Who Were the Buffalo Soldiers?

Following the U.S. Civil War, regiments of African American men known as buffalo soldiers served on the western frontier. The buffalo soldiers were formed after Congress passed legislation in 1866 that allowed African Americans to enlist in the regular peacetime military.

Many of the buffalo soldiers were among the approximately 180,000 African Americans who had served in the Union Army during the Civil War. The commanders were mainly white officers.

For two decades, the buffalo soldiers engaged in military campaigns against hostile Native Americans. They also captured horse and cattle thieves, built roads, and protected stagecoaches and wagon trains. They had to deal with the challenging terrain, inadequate supplies, and discrimination.

The name "buffalo soldiers" may have come from the Comanche, based on the name of the animal they worshiped. The Comanche were impressed with the black soldiers' strength in battle. Some people say that the soldiers’ dark, curly, black hair reminded the Native Americans of buffalo fur. Whatever the case, the soldiers viewed the nickname as one of respect, and the 10th Cavalry even used a figure of a buffalo in its coat of arms.

When the American-Indian Wars ended in the 1890s, the buffalo soldiers fought in Cuba in the Spanish-American War, participated in the hunt for Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa, and were rangers in Yosemite and Sequoia national parks.

In 1948, President Harry Truman ordered an end to racial segregation and discrimination in the U.S. army. The last all-black units were disbanded.

Source: Who Were the Buffalo Soldiers?
© 2020 A&E Television Networks, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Back to top