NEWBERRY COUNTY — National Buffalo Soldiers Day, instituted in 1992 to commemorate the first peacetime regiment of African American soldiers in the U.S. Army, was celebrated last Thursday, just as it has been since 1992.
And even though the celebration, held every year on July 28 since 1992, didn’t make national headlines, the Buffalo Soldiers’ place in history is newsworthy.
Formed by a Congressional act in 1866, Buffalo Soldiers fought in conflicts around the world until they were disbanded in 1952 following the Army’s desegregation, according to www.history.com.
The first Buffalo Soldiers were African Americans who were members of the 10th Cavalry Regiment, but the term was eventually used for the 9th Cavalry Regiment, the 24th Infantry Regiment and the 25th Infantry Regiment, all of which were staffed with African American soldiers.
The exact origins of the name are unknown, but one prevailing theory is that the troops were given the name Buffalo Soldiers by the Comanche based on their toughness in battle. Given the tribe’s high respect for buffalo, the soldiers wore the nickname with pride.
On the first Buffalo Soldiers Day in 1992, a monument was dedicated at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., by Gen. Colin Powell.
In 2005, Sgt. Mark Matthews, at the time the oldest living Buffalo Soldier, died at the age of 111.
Born in 1894, Matthews falsified documents to enlist in the Army at age 16, a year ahead of the minimum required age. Matthews served mainly along the U.S.-Mexico border and participated in the 1916 expedition into Mexico to hunt down the legendary Mexican bandit and revolutionary Pancho Villa.
Later he saw action in the Pacific during WWII before retiring from the military in 1949. “I did it all,” Matthews told the Washington Post in an interview. “Yes, I was there.”
A museum dedicated to the Buffalo Soldiers is located in Houston, Texas, with a mission to “educate the public and to preserve, promote and perpetuate the history, tradition and outstanding contributions of America’s Buffalo Soldiers from the Revolutionary War to the present.”
The museum reminds visitors that although the first peacetime regiments were not formed until after the Civil War, African American soldiers have fought for our country in various conflicts since its founding.
At least 18 Medals of Honor, the nation’s highest military distinction, were awarded to Buffalo Soldiers during the Western Campaigns of the latter half of the 19th century and an additional 23 prior to that during the Civil War.
Reach Carson Lambert at 803-276-0625, ext. 1868, or on Twitter @TheNBOnews.