Book Review: Buffalo Soldiers and Officers of the Ninth Cavalry, 1867-1898: Black and White Together (Charles L. Kenner) : WW

Buffalo Soldiers and Officers of the Ninth Cavalry, 1867-1898: Black and White Together, Charles L. Kenner, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1999, $26.95.

This close look at the officers (mostly white) and enlisted men (mostly black) of the 9th Cavalry should be welcomed with open arms by anyone deeply interested in the military or social history of the Old West. In recent years, historians have started to write more about the black soldiers, or buffalo soldiers, but most of the attention has been on the 10th Cavalry and such officers as Benjamin Grierson, John W. Davidson and Henry Flipper. One reason is that more information is available about the 10th. “Except for Major Guy Henry, the officers of the Ninth…could not have been more mute concerning their lives if they had taken vows of secrecy,” writes Charles Kenner, a retired Arkansas State University history professor.

Kenner provides detailed biographies of Henry, a major with the 9th Cavalry from 1881 to 1894, and other white officers, good and bad. Henry was one of the good ones, a champion of the buffalo soldiers, even though he would be considered a racist by modern standards. The bad ones included Captain Ambrose Hooker. The title of Kenner’s 7th chapter is “Torment and Torture: Captain Ambrose Hooker and the Agony of E Troop.” Hooker hated his black troops. In one tirade, he said that he wished “the Indians would kill every God damned one of them.” Kenner also takes a close look at black sergeants such as George Mason and Moses Williams whom Major Henry and others relied on “to mold their commands into some of the best units in the military.”

Kenner presents the story of three black officers assigned to the 9th–Chaplain Henry Plummer and Lieutenants Charles Young and John H. Alexander–who have all been overshadowed by the 10th’s Lieutenant Flipper. Not even racists, the author notes, tried to attribute Lieutenant Young’s success to any Caucasian ancestry. The Indianapolis Freeman pointed out that Young might have had “the darkest hue of the race” but was “exceedingly clever, a West Point graduate, and a pianist of rare ability.” Most of the thoughts and aspirations of the enlisted men were never recorded, except for the testimony and written depositions of those involved in courts-martial. As a result, more information is available about the personal lives of those 9th cavalrymen who got into trouble. Some of the quiet, efficient black troopers at least get recognized here…and that might be more than they ever expected.

Louis Hart

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