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The Record - March 1998 | National Archives

Exploring the Life and History of the "Buffalo Soldiers"

By Walter Hill

They have lined his walls in his office and home. They have been presented to him as gifts and memorials to his service to the nation. For General Colin Powell, the art work and memorabilia of the historic "Buffalo Soldiers" have profound meaning.

The career of General Powell represents a historical and spiritual link to the United States Colored Troops, (USCT) organized May 22, 1863, and the 9th and 10th Cavalry and the four all-Black infantry regiments organized in 1866. Military service and the giving of one"s life for one"s country are the ultimate sacrifice. But why did African Americans invest their lives in a country that denied them every opportunity? It is a question that scholars of Afro-American history and Black military history are just beginning to explore.

After the USCT established a Black military presence as volunteer units during the Civil War, the 9th and 10th Cavalry regiments began the historic tradition of a Black military presence in the peacetime regular army. The Congress sought to reorganize and restructure the army after the Civil War, and passed the Army Organization Act on July 28, 1866.

Under the act, Congress authorized four additional cavalry regiments, creating two "to be composed of colored men." From this time to the closing days of World War II, a distinctand unique history of the 9th and 10th Cavalry regiments unfolded within the military.

They participated in the Indian campaigns in the West, fought with Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders in the Spanish American War, enforced the neutrality laws along the Mexican border, saw four tours of duty in the Philippine Islands, and battled Pancho Villa during the Mexican punitive expedition under John J. Pershing in 1916. When the United States entered World War I, many of the non-commissioned officers received commissions and several hundred troopers joined new units preparing to fight in Europe.

In peacetime America, 1920 to 1941, they became efficient

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