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AfriGeneas Military Research Forum Archive

Re: Ninteenth Century Black Military Heroes

In my opinion

The study of the role played by people of African Descent in America’s military history is an awe inspiring look into the sacrifice, courage, intestinal fortitude, perseverance and the will of the Black People, a glimpse into the very heart of the Negro Race. After having said that, I am a little bit perplexed at the question that generated this response.

“Who were the greatest 19th century Black Hero’s, The Buffalo Soldiers or the USCT”

The latter, meaning the “The Buffalo Soldiers” are a direct result of the former, (the USCT). The accomplishments of the second are the residue of the achievements of the first. The second owes its existence to the first; it is the firstborn of the former.

The role of the USCT in African American history is akin to a “Christ like Story”, they were the Messiah, the Savior. Blacks have been a part of this Nations military in one way or another since its birth. Men of the “Sable Arm” have shed blood, sacrificed and received far less then the measure they so willingly gave. In the beginning, their sense of patriotism and devotion to the cause for which this new Nation stood for, was indeed far greater than that of their white counter parts, for they knew then, that slavery was not the issue, but a New Nation struggling to give birth, to a new kind of freedom, they to had to “push”, and they did, with all their might. Though this Nation would be victorious, victory did not loose the shackles of the slave, yet for the Negro, victory was not hollow, it had promise. More wars would come and “Black Volunteers” would sacrifice and die. They could only hope for the promise, they could not affect it. Like the “Messiah”, the USCT would sacrifice itself on the “Alter of Freedom”, redeeming the blood of the “fallen,” and setting free forever the slave. Like “Christ”, what the USCT accomplished would be done once, it would be final and it would be for all.

The watershed of the African American Military experience is the emergence of the USCT, The Corp de Afrique and the subsequent State regiments of Black Volunteers, naval personnel, and the like who threw themselves into the tumult called the Civil War with no assurances that the end result would indeed bring about freedom. Early 1863 saw the north loosing the war. There were no assurances that even if the north could and did defeat the south, that slavery would be abolished. Though slavery was a major issue, historians agree and disagree that slavery was the root cause of the conflict. Initially, the federal government was struggling to maintain the Union. As the sun set on 1862 and dawned on 1863, even President Lincoln knew preserving the Union was a lost and hollow cause. The Negro knew in the beginning there was no “God” associated with this agenda. Soon the northern soldier would know what the Negro knew and the southern soldier thought he knew, “God grants victory to the men He wills to fight for that cause dearest to His heart.” This is the environment the USCT operated in.

No soldiers in US military history had more too lose then them, “if the thing went south”. One could only imagine the retribution; the defeat of the Northern Army in the field would have wrought upon the “slave”, and those who would have been enslaved again! We are aware of the hatred born of the Southern defeat. Can one fathom the extent of the hatred produced by a victorious Confederate States of America! For the Black race, these were the most uncertain, fearsome, desperate times. A horrific cataclysm, bloodletting the likes this Nation had never witnessed. Into to this storm rushed the USCT at the double quick, with no regard for itself.

Courageous and determined, with no sure weight of numbers, (they were still only 10%) of the Northern fighting force, they had “Will” not just for the Negro Race, but enough for the Nation. They knew that in order to save themselves they first had to save the Nation. The Emancipation Proclamation is a worthless document if there is no Black Army to fight and secure the rights and privileges so stated in that document, and future amendments referring to those who would be free and equal. The USCT secured the rights to citizenship for the whole of the Negro Race, and insured that there would be a place in the American fighting force for every Black male fit enough to serve.

Entitlement to service for the Negro was not won or based on a record of spectacular victories, or more victories won than their white counterparts. Indeed, of some 10,000 battles fought from large campaigns to small skirmishes, Black troops participated in 449 engagements, 39 major. Victories were far and few between, surely they had more than their share of loses and setbacks. There were other factors that the powers to be would take into consideration when congress decided in 1866 to make allowances for Black Regulars. Paramount was the conduct of the Negro in battle. Courage and sacrifice do not always find homes on “Victory Street”. Oftentimes, the residences are the back ally’s and slums of defeat. Though there were still, Haters, naysayers, doubters, and racist; not to mention condescending folks and patronizing whites who claimed to be looking out for the best interest of the Negro, congress still recognized the bravery, patriotism and dedication of the Black Soldier and rewarded him. There would be for the moment, a future for the Negro in the American military system.

The Black soldiers instincts and reactions on the field of battle were no less then that of his white counter part. When colour’s fell, he grasped them up and charged forward. When leaders were shot down, he stepped into the void and took command. He too, un-wavered by the carnage around him, with head down, bent forward at the waist marched and rushed into the shot and shell. He too would be torn, mangled, twisted and strewn across the macabre landscape of the battles aftermath. He did what both northerners and southerners thought was impossible, he became a soldier and fought like one. With musket in hand, the USCT destroyed on the field of battle, the stereotypical image white America had of the Slave, and more importantly of the Negro Race as a whole.

“So heroes, have heroes too”. The “Buffalo Soldier”, Black cadets of the naval and West point Academies, The Black volunteers of the Spanish American War, the WW1 regiments, Tuskegee Airman, the WW2 regiments, the 92nd, 93rd, 761st, 630th, from the 2nd Ranger Company to the Black Private of the 101st Airborne Division, hunkered down, ready for a fight somewhere in Iraq; the list is long. They all stand in the huge shadow of the USCT. If there is any story or knowledge that is greater than any other, or a need to know more important than another of the Military Experience of the Negro in American History, it is that of the role Blacks played in the liberation of their Race, and the establishment of the of the new Union of the United States of America.

If not for the success of the USCT, all prior glory would have no place, and all else would be fleeting…

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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