1866: CONGRESS CREATES THE FIRST PEACE TIME AFRICAN-AMERICAN UNITS
More than 180,000 African-Americans served in the Union Army during the Civil War. Of these, more than 33,000 died. After the war, the future of African-Americans in the U.S. Army was in doubt. In July 1866, however, Congress passed legislation establishing two cavalry and four infantry regiments (later consolidated to two) whose enlisted composition was to be made up of African-Americans. The majority of the new recruits had served in all-Black units during the war. The mounted regiments were the 9th and 10th Cavalries, soon nicknamed Buffalo Soldiers by the Cheyenne and Comanche. Until the early 1890s they constituted 20 percent of all cavalry forces on the American frontier.
The 9th and 10th Cavalries' service in subduing Mexican revolutionaries, hostile Native Americans, outlaws, comancheros, and rustlers was as invaluable as it was unrecognized. It was also accomplished over some of the most rugged and inhospitable country in North America. A list of their adversaries - Geronimo, Sitting Bull, Victorio, Lone Wolf, Billy the Kid, and Pancho Villa - reads like a "Who's Who" of the American West.
Lesser known, but equally important, the Buffalo Soldiers explored and mapped vast areas of the southwest and strung hundreds of miles of telegraph lines. They built and repaired frontier outposts around which future towns and cities sprang to life. Without the protection provided by the 9th and 10th Cavalries, crews building the ever expanding railroads were at the mercy of outlaws and hostile Indians. The Buffalo Soldiers consistently received some of the worst assignments the Army had to offer. They also faced fierce prejudice to both the colors of their Union uniforms and their skin by many of the citizens of the post-war frontier towns. Despite this, the troopers of the 9th and 10th Cavalries developed into two of the most distinguished fighting units in the Army.
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