• East view from Crissy Field overlook with old Coast Guard station on left and city on right

    Presidio of San Francisco

    California

Charles Young on Foreign Shores

A leader among the legendary "Buffalo Soldiers", Charles Young (1864-1922) was an African American who served in the segregated U-S Army of the 19th and early 20th centuries.




 
Military attaché Charles Young
Military attaché Charles Young (back row, fourth from right) in either Haiti or Liberia
Courtesy of the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center, Wilberforce, Ohio
 

In the early nineteenth century, African American officers often served as military attachés in foreign countries. Fluent in French and Spanish, Captain Young spent three years as a military attaché in Haiti where he developed maps and gathered military intelligence information.

He also served with the War Department in Washington, D.C. before returning to his cavalry regiment. During this time, Young was promoted to Major and received another assignment as military attaché—this time in Liberia.

In addition to gathering intelligence information in Liberia, Young also organized the constabulary and supervised the construction of roads. In 1916, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People recognized Young's humanitarian service in Liberia by presenting him its most prestigious award, the Springarn Medal.

Meanwhile tensions along the United States-Mexico border were boiling. When Mexican revolutionary leader Pancho Villa raided a town in New Mexico, President Woodrow Wilson ordered General John "Black Jack" Pershing to lead thirteen regiments--including the 10th Cavalry--on a "Punitive Expedition" against Villa.

Now a Squadron Commander with the 10th Cavalry, Major Young had a number of white troop commanders and lieutenants under his command. Major Young led his men deep into Mexico, where they served with distinction at Aguas Calientes and Hacienda Santa Cruz before withdrawing back to the United States.

In July 1916, Young was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in the 10th Cavalry—the second most senior position in the regiment—becoming the first African American to reach that rank in the regular army.

 
Major Charles Young with troops during Mexican Punitive Expedition
Major Charles Young with troops during Mexican Punitive Expedition
Courtesy of the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center, Wilberforce, Ohio
 

Following his return from Mexico, Lieutenant Colonel Young briefly served as post commander of Fort Huachuca, Arizona. The United States was about to enter the World War I in Europe, and many in the African American community felt that Charles Young would command Buffalo Soldier regiments to form the nucleus of an all-black Division in the expanding army.

But when America entered World War I in 1917, all four regiments of black regulars were kept out of the conflict. The 10th Cavalry and the 24th Infantry continued to serve on the Mexican border, while the 9th Cavalry was garrisoned in the Philippines and the 25th Infantry served in Hawaii.

Around this time an officer who had served under Young in Mexico complained to the War Department that, as a southerner, he found it "distasteful to take orders from a black superior." Secretary of War Newton Baker ordered the officer to do his duty or resign, but the Woodrow Wilson overruled his secretary, leading to other complaints. Shortly later, Young was diagnosed with high blood pressure and a chronic kidney inflammation during his annual medical exam and he was medically retired. Young felt that the two events may have been related.

Col. Young returned to Wilberforce University to teach, but he wanted return to the army to lead troops in the war. At the end of the school term, Young rode on horseback from Xenia, Ohio, to Washington, D.C. - nearly 500 miles - to show he was physically OK.

His demonstration worked and on November 6th, 1918, he was promoted to full Colonel and recalled to active duty. Five days later, the Armistice was signed and hostilities in Europe ceased.

The following year, Colonel Young was again appointed military attaché in Africa. It would be his final mission. On January 8, 1922, while on a reconnaissance mission in Nigeria, Charles Young died from a kidney infection. He was buried with full military honors by the British in Nigeria.

Following appeals by his wife, Ada, Young's body was exhumed in 1923 and returned to the United States. On June 1, a funeral entourage of veterans carried him to Arlington National Cemetery, where over 5,000 people gathered to pay their final respects.


Learn more about Charles Young:

Charles Young - Leader of Men
Buffalo Solder Charles Young

The Philippine War - A Conflict of Conscience

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Resources

American Experience in Ohio, Charles Young Collection, "The Feet of Liberian Young Men" http://dbs.ohiohistory.org/africanam/det.cfm?ID=20243

Buckley, Gail. American Patriots, The Story of Blacks in the Military from the Revolution to Desert Storm, Random House, New York, 2001.

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

Mason, Herbert Molloy, Jr., The Great Pursuit, Pershing's Expedition to Destroy Pancho Villa, Konecky & Konecky, New York, N.Y., 1970.

Miller, Stuart Creighton. Benevolent Assimilation, the American Conquest of the Philippines, 1899-1903, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1982.

Schubert, Frank N. On the Trail of the Buffalo Soldiers, Biographies of African-Americans in the U.S. Army, 1866-1917, Scholarly Resources Inc., Wilmington, Delaware, 1995.

Sweeney, W. Allison. History of the American Negro in the Great World War, His Splendid Record in the Battle Zones of Europe, Originally published in 1919 by G.G. Sapp, reprinted in 1969 by Negro Universities Press, A Division of Greenwood Publishing Corp., New York.

Young, Charles. Report of the Acting Superintendent of Sequoia and General Grant National Parks, October 16, 1903.

Did You Know?

Jonathan Letterman

Major Jonathan Letterman--after whom the hospital at the Presidio was renamed in 1911--was the medical director of the Army of the Potomac. A founding father of military medicine, Letterman organized forward first-aid stations, mobile field hospitals, and ambulance services during the Civil War.