In 1866, the Army needed more men. Thirty new units were set up, including two cavalry and four infantry regiments composed of colored men. Half of the Civil War Colored Troops enlisted. For the first time, African American men were considered "regular" soldiers.
The Legend Begins
These soldiers fought in over 100 battles as America pushed westward, earning the nickname that symbolized their fighting bravery: Buffalo Soldiers.
In addition to protecting frontier settlements, all Buffalo Soldiers regiments surveyed and mapped the vast Texas plains, built and repaired dozens of forts, and escorted countless wagon trains, railroad trains, and cattle herds across the southwest.
Henry Ossian Flipper
For every Buffalo Soldier, there were two enemies waiting to strike: prejudice and discrimination.
Henry Ossian Flipper had been born into slavery in Georgia. While a freshman at university, Flipper received an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
During Flipper's four years as a cadet, he was ignored, insulted, and threatened. But by 1877, Flipper was West Point’s first African American graduate and the first commissioned black officer of the U.S. Army.
In 1880, he came to Fort Davis, Texas, as quartermaster responsible for recording and safeguarding the army store’s cash profits each week. Three months after Colonel William Shafter took command, he filed criminal charges against Flipper for embezzlement of $3,791 of commissary funds. Flipper admitted to a shortage of $2,000 but was afraid to report it. He had tried to solve the problem using his own money.
During the court martial trial, an army captain defended Flipper, and white civilians and fellow soldiers testified to Flipper's good character. Flipper was acquitted of embezzlement but found guilty of conduct unbecoming an officer. He was dishonorably discharged.
Later, Henry Flipper set precedents as an African American professional in engineering, national government service, and education. Despite his successes, Flipper fought to clear his record and his name.
The Army Board for the Correction of Military Records reviewed his case in 1976. They found that in similar cases of the time involving white officers, punishments had not meant dismissal from service. Citing racial prejudice as an element in Flipper's punishment, the board cleared Flipper.
Source: Buffalo Soldiers
© Bullock Texas State History Museum