Buffalo Soldiers

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Buffalo Soldiers

During the global conflicts of the first half of the 20th century, U.S. servicemen fought in Europe for the first time in the nation's history. African Americans were among the troops committed to combat in World War I (WWI) and World War II (WWII), even though they and other black Americans were denied the full blessings of the freedom for which the United States had pledged to fight. Traditional racist views about the use of black troops in combat initially excluded African Americans from the early recruiting efforts and much of the actual combat in both wars. Nonetheless, large numbers of African Americans still volunteered to fight for their country in 1917-18 and 1940-45. Once again, many black servicemen hoped their military contribution and sacrifice would prove to their white countrymen that African Americans desired and deserved a fully participatory role in U.S. society.

Unfortunately, the deeply entrenched negative racial attitudes prevalent among much of the white American population, including many of the nation's top military and civilian leaders, made it very difficult for blacks to serve in the military establishment of this period. African-American servicemen suffered numerous indignities and received little respect from white troops and civilians alike. The historic contributions by blacks to the defense of the United States were usually ignored or downplayed, while combat failures similar to those of whites and violent racial incidents often provoked by whites were exaggerated into a condemnation of all African Americans.

From the first battles of Concord and Lexington in 1775, Black soldiers "took up arms against the mother country." Of the many Black men who fought in those battles, the most famous are Peter Salem, Cato Stedman, Cuff Whittemore, Cato Wood, Prince Estabrook, Caesar Ferritt, Samuel Craft, Lemuel Haynes, and Pomp Blackman. One of the most distinguished heroes o the Battle of Bunker Hill was Peter Salem who, according to some sources, fired the shot that killed Major John Pitcairn of the Royal Marines. But Peter Salem wasn't the only Black hero during the Revolutionary War.

Another Black man, Salem Poor, also made a hero of himself at Bunker Hill. Because of his bravery at the battle, he was commended by several officers to the Continental Congress. "Equally gallant at Bunker Hill were Pomp Fisk, Grant Coope, Charleston Eads, Seymour Burr, Titus Coburn, Cuff Hayes, and Caesar Dickenson." (Wilson 32) Of these men, Caesar Brown and Cuff Hayes were killed during the battle. Even though the Afro-World soldiers clearly distinguished themselves as soldiers, they were by no means wanted in the army. Shortly after General Washington took command of the Army, the white colonists decided that not only should no Black slaves or freemen be enlisted, but that those already serving in the Army should be dismissed.

Of the 300,000 soldiers who served in the Continental Army during the War of Independence, approximately five thousand were Black. Some volunteered. Others were drafted. In addition to several all-Black companies, an all-Black regiment was recruited from Rhode Island. This regiment distinguished itself in ...
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