African-Americans have served proudly in every great American war. Over two hundred thousand African-American servicemen fought bravely during the Civil War. In 1866 through an act of congress, legislation was adopted to create six all African-American army units. The units were identified as the 9th and 10th cavalry and the 38th, 39th, 40th and 41st infantry regiments. The four infantry units were reorganized in 1868 as the 24th and the 25th infantry. Black soldiers enlisted for five years and received $13.00 a month, far more than they could have earned in civilian life.
Sources disagree on how the nickname “Buffalo Soldiers” began. According to the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, the name originated with the Cheyenne warriors in the winter of 1877, the actual Cheyenne translation being “Wild Buffalo.” However, writer Walter Hill documented the account of Colonel Benjamin Grierson, who founded the 10th Cavalry regiment, recalling an 1871 campaign against Comanches. Hill attributed the origin of the name to the Comanche due to Grierson’s assertions. The Apache used the same term (“We called them ‘buffalo soldiers,’ because they had curly, kinky hair…like bisons”) a claim supported by other sources. Some sources assert that the nickname was given out of respect for the fierce fighting ability of the 10th Cavalry. Still other sources point to a combination of both legends. The term Buffalo Soldiers became a generic term for all African-American soldiers. It is now used for U.S. Army units that trace their direct lineage back to the 9th and 10th Cavalry units whose service earned them an honored place in U.S. history.
In September 1867, Private John Randall of Troop G of the 10th Cavalry Regiment was assigned to escort two civilians on a hunting trip. The hunters suddenly became the hunted when a band of 70 Cheyenne warriors swept down on them. The two civilians quickly fell in the initial attack and Randall’s horse was shot out from beneath him. Randall managed to scramble to safety behind a washout under the railroad tracks, where he fended off the attack with only his pistol and 17 rounds of ammunition until help from the nearby camp arrived. The Cheyenne beat a hasty retreat, leaving behind 13 fallen warriors. Private Randall suffered a gunshot wound to his shoulder and 11 lance wounds, but recovered. The Cheyenne quickly spread word of this new type of soldier, “who had fought like a cornered buffalo; who like a buffalo had suffered wound after wound, yet had not died; and who like a buffalo had a thick and shaggy mane of hair.”
During the American Civil War, the U.S. government formed regiments known as the United States Colored Troops, composed of black soldiers. After the war, Congress reorganized the Army and authorized the formation of two regiments of black cavalry with the designations 9th and 10th U.S. Cavalry, and four regiments of black infantry, designated the 38th, 39th, 40th and 41st Infantry Regiments (Colored). The 38th and 41st were reorganized as the 25th Infantry Regiment, with headquarters in Jackson Barracks in New Orleans, Louisiana, in November 1869. The 39th and 40th were reorganized as the 24th Infantry
Regiment, with headquarters at Fort Clark, Texas, in April 1869. All of these units were composed of black enlisted men commanded by both white and black officers. These included the first commander of the 10th Cavalry Benjamin Grierson, the first commander of the 9th Cavalry Edward Hatch, Medal of Honor recipient Louis H. Carpenter, Nicholas M. Nolan, and the first black graduate of West Point, Henry O. Flipper.