Learn more about the historical African American military

African Americans have fought in military conflicts since colonial days. However, the Buffalo Soldiers, comprised of former slaves, freemen and Black Civil War soldiers, were the first to serve during peacetime.

Once the Westward movement had begun, prominent among those blazing treacherous trails of the Wild West were the Buffalo Soldiers of the U.S. Army. These African Americans were charged with and responsible for escorting settlers, cattle herds, and railroad crews. The 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments also conducted campaigns against American Indian tribes on a western frontier that extended from Montana in the Northwest to Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona in the Southwest.

Throughout the era of the Indian Wars, approximately twenty percent of the U.S. Cavalry troopers were Black, and they fought over 177 engagements. The combat prowess, bravery, tenaciousness, and looks on the battlefield, inspired the Indians to call them Buffalo Soldiers. The name symbolized the Native American’s respect for the Buffalo Soldiers’ bravery and valor. Buffalo Soldiers, down through the years, have worn the name with pride.

Buffalo Soldiers participated in many other military campaigns: The Spanish American War, The Philippine Insurrection, The Mexican Expedition, World War I, World War II, and the Korean Police Action.

Much have changed since the days of the Buffalo Soldiers, including the integration of all-military servicemen and women. However, the story of the Buffalo Soldiers remains one of unsurpassed courage and patriotism, and will be forever a significant part of the history of America.

African Americans have fought with distinction in all of this country’s military engagements. However, some of their most notable contributions and sacrifices came during the Civil War. During that conflict, more than 180,000 African Americans wore the Union Army blue. Another 30,000 served in the Navy, and 200,000 served as workers on labor, engineering, hospital and other military support projects. More than 33,000 of these gallant soldiers gave their lives for the sake of freedom and their country.

Shortly after the Civil War, Congress authorized the formation of the 9th and 10th Cavalry and the 38th, 39th, 40th, and 41st Infantry Regiments: Six all Black peacetime units. Later the four infantry regiments were merged into the 24th and 25th Infantries.

In countless skirmishes and firefights, the troopers won the respect of the Plains warriors who named “Buffalo Soldiers.” African Americans accepted the badge of honor and wore it proudly.

At least 18 Medals of Honor were presented to Buffalo Soldiers during the Western Campaigns. Similarly, 23 African Americans received the nation’s highest military award during the Civil War.

Military History

24th Infantry Regiment

Organized in 1869 after consolidation of two other Black units, 38th and 41st Infantry Regiments. For more than twenty years, the unit occupied military post in the southwest, protecting and maintaining peace on the turbulent frontier. In addition to battle engagements, the members of the regiment built roads, guarded stage stations, constructed and repaired telegraph lines, guarded waterholes, and escorted supply trains, survey parties, freight wagons and mail coaches, as well as performing scouting patrols.

25th Infantry Regiment

Organized at Jackson Barracks, Louisiana in April 1868, and composed of personnel from the all Black 39th and 40th Infantry Regiments. The enlisted men came mostly from northern Virginia and southern Louisiana, and all were seasoned Union veterans. The regiment only spent a short time at Jackson Barracks before moving to the Texas frontier.


In May and June 1870, the entire regiment went in bivouac for the last time as a unit for many years to come after which they were scattered to numerous posts in West Texas. They established and operated a lumber camp and sawmill, managed food and supply routes, built roads, buildings, telegraph lines, and carried out scouting functions while engaging in conflicts with various warring factions.

9th Cavalry

How They Got Their Name25Stories relating to the origin of the legendary name “Buffalo Soldiers” are as varied as there are people to tell them. Presented here are a few of the most accepted ideas regarding the name. Some attribute it to the Indians likening the short curly hair of the black troopers to that of the buffalo. Another possibility for the nickname was the heavy buffalo robes the soldiers wore on winter campaigns. Others say that when the American bison was wounded or cornered, it fought ferociously, displaying uncommon stamina and courage, identical to the black man in battle.

Motto: “WE CAN: WE WILL”Their adversary, whether Indians, outlaws, Mexican revolutionaries, or gun smugglers, found that the Buffalo Soldiers, like their namesake, could not easily be diverted from their trail. Whatever the reason for the name, the Buffalo Soldier has come down in American military history as one of the proudest individuals of all.

How They Dressed

During the 1870-1880’s, the Buffalo Soldier wore a flannel shirt, and a blouse of dark blue with light blue trousers tucked into over-the-knee boots. Also, civil war kepi (hat) adorned with crossed sabers bearing regimental and troop designation. He was armed with a 45-70 Springfield carbine (rifle), a Colt Army .45, (1873 model) caliber pistol and a saber. He was outfitted with a slouch ‘campaign’ hat, black at first and a light grayish-brown by 1874. The Buffalo Soldiers were not issued a neckerchief but generally wore one of his own color of choice anyway. Sometimes yellow more often red or white. These were real necessities, especially for the men riding further back in the column needing protection from the thick clouds of dust kicked up by the front ranks.

10th Cavalry

24Cavalry HistoryThe 10th Cavalry Regiment is one of the unique regiments in U.S. Military history. Moving west from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, within a year after its activation in 1866, the 10th began its march into immortality. The spring of 1877 marked the beginning of more than two decades of continuous service. Locations like the Great Plains and in the mountains and deserts of New Mexico and Arizona. The challenge was a formidable one. Ten years of near constant campaigning were required before conflicts with numerous Indian nations subsided. Five years would pass before there was peace along the tormented Rio Grande frontier where bands of Indians, outlaws, Mexican bandits and revolutionaries roamed, raided, stole and murdered under conditions nearing total chaos.


The regiment distinguished itself in Cuba at Santiago and Las Guasimas, and in the famous charge up San Juan Hill. What most people do not know is that the brunt of the fighting was borne by the soldiers of the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments. One eyewitness has written: “If it had not been for the Negro Cavalry, the Rough Riders would have been exterminated. The 10th Cavalry fought for 48 hours under fire from Spaniards who were in brick forts on the hill.

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Buffalo Soldiers were assigned to the harshest and most desolate posts. Specific duties included subduing Mexican revolutionaries, outlaws, comercheros, rustlers and hostile Native Americans. Additional administrative duties included exploring and mapping the Southwest,
and establishing frontier outposts for future towns.

The Buffalo Soldiers fought in the Indians Wars of the American West, Spanish American War of 1898, WWI and WWII.

Military History

  • 1775-1783 – Revolutionary War – Approximately 5,000 Blacks fought in the War of Independence. By mid-1778, each brigade in General George Washington’s army averaged 43 Black soldiers.
  • 1812-1815 – War of 1812 – Though blacks were barred from service for the first two years, at the war’s latter stages they comprised 10% of naval crews.
  • 1846-1848 – Mexican War – No Blacks fought in this war. It was fought by regulars and volunteers primarily from the rural South and Midwest.
  • 1861-1865 – Civil War – Blacks made up 12% (178,895 men) of the Union Army and 25% (30,000) of the Union Navy. Thousands more served in service units as laborers and the like. Some 2,751 blacks were killed in battle; another 65,427 died primarily from disease.
  • 1866-1891 – Indian Wars – The 5,000 blacks who served in the all-black 9th and 10th Cavalry and 24th and 25th Infantry Regiments constituted about 10% of the total troops who guarded the Western Frontier for a quarter century.
  • 1898 – Spanish-American War – The four regular regiments fought in Cuba, making up about 12% of the forces on the Island. Another 2,000- 7.6% of all sailors-served in the Navy.
  • 1899-1902 – Philippines War – In addition to the four Black regular regiments, two volunteer regiments composed of Blacks help wage this colonial campaign.
  • 1916 – Mexican Punitive Expedition – The all-black 10th Cavalry comprised 12% of the forces sent in pursuit of Pancho Villa. The regiment suffered over half (10men killed) of the casualties sustained.
  • 1917-1918 – World War I – Over 200,000 Black soldiers made it to France, equaling 9.2% of the American Expeditionary Force. Most were in support units. But the all-black 92nd and 93rd Infantry Divisions lost 773 killed in action (1.4% of U.S. total) and 4,408 wounded in action.
  • 1941-1945 – World War II – Some 500,000 Blacks were stationed overseas, amounting to 4% of the 11 million Americans who served on foreign shores. About 10% of blacks were in combat units. The all-black 92nd Infantry was in Italy, and had 616 killed in action and 2,187 wounded. The 93rd Division was stationed in the South Pacific, losing 17 KIA and 121 WIA. There was also the black 366th Infantry (Separates).During the Battle of the Bulge, 2,500 blacks were formed into all black Infantry platoons and attached to larger units. The famed 761st Tank Battalion spent 183 continuous days in combat in the European Theater, earning a Presidential Unit Citation. The 333rd Field Artillery bravely supported ground operations in France.Three all-black air units flew overseas: 332nd Fighter Group, 477th Bombardment Group and the 99th Fighter Squadron. Sixty-six Black pilots were killed in action. A total of 140,000 blacks served in the Army Air Forces. Nearly 150,000 Blacks served in the Navy. Of the 12,000 Black Marines, 9 were killed in action.
  • 1950-1953 – Korean War - About 195,000 Blacks were in Korea; comprising 13% of U.S. troops there. Some 3,223, or 9% of the total, were killed in action. Korea saw the end of segregated units in all armed forces.
  • 1961-1973 – Vietnam War – Black Americans who served in Vietnam numbered 275,000 (10.6% of all forces). Hostile deaths were 5,711 (12.1% of the total) and non-hostile deaths came to 1,530.
  • 1958-1989 – Expeditionary Campaigns – Blacks have served in all the armed forces deployments, under hostile conditions, for the past three decades. This includes the Dominican Republic (1965-1966), the Korea DMZ, Lebanon (1982-1984), Grenada (1983) and Panama (1989).