The Buffalo Soldiers were members of the U.S. Army’s Cavalry—a regiment of African-American soldiers organized in 1866. The term eventually came to apply to four regiments of cavalry and two of infantry. The Buffalo Soldiers participated in the Spanish-American War in Cuba, including the famous charge up San Juan Hill led by future president Teddy Roosevelt. Below you will find two accounts of the Buffalo Soldiers in the Spanish-American war, one by Roosevelt and one published in the magazine The Atlantic Monthly. As you read, try to determine whether the Buffalo Soldiers were respected by their white compatriots.
The Rough Riders - Teddy Roosevelt
Source: Excerpt from Theodore Roosevelt, The Rough Riders, 1905. The book is an account of the Rough Riders’ battles.
None of the white regulars or Rough Riders showed the slightest sign of weakening; but under the strain the colored infantrymen (who had none of their officers) began to get a little uneasy and to drift to the rear, either helping wounded men, or saying that they wished to find their own regiments. This I could not allow, as it was depleting my line, so I jumped up, and walking a few yards to the rear, drew my revolver, halted the retreating soldiers, and called out to them... saying: “Now, I shall be very sorry to hurt you, and you don't know whether or not I will keep my word, but my men can tell you that I always do;” whereupon my cow-punchers, hunters, and miners solemnly nodded their heads and commented in chorus, exactly as if in a comic opera, “He always does; he always does!”
This was the end of the trouble, for the “smoked Yankees”--as the Spaniards called the colored soldiers--flashed their white teeth at one another, as they broke into broad grins, and I had no more trouble with them, they seeming to accept me as one of their own officers. The colored cavalry-men had already so accepted me; in return, the Rough Riders, although for the most part Southwesterners, who have a strong color prejudice, grew to accept them with hearty good-will as comrades, and were entirely willing, in their own phrase, “to drink out of the same canteen.” All the regular officers did so well, it is hard to draw any distinction; but particular praise should be given to the officers of the Ninth and Tenth for their work, and under their leadership the colored troops did as well as any soldiers could possibly do.
Sourcing: Why would Teddy Roosevelt write an account of the Battle of San Juan Hill? What do you think his main purpose was?
Close Reading: Does Roosevelt present African American troops as equal to white troops? Explain your answer.
- Based on all that you have read, what were white attitudes towards the African American soldiers who fought in the Battle of San Juan Hill?
“The Negro in the Regular Army” – from The Atlantic Monthly
Source: Excerpt from Oswald G. Villard, “The Negro in the Regular Army,” The Atlantic Monthly, June 1903. The Atlantic Monthly was a literary magazine published in Boston that was founded in 1857.
It was not until the battle of Santiago, however, that the bulk of the American people realized that the standing army comprised regiments composed wholly of black men...
In the battle at Santiago, the four colored regiments won praise from all sides, particularly for their advance upon Kettle Hill, in which the Rough Riders also figured. From the very beginning of the movement of the army after its landing [in Cuba], the negro troops were in the front of the fighting, and contributed largely to the successful result. Although they suffered heavy losses, especially in officers, the men fought with the same gallantry they had displayed on the plains, as is attested by the honors awarded. In every company there were instances of personal gallantry. The first sergeants especially lived up to the responsibilities placed upon them. The color sergeant of the Tenth Cavalry, Adam Houston, bore to the front not only his own flags, but those of the Third Cavalry when their color sergeant was shot down. In several emergencies where troops or companies lost their white officers, the senior sergeants took command and handled their men in a faultless manner, notably in the Tenth Cavalry.
Sourcing: Who do you think read this magazine? What do you think the magazine’s white readers thought about African Americans? Why?
Close Reading: How does the magazine describe the fighting of African Americans in Cuba?