Buffalo Soldiers and Baseball

Image features 20 figures of which 18 are African American including: six in "C" sweaters; eight wearing a gray button up jacket w/"Cavalry" embroidered across chest; three wearing jerseys reading "Cavalry" and one of the three officers in top row. Photo
Buffalo Soldier baseball team stationed at West Point circa 1910s. They were known as the 'Cavalry' team.

Public Domain

The U.S. Army and baseball has always been connected. Soldiers played baseball as early as the Civil War. It remained a popular pastime on bases around the country. In 1905, a “Special Baseball Commission” was established to document the development of baseball. The commission attributed its invention to U.S. Army General Abner Doubleday. Doubleday was a West Point graduate and Civil War veteran. Despite lack of evidence, they concluded Doubleday was the founder and that legend continues to this day.

The Buffalo Soldiers played baseball from Alaska to Hawaii and everywhere in between. Baseball was a welcome diversion from the monotony of camp life. It also gave the Buffalo Soldiers an opportunity to connect with local communities through playing area teams.

In May 1900, the Buffalo Soldiers in Company L, Twenty Fourth Infantry made up one of the first three baseball teams in Skagway, Alaska. These three teams played against each other and teams from Bennett and Juneau. A rivalry developed in the newspaper between the Twenty Fourth Infantry team and the "Skagway team" made up of railroad employees and firemen. They played numerous times to great fanfare of the locals in town.

The Buffalo Soldiers of the Twenty Fifth Infantry arrived in Honolulu, Hawaii on January 14, 1913. The morning after their arrival they began a two-day, twenty-three-mile march to Schofield Barracks where they were stationed until 1917. Positive cross-cultural relationships began as the troops marched in local parades and competed with civilian sports leagues. They were perhaps best known for their baseball prowess. Stories about their winning baseball team, the “Wreckers,” were published in the Honolulu newspapers. Several team members later joined the Negro League and one player, Wilber “Bullet” Rogan, was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The “Wreckers” had a reputation of being one of the best amateur baseball teams in the country.

Until 1947 Buffalo Soldiers wanting to play professional baseball played in the Negro Leagues. Major League Baseball owners refused to sign any African American players. That all changed when Jackie Robinson broke the modern day color line on April 15, 1947 when he debuted for the Brooklyn Dodgers. That season five men, Jackie Robinson, Henry Thompson, Willard Brown, Larry Doby, and Daniel Bankhead integrated Major League Baseball. They were all veterans of World War Two and three of the five were Buffalo Soldiers.

Jackie Robinson was drafted into the Army on April 3, 1943. He was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the 761st Tank Battalion. Henry Thompson was drafted into the Army in 1942 and served with the 1695th Combat Engineers. Thompson rose to the rank of Sergeant and was at the Battle of the Bulge. Willard Brown was drafted into the Army in 1943 and served as a member of the Quartermaster Corps. Brown’s role was to transport ammunition to the front lines. Finally, Larry Doby enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1943 at Camp Robert Smalls, Illinois. Doby served aboard the USS Newark in the Pacific Theater during the war. Daniel Bankhead served in the United States Marine Corps Reserves from April 1942 to June 1946. He attained the rank of sergeant. During his time in the Marine Corps, he played on the Montford Point baseball team. This all-Black segregated team toured the country playing games to raise morale.

To learn more about the Buffalo Soldiers with a connection to baseball see the soldier profiles below.

Buffalo Soldiers in Baseball

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    Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument

    Last updated: July 20, 2023