The Black Military Experience in the American West

 

BME Front Cover

This is one of those wonderful books that I have only as a consequence of my friendship with Jim and his wife who run the Alla Book Store in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It is really quite a treasure as it was printed in a limited edition of only 100 copies.

There are several dozen excellent illustrations, of which these are just a sample:

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This is the story of the 4 all Black units of the American Army which were created after the Civil War for service in the west: the Ninth and Tenth Cavalry Regiments and the Twenty-Fourth and the Twenty-Fifth Infantry Regiments. It probably contains just about every thing that was written at the time about the men who served along with some very well done.

In a way it is a bit of a tragic story of men who had won their release from slavery then being involved with the destruction of another ethnic group, the Native Americans. Of course, noone thought of it that way at the time.

It starts by recounting the legends related to the first black men to enter the historical records in the New World…stories that I had run into before. I knew right away that I was in for a treat as the version in this book held true to all that I had read before and told the stories in a most entertaining way. Kinda gruesome in parts, as history really is, but well done.

Due to the limitations of the available material, most of the story centers around the Tenth Calvary Regiment as it was the only unit with an actual historian.

After the introduction, the chapters that follow are:

  • Action on the Frontier
  • The Officers and the Enlisted Men
  • Some Heroic Individuals
  • The Medal of Honor Winners
  • Black-White Relations on the Frontier
  • A New Breed of Frontier Soldier

There are lots of interesting stories taken from first-hand experiences that make great reading and give one an appreciation of just how hard a life these men lived and what superior soldiers they became. Particularly interesting are the official statements associated with the awards of the Medal of Honor to a significant number of the men.

The sad part is the poor way these men were treated as they returned to civilian live or had to interact with the White communities, almost exclusively in the South where segregation was gradually implemented and race relations degenerated. This was particularly ugly as the need to patrol in the West lessened and the units were brought back East. It is a sorry fact that relations got uglier and uglier as time went on.

My only issue with anything in the book is related to the eventual desegregation of the US Army and how it was accomplished. The book give all the credit to Truman which is historically incorrect. He did in fact issue an Executive Order to desegregate the Army but took few steps to actually implement the change. Eisenhower gets the real credit for doing that. Small nit to pick I suppose.

A couple of things I noted:

  • There were 170,000 Black men who served in the Union Army…many more that I thought
  • The desertion rate among the White units at this time ran as high as 25% per year…in the Black units, desertion was almost unknown.

All in all…most interesting and a really fine read.

 

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