By William H. Leckie
University of Oklahoma Press, 290 pp, 1967
Military historian William Leckie has
written a fine history of the black soldiers who served in the Army
after the Civil. Dubbed buffalo soldiers by the Indians they fought,
these tough, brave men served with distinction and honor in horrible
conditions: drought, heat, cold, poor supplies, shoddy horses, and often
lack of support from the Army command in Washington. And yet, by the
early 1890s, their desertion rate was the lowest in the Army.
Many blacks - 180,000 - served in the
Civil War on the Union side. After the war, Congress created six new
regiments of black troops - four infantry and two cavalry. The cavalry
regiments became the Ninth and Tenth Cavalry. Congress required that all
offices were white - not so much out of racism, but because there
weren't enough qualified blacks (that would quickly change, of course).
And each regiment got its own chaplain, which taught the men reading,
writing, and arithmetic, in addition to ministering to their spiritual
On General Grant's recommendation,
Generals Benjamin Grierson and Edward Hatch were appointed to lead the
Tenth and Ninth Cavalries, respectively. By Leckie's account, both were
honest, decent men who treated their black troops well and respected
their fighting ability. The white officers they appointed were much the
The difficulties the black regiments
faced came mainly from Washington. Grierson and Hatch had to fight,
scratch, and claw for decent supplies and horses. The Ninth and Tenth
often received the worst horses and leftover, substandard foodstuffs.
They also faced opposition and outright hostility from white base
commanders, who resented serving with black troops.
But despite the obstacles, and to their
credit, the men's moral remained high, and their contribution was
essential for making the American frontier safe for settlement. They
fought against Comanches, Kiowas, Apaches, and other hostile tribes in
Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. They also confronted Mexican bandits and
white horse thieves.
As fighters, there were probably no
superior cavalry forces in the army. These guys were tough, often
marching hundreds and thousands of miles with little food and water,
fighting Indians along the way. But they did their duty and did it well.
Of course, there was the occasional troublemaker, and military
discipline took care of them.
Leckie has written a fine book, giving
these soldiers their long overdue credit.