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The African American Soldier: The Fight for
The African American soldier joined the battle to preserve the Union and rid
it of slavery. However, their service only signaled the beginning of a
century-long struggle to earn their rightful place in the military.
Microsoft PowerPoint presentation reviews the role of African Americans in the
Civil War and their contributions and struggles since this conflict.
The slide presentation is intended to
highlight the personal conflicts that African Americans confronted in their
desire to serve their country in the face of discrimination in the military at
Many northern leaders advocated the
recruitment of African American soldiers for service in the Union army. Perhaps, Frederick Douglas expressed it best
when he said: "Once let the black man get upon his person the brass
letters, U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his
shoulder and bullets in his pockets, and there is no power on earth which can
deny that he has earned the right to citizenship in the United
By the end of 1862 black soldiers were fighting for the
Union. Volunteer units from different states, along with the U.S. Colored
Troops, served with distinction throughout the Civil War. Black soldiers won a
total of 15 Congressional Medals of Honor, while another 7 African-American
sailors were also honored for their heroism.
By January 1864, even
Confederate officers began to appreciate the need for recruiting blacks for
military service. The southern civilian leadership, however, opposed the idea
until the final months of the war. By the time President Jefferson Davis
signed a bill on 13 March 1865 authorizing the enlistment of slaves beginning
3 April, it was too late to save the Confederacy.
On April 15, 1861 President Abraham
Lincoln declared a state of insurrection and called for 75,000 volunteers to
serve for 3 months. Black men rushed to join the Union army in 1861, but they
were rejected by the Union Army.
Lincoln did not want to risk
antagonizing the Border States or the Butternut Region. Many northern whites did not think it
appropriate for blacks to fight a "white man’s war." Most whites (including the president) did
not think blacks would be good soldiers.
Jacob Dodson offered the services
of “300 reliable colored free citizens
of” Washington, DC “who desire to enter the service for the defense of the
city.” His offer was refused by the Secretary of War, Simon Cameron, who said
, “This department has no intention at present to call into the service of the
Government any colored soldiers.”
Similar efforts were defeated in
Cleveland, New York City, Rhode Island and Ohio. In Ohio, Governor David Tod, said “Do you
not know, that this is a white man’s government; that white men are able to
defend it and protect it, and that to enlist a Negro soldier would be to drive
every white man out of the service?”
At a Boston meeting, blacks passed a
resolution: "Our feelings urge us to say to our countrymen that we are
ready to stand by and defend our Government as the equals of its white
defenders; to do so with 'our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor,' for
the sake of freedom, and as good citizens; and we ask you to modify your laws,
that we may enlist, -- that full scope may be given to the patriotic feelings
burning in the colored man's breast."
On July 17, 1862, Congress amended the
Enlistment Act of 1795 giving the president authority to enlist African
Americans, but Lincoln still refused to act on Congress's recommendation.
On July 17, 1862, Congress passed two acts allowing the enlistment of
African Americans, but official enrollment occurred only after the September,
1862 issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. In general, white soldiers and
officers believed that black men lacked the courage to fight and fight well.
On August 4, 1862 General Sprague of Rhode Island asked for Black men to enlist
as soldiers in the state militia.
When President Lincoln issued the
Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 it included a provision for
including African Americans to enlist.
“And I further declare and
make known, that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the
armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and
other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.“
The War Department began to aggressively recruit African Americans.
The song A Soldier in de Colored
Brigade indicates the enthusiasm and motivations of African Americans in
joining the Union army.
In April 1861 the free blacks of New
Orleans, Louisiana, began organizing a Native Guard battalion with officers of
their own race. The state government approved this action and commissioned the
black officers. The commanding general of the white and black troops sent a
telegram to Confederate authorities in November 1861 because he was
"elated at the success of being first to place negroes in the field
together with white troops…." Since their first duty was to defend New
Orleans, the Native Guards refused to serve elsewhere for the Confederacy once
Union forces captured the city. Many of the men later fought for the
In May 1862 Major General David
C. Hunter pioneered the recruiting of blacks by organizing the 1st South
Carolina Volunteer Infantry at Beaufort. The War Department disrupted this
effort until the end of August 1862. Although not officially called to active
duty until January 31, 1863, Company A of Hunter’s 1st South Carolina was
unofficially the very first unit of former slaves permitted to join the Union
Army. It was re-designated the 33rd Regiment of the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT)
in February 1864. It mustered out in January 1866.
In September 1861the Secretary of the
Navy authorized the enlistment of African Americans into the US. Navy.
"Negroes were readily accepted
all along the coast on board the war vessels, it being no departure from the
regular and established practice in the service." By the end of the Civil
War about 8% of Union sailors were African Americans.
“The experiment of arming the blacks, so
far as I have made it, has been a complete and even marvellous success. They
are sober, docile, attentive, and enthusiastic, displaying great natural
capacities for acquiring the duties of a soldier. They are eager beyond all
things to take the field and be led into action; and it is the unanimous
opinion of the officers who have had charge of them, that in the peculiarities
of this climate and country, they will prove invaluable auxiliaries, fully
equal to the similar regiments so long and successfully used by the British
authorities in the West Indies.
In conclusion I would say it is my hope,
there appearing to be no possibility of other reinforcements owing to the
exigencies of the campaign in the peninsular, to have organized by the end of
next fall and to be able to present to the Government from forty-eight to
fifty thousand of these hardy and devoted soldiers.” - General David Hunter
Hunter was a strong advocate of arming blacks as soldiers for the Union cause.
After the Battle of Fort Pulaski, he began enlisting black soldiers from the
occupied districts of South Carolina and formed the first such Union Army regiment,
the 1st South Carolina (African Descent, which he was initially ordered to
disband, but eventually got approval from Congress for his action. A second
controversy was caused by his issuing an order emancipating the slaves in
Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida
The first use of African American troops
in combat involved a 225-man detachment from the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer
Infantry. These troops fought in a 2-day engagement (October 27-28, 1862) at
Island Mound, Missouri. A total of 10
men were killed and 12 were wounded. Accounts of the battle praised the black
soldiers’ martial skills and bravery.
In response to the North’s use of
African American troops, Confederate President Jefferson Davis "raised
the black flag" against the North.
On December 23, 1862 he
signed a proclamation ordering the execution of any white Union officers of
Davis also said that "all negro slaves captured in
arms" were to be turned over to the authorities "of the respective
States to which they belong, and…dealt with according to the laws of said
This decision was subsequently endorsed in May 1863 by a
resolution passed by the Confederate Congress.
After the massacre at Fort
Pillow in April 1864, President Lincoln responded by announcing an equal
exchange of executions and hard labor sentences for Confederate officers and
enlisted men being held prisoner by the Union.
At first, black Union soldiers were
unfairly treated, given inferior arms, relegated to fatigue duty, and paid
less than half of what white soldiers were. Some black soldiers refused any
pay for 18 months to protest the unfair treatment, and were eventually granted
equal pay and improved conditions.
The demeaning expectations of some
white officers about the ability of soldiers assigned to the 54th are brought
to light. Many saw these men as simple children who were unable to perform in
the same way as traditional white soldiers because of a lower mental capacity.
Some officers simply did not believe they were equal to whites as men.
the war, Congress passed an act after long debate, stating that black soldiers
would be issued the same uniform, weapons, equipment, rations, medical and
hospital attendance, pay, and emoluments, other than bounty, as other
Union and Confederate troops had
frequently skirmished in the vicinity of Honey Springs Depot. The Union
commander in the area, Maj. Gen. James G. Blunt, correctly surmised that
Confederate forces, mostly Native American troops under the command of Brig. Gen. Douglas H. Cooper,
were about to attack his force at Fort Gibson. He decided to defeat the them
at Honey Springs before they were joined by reinforcements from Fort Smith,
crossed the Arkansas River on July 15, 1863 with a force of 3,000 men, composed
of whites, Native Americans, and African Americans and marched toward Honey
Springs. Blunt skirmished with Rebel
troops early on the morning of the 17th and full-scale fighting began by
mid-afternoon. The Confederates had wet powder, causing misfires, and the
problem intensified when rain began. After repulsing one attack, Cooper pulled his
forces back to obtain new ammunition. Cooper learned that Blunt
was about to turn his left flank and ordered a retreat. After this battle,
Union forces controlled Indian Territory, north of the Arkansas River.
The Battle of Honey Springs was one of
the earliest engagements in which blacks proved their qualities as fighting
men. General Blunt praised the
blacks and said in his official report on the battle: "The First Kansas
(colored) particularly distinguished itself; they fought like veterans, and
preserved their line unbroken throughout the engagement. Their coolness and
bravery I have never seen surpassed; they were in the hottest of the fight,
and opposed to Texas troops twice their number, whom they completely routed.
One Texas regiment (the 20th Cavalry) that fought against them went into the
fight with 300 men and came out with only sixty."
In response to the Emancipation
Proclamation and with the federal government’s permission, Governor John A.
Andrew of Massachusetts ordered the organization of the all-black 54th
Massachusetts Regiment in February 1863
The first 25 volunteers were
organized at Camp Meigs, Readville, MA. The recruitment area was expanded to
include the entire Union and its territories because of problems enlisting
enough black volunteers from New England,. Black and white abolitionists, most
notably Frederick Douglass, also helped Massachusetts attract the necessary
numbers of African Americans.
The 54th Massachusetts earned widespread
fame for its unsurpassed bravery during the assault on Fort Wagner, South
Carolina on July 18, 1863. The unit’s white commanding officer, Colonel Robert
Gould Shaw, and 116 enlisted men died in the unsuccessful attempt to take the
Confederate fort. Another 156 members of the 54th were wounded or captured
during this battle.
Sergeant William H. Carney’s bravery under fire
during the assault on Fort Wagner earned him the Medal of Honor. He was the
first African American to receive this prestigious award. Another 14 black
soldiers were also honored with this medal for their heroism during the Civil
The risk to African American soldiers
was demonstrated at the Battle of Fort Pillow, TN 13 April 13, 1864. The fort
was attacked by Confederate troops under the command of General Nathan Bedford Forrest.
Before Forrest could mount up and ride into
the fort to restore order, an unknown number of Union troops reportedly were
shot down while attempting to surrender. A Confederate officer noted that:
"The wildest confusion prevailed among those who had run down the bluff.
Many of them had thrown down their arms while running and seemed desirous to
surrender while many others had carried their guns with them and were loading
and firing back up the bluff at us with a desperation which seemed worse than
senseless. We could only stand there and fire until the last man of them was
ready to surrender."
In an interview after the war, Forrest said:.
"When we got into the fort the white flag was shown at once. The negroes
ran out down to the river; and although the [white] flag was flying, they kept
on turning back and shooting at my men, who consequently continued to fire
into them crowded on the brink of the river, and they killed a good many of
them in spite of my efforts and those of their officers to stop them. But
there was no deliberate intention nor effort to massacre the garrison as has
been so generally reported by the Northern papers."
The Fort Pillow Massacre continues to
be debated, but similar occurrences at other battles seems to confirm that
surrendering troops were killed. Fort
Pillow became a rallying cry for African Americans for the remainder of the
The engagement at Poison Springs,
Arkansas on April 18, 1864 was another instance of atrocities against
African American troops.
General Frederick Steele, during a diversionary campaign south of
Little Rock, Arkansas, sent a party of 1000 troops on a foraging expedition. Among
Steele’s troops was the 1st Kansas
Colored Infantry. While returning from their successful quest for supplies,
the detachment encountered a significantly larger Confederate force at Poison
Spring. After intense fighting, the Confederates prevailed. The 1st Kansas
sustained very heavy losses in this skirmish—117 killed out of 182 men who
fought (64%). Many of the fatalities were the result of intense racial hatred.
The Confederates and their Choctaw allies killed the African-American soldiers
as they attempted to surrender or as they laid wounded on the battlefield.
During the siege of Petersburg, VA the
armies were aligned along a series of fortified positions and trenches more
than 20 miles long.
Lt. Col. Henry
Pleasants, commander of the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry of Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside's IX Corps
and a mining engineer from Pennsylvania, proposed digging a long mine shaft
underneath the Confederate lines and planting explosive charges directly
underneath a fort (Elliott’s Salient) in the middle of the
Confederate First Corps line.
believed that the explosion would kill all the defenders in the area and
open a hole in the Confederate defenses.
hoped that enough Union troops could fill the breach quickly enough and drive
into the Confederate rear area where the Confederates would not be able to
launch a counterattack, and Petersburg might fall.
On July 30th the
Federals exploded a mine in Burnside’s
IX Corps sector beneath Elliott’s
salient, blowing a gap in the Confederate defenses.
of going around the crater as planned, many units charged into the
crater. The Confederates quickly
recovered and launched several counterattacks led by Maj. Gen. William Mahone. The break
was sealed off, and the Federals were repulsed with severe casualties. Ferrarro’s division of black soldiers was
This may have been Grant’s
best chance to end the Siege of Petersburg. Instead, the soldiers settled in
for another eight months of trench warfare.
From the beginning of the war,
Confederate engineers worked to build permanent defenses around Richmond.
By 1864, they had created a system anchored
south of the capital on the James River at Chaffin’s Farm. This outer line was
supported by an intermediate and inner system of fortifications much closer to
The strength of these lines remained untested until September
1864 when General Ulysses S. Grant
tried to capture Richmond or Petersburg by attacking simultaneously north and
south of the James.
The attack north of the river occurred on September
29th. Troops under Federal General Benjamin
launched attacks on two fronts. The Union X Corps advanced
against New Market Heights north of Deep Bottom, while the XVIII Corps
attacked Fort Harrison.
Maj. Gen. David B.
moved the X Corps north from the Deep Bottom bridgehead
toward the Confederate works atop New Market Heights manned by Brig. Gen. John Gregg
A brigade of U.S. Colored Troops attacked the heights but was repulsed.
Christian Fleetwood’s actions In this attack earned him the Medal of Honor. Birney
reinforced the assault force and
stormed the heights again. Alfred Terry’s
division managed to turn the Confederate left flank, thus turning the tide of
the battle. Word of Union success against Fort Harrison then reached Gregg
him to pull Confederate troops back to Forts Gregg, Gilmer and Johnson.
troops had taken New Market
Heights, the X Corps turned to the northwest along the New Market Road and
moved against a secondary line of works guarding Richmond north of Fort
Harrison. Brig. Gen. Robert S. Foster
's X Corps division
assaulted a small salient known as . David Birney's brother, Brig. Gen. William Birney
, led a brigade of
U.S. Colored Troops against
Fort Gilmer. These attacks were marked by heroism among the Colored Troops but
were ultimately repulsed.
In March 1863 Congress passed the
first national Conscription Act, requiring the enlistment of males between 20
and 45. Substitutes or a payment of $300 could be used for exemption.
the new law did not exclude African Americans, resentment against the act
erupted into violence against blacks who were accused of starting the Civil
During the four days from 13 to 16 July 1863, primarily
Irish-Americans and other poorer men hit hard by the new act, participated in
draft riots in New York City, destroying property and lynching blacks. Federal
troops were called in to restore order.
Early in the Civil War prisoners were
commonly paroled and sent home to await a formal exchange before they could
return to active service. After an incident at Fort Pillow in Tennessee during
which Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest
executed a group of mostly black Union troops after their surrender, Union General Ulysses S. Grant
policy on the Union's part, and Federal authorities began to hold Confederate
captives in formal prison camps rather than paroling them, until the
Confederacy pledged to treat white and black Union soldiers alike. Confederate
President Jefferson Davis and General
Robert E. Lee
refused this proposal and the Confederates began
to construct camps to hold Union prisoners.
“As we entered the place a spectacle
met our eyes that almost froze our blood with horror, and made our hearts fail
within us. Before us were forms that had once been active and erect;—stalwart
men, now nothing but mere walking skeletons, covered with filth and
vermin. Many of our men, in the heat and intensity of their feeling, exclaimed
with earnestness. "Can this be hell?" "God protect us!"
and all thought that He alone could bring them out alive from so terrible a
place. In the center of the whole was a swamp, occupying about three or four
acres of the narrowed limits, and a part of this marshy place had been used by
the prisoners as a sink, and excrement covered the ground, the scent arising
from which was suffocating.”
Because of the scarce resources of the
Confederacy, Andersonville prison was frequently short of food, and even when
this was sufficient in quantity, it was of a poor quality and poorly prepared
on account of the lack of cooking utensils. The water supply became polluted
under the congested conditions. During the summer of 1864, the prisoners
suffered greatly from hunger, exposure, and disease, and in seven months about
a third of them died from dysentery and were buried in mass graves.
During the war almost 45,000 prisoners
were received at the Andersonville prison, and of these 12,913 died (40% of
all the Union prisoners that died throughout the South).
Of the 3,463 Medals of Honor awarded as
of April 2007, 88 have been awarded to 87 different African American
Robert Augustus Sweeney is
one of only 19 men, and the only African American, to be awarded two Medals of
Andrew Jackson Smith - Civil War - Battle of Honey Hill, SC - 1864
James H. Harris – Civil War - Battle of Chaffin’s Farm, VA - 1864
Christian Abraham Fleetwood - Civil War - Battle of Chaffin’s Farm , VA
James Daniel Gardner - Civil War - Battle of Chaffin’s Farm , VA -
Robert A. Pinn - Civil War - Battle of Chaffin’s Farm , VA - 1864
Powhattan Beaty – Civil War - Battle of Chaffin’s Farm , VA - 1864
Benjamin Brown – Indian Wars – Arizona – 1889
Vernon Joseph Baker - World War II – Italy – 1945
Charles Calvin Rogers - Vietnam War – Fishook Region - 1968
Cornelius H. Charlton - Korean War - Chipo-ri, Korea – 1951
Milton Lee Olive - Vietnam War - Phu Cuong, Vietnam - 1965
African American soldiers comprised
10% of the entire Union Army. Losses among African Americans were high, and
from all reported casualties, approximately one-third of all African Americans
enrolled in the military lost their lives during the Civil War.
Susie King Taylor, Civil War nurse,
cook, and laundress, was raised a slave on an island off the coast of Georgia.
In April of 1861, Major General Hunter assaulted Fort Pulaski and freed all
the slaves in the area, including Mrs. King. When Union officers raised the
First South Carolina Volunteers (an all-black unit), Mrs. King signed on as
laundress and nurse. Able to read and write, she also set up a school for
black children and soldiers.
Mrs. King's experiences as a black
employee of the Union Army are recounted in her diary. She wrote of the
“The first colored troops did not
receive any pay for eighteen months, and the men had to depend wholly
on what they received from the commissary...their wives were obliged to
support themselves and children by washing for the officers, and making
cakes and pies which they sold to the boys in camp. Finally, in 1863,
the government decided to give them half pay, but the men would accept
none of this... They preferred rather to give their services to the state,
which they did until 1864, when the government granted them full pay, with
all back due pay.”
"William Cathey" served from
November 15, 1866, until her discharge with a surgeon's certificate of
disability on October 14, 1868. Despite numerous and often lengthy hospital
stays during her service, her sex was not revealed until June 1891, when
Cathay Williams applied for an invalid pension and disclosed her true
identity. She did not receive the pension, not because she was a woman, but
because her disabilities were not service related. Cathay was probably the
first black woman to serve in the US Regular Army.
Thirteenth Amendment officially abolished and continues to prohibit
slavery. Approved December 6, 1865
Fourteenth Amendment provides a broad definition of United States citizenship, overturning the
Dred Scott case, which excluded African Americans. It requires the states to provide equal protection under the law to all persons
(not only to citizens) within their jurisdictions, and was used in the mid-20th century to
dismantle legal segregation, as in Brown v. Board of Education. Approved July 28, 1868
Fifteenth Amendment provides that
governments in the United States may not prevent a citizen from voting based on that citizen's race, color,
or previous condition of servitude (i.e. slavery).
It was ratified on February 3, 1870.
1866 During 3 days of racial
violence in Memphis, Tennessee, white civilians and police killed 46 African Americans and injured numerous
others. At least two whites were also killed.
In addition, mobs burned 90 houses, 12 schools, and 4 churches. The
establishment of Fort Pickering, a post for
black troops, and the use of black soldiers to patrol the city contributed to the tension that erupted into one of the
bloodiest riots of the Reconstruction Era. It
was only one of several violent outbreaks in the South that helped Radical
Republicans win support for their own plan
of Military Reconstruction.
1869 Robert Brown Elliot served as adjutant general of South Carolina,
with responsibility for establishing a
state militia to protect black and white citizens from the Ku Klux Klan. The following year, he became the first black general to
command the South Carolina National Guard.
15, 1877 Henry O. Flipper, born into slavery in Georgia, became the first
African American to graduate from the U.S.
Military Academy at West Point. After joining the 10th Cavalry, 2nd Lieutenant Flipper served as the Army’s
only black officer until 1882 when he was court-martialed
for embezzling funds from the commissary. Although acquitted, the Army still discharged him for "conduct unbecoming an
officer." Almost 100 years later, his innocence was substantiated during an official records review,
which cleared Flipper’s name and changed his
dismissal to an honorable discharge.
The Jim Crow laws
(named after "Jump Jim Crow", a song-and-dance caricature of African Americans) were state and
local laws enacted in the Southern and border states of the United States and enforced between
1876 and 1965. They mandated "separate but equal" status for black Americans. In reality, this led to treatment and accommodations that were almost
always inferior to those provided white Americans. The most important laws required that public schools,
public places and public transportation have
separate buildings, toilets, and restaurants for whites and blacks.
During the Reconstruction period of 1865-76, federal law provided civil rights
protection in the South for freedmen—the African-Americans who had formerly been slaves.
Reconstruction ended at different dates
(the latest 1877), and was followed in each Southern state by Redeemer governments that passed the Jim Crow laws to separate the races. In the Progressive Era the restrictions were formalized, and segregation was extended to the federal government by
President Woodrow Wilson in 1913.
1866 During 3 days of racial
violence in Memphis, Tennessee, white civilians and police killed 46 African Americans and injured numerous others. At
least two whites were also killed. In addition, mobs burned 90 houses, 12 schools, and 4 churches. The establishment of
Fort Pickering, a post for black troops,
and the use of black soldiers to patrol the city contributed to the tension
that erupted into one of the bloodiest
riots of the Reconstruction Era. It was only one of several violent outbreaks
in the South that helped Radical
Republicans win support for their own plan of Military Reconstruction.
1869 Robert Brown Elliot served as adjutant general of South Carolina,
with responsibility for establishing a
state militia to protect black and white citizens from the Ku Klux Klan. The
following year, he became the first black
general to command the South Carolina National Guard.
15, 1877 Henry O. Flipper, born into slavery in Georgia, became the first
African American to graduate from the U.S.
Military Academy at West Point. After joining the 10th Cavalry, 2nd Lieutenant
Flipper served as the Army’s only black
officer until 1882 when he was court-martialed for embezzling funds from the commissary. Although acquitted, the Army
still discharged him for "conduct unbecoming an officer." Almost 100 years later, his innocence
was substantiated during an official records review, which cleared Flipper’s name and changed his dismissal
to an honorable discharge.
28 July 1866 Radical
Republicans in Congress pushed through legislation allowing blacks to serve in
the armed forces during peacetime. In the resulting reorganization, the U.S.
Army established 67 regiments, 6 of which were all black. There were two
cavalry (the 9th and 10th) and four infantry (the 38th, 39th, 40th and 41st)
units, each containing about 1000 men. Blacks were excluded from the five
artillery units, because white leaders believed African Americans did not have
the required technical skills. Most of the blacks who enlisted in the
reorganized U.S. Army were Civil War veterans.
In 1869 the Army reorganized
its black infantry units, combining the original four regiments into two—the
24th and 25th Infantry. They, along with the 9th and 10th Cavalry, saw action
in the ongoing Indian wars that troubled the West between 1865 and 1898.
During this period of service, the Native Americans began referring to the
black troopers as "buffalo soldiers." This nickname was derived
partly from the soldiers’ physical characteristics (i.e., dark skin and tightly
curled hair) which were reminiscent of the buffalo, and partly from the Indian
warriors’ respect for the black troopers’ fighting abilities.
During the Battle of Las Guasimas, Cuba
on June 24, 1898, Major Bell of the 1st Cavalry had gone down with a wound to
the leg. Captain C.G. Ayers attempted to carry him from the field, but his
shattered leg bone broke through the skin causing so much pain that Ayers had
to let him down.
The fire was so intense that in one plot of ground fifty feet square sixteen
men were killed or wounded. Still, there was a fellow American soldier badly
hurt and in need of assistance, and Private Augustus Walley-of the famed
"Buffalo Soldiers,"-his compassion overcoming self-preservation, ran
to help. Between Ayers and Walley, Bell was dragged to safety.
The 9th and
10th U.S. Cavalry-"Buffalo Soldiers"-were recipients of Hand-me-down
uniforms, equipment, weapons...and discrimination. Of all American soldiers,
they had the hardest fight. There was not only the enemy to defeat, but the
hearts and minds of their fellow soldiers to be won.
Harlem Hell fighters is the popular name
for the 369th Infantry Regiment
, formerly the 15th New York National Guard
Regiment. The unit was also known as The Black Rattlers
, in addition to
several other nicknames. The 369th Infantry Regiment was known for being the
first African-American Regiment during WWI.
The 369th Infantry Regiment
was constituted June 2
in the New York Army National Guard
as the . It was organized on June 29
at New York City
. It was
into Federal service on July 25
, New York. It was drafted into Federal
service August 5
. The regiment trained in
the New York Area, performed Guard Duty at various locations in New York, and trained
more intensely at Camp Wadsworth in Spartanburg, South Carolina
, where they
experienced significant racism from the local communities, and other units.
The 15th Infantry Regiment, NYARNG was Assigned on December 1, 1917 to the
It was commanded by Col. William Hayward, a member of the Union League Club of New York
which sponsored the 369th in the tradition of the 20th U.S. Colored Infantry,
which the club had also sponsored in the Civil War.
The black airmen who became
single-engine or multi-engine pilots were trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field
(TAAF) in Tuskegee Alabama. The first aviation cadet class began in July 1941
and completed training nine months later in March 1942. Thirteen started in
the first class. Five successfully completed the training, one of them being
Captain Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., a West Point Academy graduate. The other four
were commissioned second lieutenants, and all five received Army Air Corps
silver pilot wings.
From 1942 through 1946, nine hundred and ninety-four
pilots graduated at TAAF, receiving commissions and pilot wings. Black
navigators, bombardiers and gunnery crews were trained at selected military
bases elsewhere in the United States. Mechanics were trained at Chanute Air
Base in Rantoul, Illinois until facilities were in place in 1942 at TAAF.
Executive Order 9981 is an
executive order issued on July 26, 1948 by President Harry S. Truman. It
expanded on Executive Order 8802 by establishing equality of treatment and
opportunity in the Armed Services for people of all races, religions, or
The operative statement
It is hereby declared to
be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of
treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without
regard to race, color, religion or national origin. This policy shall
be put into effect as rapidly as possible, having due regard to the
time required to effectuate any necessary changes without impairing
efficiency or morale.
The order also established a
committee to investigate and make recommendations to the civilian leadership
of the military to realize the policy.
Among the order's effects was
the elimination of Montford Point as a segregated Marine boot camp (the camp
became a satellite facility of Camp Lejeune). The last of the all-black units
in the United States military was abolished in September 1954.
Fifteen years after Truman's
order, on July 26, 1963 Robert S. McNamara issued Directive 5120.36 obligating
military commanders to utilize the economic might of the military against
facilities used by soldiers or their families that discriminated based upon
sex or race.
Jesse L. Brown became the U.S. Navy's first black aviator in October 1948. He was killed when his plane was shot down during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. He was unable to
eject from his crippled F4U Corsair and crash-landed successfully. His injuries and damage to his aircraft prevented him from leaving the
plane. A white squadron mate crash-landed
his F4U Corsair near Brown and attempted to extricate Brown but could
not and Brown died of his injuries. The
U.S. Navy honored Jesse Brown by naming an escort ship after him — the U.S.S. Jesse L. Brown.[
The Vietnam War saw many great accomplishments by many African
Americans, including twenty who received
the Medal of Honor for their actions.
In 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson presented the Medal of Honor to U.S. Army Specialist Five Lawrence Joel, for a "very special kind of courage — the unarmed
heroism of compassion and service to
others." Joel was the first living African American to receive the Medal
of Honor since the Mexican–American War. He was a medic who in 1965 saved the lives of U.S.
troops under ambush in Vietnam and defied
direct orders to stay to the ground, walking through Viet Cong gunfire and tending to the troops despite being shot
twice himself. The Lawrence Joel Veterans
Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem, North
Carolina is dedicated to his honor.
On August 21, 1968, with the posthumous award of the Medal of Honor, U.S. Marine James Anderson, Jr. became the first African-American U.S. Marine recipient
of the Medal of Honor for his heroic
actions and sacrifice of life.
On December 10, 1968, U.S. Army Captain Riley Leroy Pitts became the first African American commissioned officer to be awarded the Medal of Honor. His medal was
presented posthumously to his wife, Mrs.
Eula Pitts, by President Lyndon B. Johnson.