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AfriGeneas Military Research Forum Archive

Re: Harlem Hellfighters
In Response To: Re: Harlem Hellfighters ()

An excellent and very accurate response coming from Mr. Powell. All a unit earns, its awards, citations even the unit nick name or "sobriquet" remains with it during its current service and becomes a part of its legacy and history when the unit is deactivated. Soldiers that are assigned to the unit and participated in the wars, campaigns or engagements to which the unit has received citations, ribbons or regimental awards have earned all the rights that come with their service, for they have laid the foundation for the heritage of the regiment. Soldiers who enlist into the unit after this time period are authorized to wear the awards won by the unit and therefore share the unit’s legacy. As long as the unit is still in active service, its history is maintained and built upon.

As for the unit's called the "Buffalo Soldiers", this term or name refers to the 9th and 10th US Cavalry and the 24th and 25th infantry regiments. If we are to accept the most popular version or account of the origin of the name, then the term “Buffalo Soldiers” implies the Indian Fighting Regiments that participated in the Indian Wars from 1866, (1867 respectively) to 1890. The name being given to these soldiers by the Plains Indians, (most historians agree that it was the Southern Cheyenne who first called the “Black Soldiers” this name. What is also agreed is that troopers of the 10th US Cavalry were the first to be called “Buffalo Soldiers”. The fact that the 10th did not until 1911 adopt the Buffalo symbol as its “Coat of Arms” and finally in 1922 make this symbol its Distinctive Unit Crest or insignia sheds some light on what latter day historian’s are now starting to suggest, that the term itself was not widely used during the unit(s) long posting in the west. And that it may in fact be more of 20th century term.) Soldiers enlisting into these units after the Indian Campaigns would have still been called “Buffalo Soldiers”. The soldiers earned the name or were given the name the unit became. These 4 units would forever be linked to the name and it would be incorporated into their histories. The circumstances under which these units earned the “sobriquet” prevent other follow on units from officially copying or adopting the name. The Black units that were activated after the era of the Indian Fighting Regiments or not “Buffalo Soldiers”. To imply that they were or are is to say that every Black man that enlisted into the Army in regiments other than the 9th, 10th, 24th or 25th were or would be called a “Buffalo Soldier”, despite the fact that the unit he enlisted into never participated in the fighting or campaigning that earned the former regiments their name. This is also to imply that the color of skin is the reason for calling the individual by that name. To call units such as the 369th, 92nd and 93rd “Buffalo Soldiers” does not speak to nor can it be attributed to the point of view shared by the Native Americans, for these units did serve on the frontier and so were not engaged in the struggle against the Native Peoples who historians claim created the “Buffalo Soldier”. Though historians over the years have tried to create a sanitized explanation as to the how and why the Native Peoples called the Black Soldiers by this name, (so called… because of the color of their skin, the curliness of their hair…and their fighting spirit). I have always believed that the last part of this phrase or statement was added and not part of the original concept or way in which the Native Warrior himself looked upon the Black soldier. It is my belief that historians desiring to explain the origins of the “sobriquet” stumbled at the initial part of the explanation and found it to be offensive and so added the latter portion to bring the inference on the power, courage and fearsome attitude or behavior of the Buffalo.

In this way the term is not perceived as derogatory, in that it implies that the Native Peoples thought we actually looked like or resembled the legendary plains animal.
Indeed courts martial records of the period speak of Black soldiers striking enlisted and noncommissioned officers for being called “A Damn Buffalo” or “Buffalo”, here the term Buffalo being used in a derogatory manner. The latter part of the phrase also implies that the Native Warrior had a greater respect for the fighting skill of the Black soldier then he did for his counter part who was white. The history of the campaigns fought by the US Army on the western frontier does not validate this point of view. It is a fact that across the board, “one on one”, no single trooper or infantrymen was a match for a single Native Warrior, no matter what the color of the soldier’s skin. The fighting skills of the warrior surpassed that of the soldier. It was the training, discipline of the soldier and finally sure weight of numbers that the warrior could not over come, when it came to combat between the two. There is also documented evidence of negative attitudes displayed by Native Americans that directly speak to a dislike or hatred based on color or race.

None of the later regiments or divisions of Black soldiers created by the US government experienced this and there fore have no base on which to legitimately lay claim to the name. What they share is an over all military or US Army heritage, in that what is “common among them, is common among all”. Black soldier’s who follow in the “foot steps” of the “Buffalo Soldiers”, share and participate in an inherited legacy all their own, whose origins did not begin with the “Buffalo Soldiers”, but with Black patriots who fought to establish this nation at battle fields we seldom speak of, Battle Road and Bunker hill, Valley Forge and Yorktown. And yet the spirit of these men stood anxiously waiting. For no matter how valiant their efforts to champion the cause of the “Negro Race”, the task of firming the foundation laid by these men would fall to a vast legion of “Freedom Fighters” who had more to loose then those who fought in the ranks before them and those who would come after them. If not for the courage, valor, selfless sacrifice and success of the United States Colored Troops and the Black Volunteer Regiments who fought in the Civil War, “The Great War for Freedom”, the legacy of the “Buffalo Soldiers” would not exist. From the “Womb” of the USCT are “born” the Buffalo soldiers. It is on the “Broad Shoulders of these Men”, the USCT, do we our selves, this Black Race and this countries Black service men and women stand with out fear of being toppled. For the width of those shoulders contain us all, and this “Mountain” on which we stand is created by the imperishable and indomitable Will and Spirit of those who were willing and did so “Sacrifice the body, that the spirit of this race may live”. Never imperiled nor driven to the brink, never in doubt, this race would and shall live. That shed blood has sealed it


18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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