Men A-Marching: The African-American Soldier in the West, 1866-1896, by John Langellier, Stephen Wright Publishing, Springfield, Mass., 1995, $14.95 paperback.
In Western movies, blue-clad cavalrymen and infantrymen have almost always been white men. In truth, many black Americans served on the Western frontier after the Civil War; the U.S. Army offered them something not easily found elsewhere–a job. Congress created six segregated black units in 1866, the 9th and 10th Cavalry regiments and four infantry regiments. A military reorganization three years later resulted in the consolidation of the infantry units into the 24th and 25th Infantry (see story, P. 54). Through the rest of the 19th century, the two black infantry regiments and two black calvary regiments constituted what author John Langellier calls “a significant percent of the men who wore the army uniform in the West.” Other historians, such as William Leckie, Arlen Fowler and Frank Schubert, have written well about the “buffalo soldiers”–a name that Langellier says “has come to be associated with all black military personnel in the West, whether mounted or afoot.” Langellier, however, does a service to anyone new to this fascinating subject (or who wants to go back to it) by making the assorted information about buffalo soldiers more readily accessible with his 52-page pictorial history. Of particular interest is a section on black regimental chaplains, who in addition to their religious duties also saw to the education of the black troops. There is also a section on the three 19th-century black graduates from West Point–Henry O. Flipper, John Hanks Alexander and Charles Young. Despite bigotry in various forms, the black soldiers generally proved to be patriotic and dependable, and black units generally had fewer deserters than white units. During the Indian wars (1870-1890), 416 men received the Medal of Honor; the 18 who were black are listed in an appendix to Langellier’s concise, well-illustrated work.