Charles Young and the 9th Ohio Battalion during the Spanish-American War

Black and white photo of African American soldiers kneeling in skirmish drill with rifles to their shoulders.
Ninth Ohio Battalion in skirmish drill at Camp Alger, Virginia. ca. 1898. Photograph.

Library of Congress, item 2002706175.

On February 15, 1898, 250 Americans died when the USS Maine blew up and sank in Havana Harbor, Cuba. Many people in U.S. government and in the press blamed the deaths on the Spanish government, which was fighting to retain its overseas empire. The United States declared war on Spain on April 25, 1898. Americans rallied to the cause of liberating Cuba from Spain with the slogan “Remember the Maine!”

During the spring of 1898, Lieutenant Charles Young was finishing up his four-year detached service assignment at Wilberforce University, where he created and taught military science and tactics. Lieutenant Young had built the program to just over 100 cadets. On April 9, Young wrote to the War Department requesting a return to the Ninth Cavalry. The War Department denied his request. Being denied was common for officers on detached service at the time. Instead, Ohio Governor Asa S. Bushnell appointed Young major of the Ninth Ohio Battalion.

The Ninth Ohio Battalion, originally formed on July 18, 1881, was an all African American regiment. It was the only African American regiment in the entire Ohio National Guard. The battalion prided itself on having all African American officers. Initially, it had two companies, Company A from Springfield, Ohio and Company B from Columbus, Ohio. In 1887, the battalion added a third, Company C, from Xenia, Ohio.

On April 25, 1898, Governor Bushnell mobilized the Ninth Ohio Battalion and had them assemble at Camp Bushnell near Columbus, Ohio. It was here the men started to train together as a group. On May 13, Young was formally appointed a major in the Ohio National Guard and put in command of the Ninth Ohio Battalion. The next day the Ninth Ohio Battalion was federalized into national service. The War Department granted Young leave from the Regular Army so he could lead the Ninth Ohio Battalion.

On May 21, 1898, the Ninth Ohio Battalion arrived at Camp Russell A. Alger in Falls Church, Virginia, with 16 officers and 314 enlisted men. Some of the men were familiar with Major Young’s command style as they previously studied with him in the Wilberforce University military science and tactics program. Young and the men expected a quick transition to the Caribbean given that Camp Alger was used as a staging area for overseas deployment. However, in late June the Ninth Ohio Battalion was chosen as the headquarters guard for Major General W. William Graham. As other units were deployed to the war in Cuba, Graham asked permission to keep Young’s well-trained and disciplined men as part of headquarters guard. The War Department agreed to Graham’s request, which kept Young and the Ninth Ohio from participating in combat during the Spanish-American War.

While at Camp Alger, the Ninth Ohio Battalion met several notable people of the day. These included Judson W. Lyons, a prominent African American lawyer and politician who became register of the treasury under President William McKinley, and Major Charles Douglass, the son of Frederick Douglass. The soldiers preformed Shakespeare’s “MacBeth” for a visiting delegation of Ohio congressional representatives. Renowned poet and author Paul Laurence Dunbar visited the camp to read some of his work. Young and Dunbar had become friends several years earlier when the writer visited Wilberforce University for a speaking engagement. On July 8, the fourth and final company known as Company D, whose men came from the Cleveland area, was added to the Ninth Ohio Battalion.

In August, Young and the Ninth Ohio Battalion received word that Camp Alger was closing. They were charged with helping set up a new camp on August 16, 1898, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, known as Camp Meade. Camp Meade was named after famed Civil War General George Gordon Meade, who was from Pennsylvania and commanded the Federal Army at the Battle of Gettysburg. Shortly after arriving, Corporal James M. Pierce of Company A wrote to The Cleveland Gazette: “Upon our arrival here we found our reputation had proceeded us. People from Harrisburg and neighboring places streamed along the road last Sunday inquiring all the way: ‘Where is the Ninth Battalion?’ I venture to assert without the slightest degree of vanity that we have larger crowds than any other command on the grounds.” The soldiers’ excitement was short-lived. Word reached them that military action in Cuba and Puerto Rico was winding down. With the end of military action, some men were longing for home.

Training did not stop for the men of the Ninth Ohio Battalion. On September 20, The Cleveland Press wrote, “The Ninth Ohio battalion is probably the best drilled and disciplined body of men at Camp Meade. It is under the command of Major Young…Major Young is very strict, but takes good care of his men, and is popular with them.” While in command of the Ninth Ohio Battalion Major Young earned the nickname “Dynamite” from the men.

In October 1898, Ohio Governor Bushnell visited Camp Meade and inspected the Ninth Ohio Battalion as well as the Tenth Ohio. After reviewing the soldiers, he inspected their camps and found everything in excellent order. In early November, the Ninth Ohio Battalion received orders to report to Camp Marion in Summerville, South Carolina.

The Ninth Ohio Battalion arrived at Camp Marion by train on November 21. Major Young published Special Order Number 3 upon arriving at camp. The order stated, “Attention is called to the fact that considerable uneasiness among the people of this section cause by the presence of soldiers here, especially northern soldiers. Company commanders will see that their men do nothing to warrant this and will see every man…understands the necessity of dispelling this opinion by treating all whom they meet with respect and courtesy.” Young’s guidance, along with the mens’ military discipline, led the locals to have no complaint with the Ninth Ohio Battalion.

The Ninth was mustered out of service at Camp Marion on January 29, 1899, after serving nearly 10 months on active duty. Major Young was the assistant commissary of musters and signed the Ninth Ohio Battalion soldiers’ discharges. The men received 30 days’ pay and headed back home to Ohio by train.

Charles Young did not return to Ohio with the rest of the battalion. He was transitioned back to the Regular Army and continued his duties of the assistant mustering officer both in South Carolina and in Macon, Georgia. Young completed his duties in Georgia and returned to Wilberforce in early March 1899. He continued teaching military science and tactics at Wilberforce University until later in 1899 when he rejoined the Ninth Cavalry at Fort Duchesne in Utah.

Want to learn more about Charles Young and the Ninth Ohio during the Spanish-American War? Read “Black Officer in a Buffalo Soldier Regiment: The Military Career of Charles Young” by historian and author Brian G. Shellum.

Click here to learn more about the Buffalo Soldiers during the Spanish-American War

Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument

Last updated: November 2, 2022