Although the term “Buffalo Soldiers” was first used in the early 1870s in reference to black cavalry troopers, in recent years the term has become synonymous with all enlisted men of African-American descent that served in the frontier Indian Wars Army.
ORGANIZATION OF THE REGIMENTS
Following the Civil War, Congress passed legislation to increase the size of the Regular Army. The Act of Congress, dated July 28, 1866, raised the number of cavalry regiments from six to ten and the number of infantry regiments from nineteen to forty-five. The legislation stipulated that of the new regiments created, two cavalry and four infantry “shall be composed of colored men.”
In compliance with the new law, the Ninth and Tenth U. S. Cavalry Regiments and the Thirty-eighth, Thirty-ninth, Fortieth, and Forty-first U. S. Infantry Regiments were authorized. They were composed of white officers with black enlisted men. In November of 1869, the army reduced the number of infantry regiments. In so doing, regiments were combined. The Thirty-eighth and Forty-first regiments became the new Twenty-fourth U. S. Infantry, while the Thirty-ninth and Fortieth were organized into the new Twenty-fifth U. S. Infantry. From 1867 until 1885 units of the Ninth and Tenth Cavalry Regiments, the Forty-first, Twenty-fourth and Twenty-fifth U. S. Infantry Regiments served at Fort Davis.
BUFFALO SOLDIERS AT FORT DAVIS
Troopers of the Ninth U. S. Cavalry were the first “Buffalo Soldiers” to garrison Fort Davis. On July 1, 1867, Companies C, F, H, and I, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Wesley Merritt, officially reoccupied the post that had been abandoned since 1862. Merritt and the Ninth had a sizeable job ahead of them. In addition to helping to construct a new post, they had the Apache and Comanche Indians to contend with.
A major responsibility was to protect travelers and the mail on the San Antonio-El Paso Road. In so doing, small detachments of men were stationed at a number of stage stations, while other troops were sent out on scouts and patrols.
In 1869, Colonel Edward Hatch replaced Merritt as commander of Fort Davis. During his brief stay, Hatch ordered three separate expeditions against the Mescalero Apaches into the Guadalupe Mountains. All three campaigns involved Ninth Cavalry troopers.
In 1871, Lieutenant William (PecosBill) Shafter led Ninth Cavalry enlisted men on an expedition to a previously un-scouted region of the southern Staked Plains. Although Shafter failed to encounter any Apaches, the Buffalo Soldiers proved that troops could survive in an area almost void of surface water. In September 1875, the Ninth U. S. Cavalry was transferred to New Mexico. The regiment had spent eight years at Fort Davis and other Texas posts.
THE FORTY-FIRST INFANTRY BECOMES PART OF THE TWENTY- FOURTH
Companies B and E of the Forty-first U. S. Infantry arrived at Fort Davis in the spring of 1868. For the next year and one-half, they were involved in regular garrison duties, and scouting and patrolling with the Ninth Cavalry. In November of 1869, when the infantry regiments were reduced and consolidated, Company E became part of the new Twenty-fourth U. S. Infantry and remained at Fort Davis. The Twenty-fourth served at Fort Davis from 1869 to 1872 and again in 1880. The men performed all the usual, tedious, every-day soldier tasks and fatigue details in garrison. In addition, they provided an invaluable service by repairing military telegraph lines, scouting, guarding water holes, escorting government wagon trains, survey parties, freight wagons, and mail coaches.
THE TWENTY-FIFTH INFANTRY
The Twenty-fifth U. S. Infantry, like the Twenty-fourth, was formed during the army’s reduction-in-force of 1869. In July 1870, Companies A and G arrived at Fort Davis. From that summer until the spring of 1880, various companies of the Twenty-fifth served at the post. In their ten- year stay, these infantrymen had numerous accomplishments.
Company E, under the command of Captain David Schooley, was responsible for constructing new roads through Wild Rose Pass and Musquiz Canyon. In December 1876, a large contingent of the regiment marched to “Presidio del Norte, Texas (present-day Presidio) for the purpose of protecting American citizens from aggression by Mexican marauders and
bandits.” Many of the troops
remained in Presidio for more than two months before peace was restored to the town.
Perhaps the most important field work for the Twenty-fifth was completed by the troopers of Company I under the command of Second Lieutenant George Andrews. They constructed ninety-one and one-half miles of telegraph line west from Fort Davis to Eagle Springs (located at Sierra Blanca). The line became a vital communications link and was used by Colonel Benjamin H. Grierson, Tenth U. S. Cavalry, during the subsequent Victorio Campaign.
THE TENTH CAVALRY
Company H of the Tenth Cavalry was ordered to Fort Davis in 1875. For the next ten years, units of the Tenth were stationed at the post, which became headquarters for the regiment in 1882. The mission of the Tenth, like that of the other “Buffalo Soldier” regiments, was to protect the mail and travel routes, control Indian movements, and gain knowledge of the terrain. A major campaign involving the regiment occurred in 1879-1880 when the Apache leader Victorio led a number of followers off a reservation in New Mexico and began raiding in areas of western Texas. Learning that Victorio was in Mexico, Colonel Grierson attempted to prevent him from reentering Texas and especially from reaching New Mexico where the shrewd Apache leader could find more supporters. The campaign called for the biggest military concentration ever assembled in the Trans-Pecos area. Six troops of the Tenth Cavalry and Company H of the Twenty-fourth Infantry were assigned to patrol the area from the Van Horn Mountains, west to the Quitman Mountains, and north to the Sierra Diablo and Delaware Mountains. Major confrontations occurred at Tinaja de las Palmas (a waterhole south of Sierra Blanca) and at Rattlesnake Springs (north of Van Horn). These two engagements halted Victorio and forced him to retreat to Mexico where he was killed by Mexican troops in October 1880.
A REMARKABLE LEGACY
In the history of Fort Davis, African-American troops now known as the “Buffalo Soldiers” amassed a notable record of accomplishments. They arrived at the post in 1867 when western Texas was still very open to attack by raiding Apaches and Comanches. When they left in 1885, peaceful travel and settlement prevailed in much of the region.
Last updated: October 30, 2021