time, the term “Buffalo Soldiers” was used for all black Soldiers who served during the Indian Wars. Buffalo Soldiers had the lowest desertion rate in the Army in spite of their poor living conditions on the frontier.
In 1868, Cathay Williams became the first black female Buffalo Soldier—she disguised herself as a male.Henry O. Flipper, a Buffalo Soldier, became the first black Soldier to be accepted to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.When the Buffalo Soldiers weren’t fighting Indians, they built roads and telegraph lines, guarded stagecoach and mail routes, escorted supply trains and survey parties and went on scouting patrols.
Black Soldiers, of the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments and the 24th and 25th Infantry Regiments, fought in the Spanish-American War. The four regiments comprised 12 percent of the total force during the invasion of Cuba.
Many of these Soldiers were veterans of the Indian Wars and some were Civil War veterans. Another 2,000 served in the Navy — they comprised 7.6 percent of all sailors.
The 10th Cavalry Regiment — veterans of the Indian campaigns — proved themselves in battle against the Spanish in Cuba, and later came to the rescue of a unit commanded by a future U.S. president.
The 10th Cavalry accompanied Theodore Roosevelt’s “Rough Riders” over rugged terrain and successfully engaged a Spanish force at Las Guasimas, June 24, 1898. A week later, while advancing up San Juan Hill, the Rough Riders found themselves surrounded on all sides by Spanish soldiers in great peril.
The 10th Calvary came to the rescue, advancing under heavy enemy fire, “firing as they marched,” according to a reporter who witnessed the battle. “Their aim was splendid,” he continued, “their coolness was superb, and their courage aroused the admiration of their comrades."After the battle, a Rough Rider Soldier said, “If it hadn’t been for the black cavalry, the Rough Riders would have been exterminated."