Black Warriors in Indian Territory
by Jimmie White
The contributions of the Black military units that served in Indian Territory during the post-Civil War period are often overlooked when Oklahoma’s past is reconstructed. For the protection of the American frontier several camps and forts were established in the territory. The most outstanding military regiments to be stationed in the future state of Oklahoma were the all Black 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments of the United States Army. These units were created in response to Black Civil War veterans demands that they be allowed to continue their military service after the Civil War. However, the Army’s leadership ignored the distinguished service records of Americans of African descent and were reluctant to give these men the well-earned privilege of peace time service. These military commanders held preconceived assumptions about the ability of Blacks to serve in the role of soldiers, and as a result Black service men received unequal treatment in every aspect of military life. However, the troopers of the 9th and 10th Cavalry overcame the obstacles of prejudice and discrimination. They achieved an excellent
combat record, and provided much needed protection to the Southwest during this turbulent post-Civil War period. When examining the unique history of this nation’s development several examples may be cited of courageous Blacks giving their lives for the cause of liberty. Crispus Attucks, was the first of many of these heroes to die during the American Revolution as he led Boston patriots against the British garrison during the BostonMassacre of 1770. With victory against the British the United States was established but the peace between America and Britain was short lived when the two nations engaged in war once again in 1812. Black heroes, once again, did not hesitate to further serve the cause of liberty by fighting at the Battle of New Orleans. In these wars, Americans of African descent were willing to sacrifice their lives for the principle of liberty which in reality eluded millions of their brothers and sisters. The Confederate’s bombardment of Ft. Sumter April 12, 1861 became the opening shot of the Civil War and would give American’s sable warriors the opportunity to make Liberty for all a reality. When
Abraham Lincoln learned of the attack on the Federal fort he made a call for 75,000 loyal American to volunteer to join the military to crush the Southern rebellion. However, Black men who answered the call were turned away from serving because Lincoln, along with most other White Americans, believed that the waging of war should be conducted only by themselves. However, the unexpected long duration of the conflict, growing man-power shortage in the ranks of the military, and pressure from Frederick Douglas and other Abolitionist’s who demanded that Blacks be allowed to officially serve, caused Lincoln to relinquish and order the Army to form segregated Black regiments. The first of these all Black regiments to be created was established April 12, 1862 when General David Hunter was permitted to form a regiment of ex-slaves from Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. The most famous of the Black regiments established was the 54th of Massachusetts, that Frederick Douglas helped recruit men to serve in. The first of these Black regiments to see official action in the war was the First Kansas
Many young Black men eagerly enlisted for the five-year period atthirteen dollars per month pay plus food, clothing, and shelter.
Colored Infantry formed August 1862 in Ft. Scott, Kansas.General James G.Blunt brought these troops to Ft. Gibson Indian Territory and they engaged the Confederates of Indian Territory July 17, 1863 in the battle of Honey Springs which broke the Confederate’s control of Indian Territory. Throughout the Civil War Black warriors demonstrated their valor in combat and eventually the Union forces prevailed against the treacherous South. With the conclusion of hostilities between the Northern andSouthern states, the nation reverted to its policy of maintaining a small peace-time Army. Within one year the military had been scaled down to its pre-war level. This reduction of the military’s forces created an uncertain future for Black veterans who wished to continue their service since no regular all Black Army units had existed before the Civil War for them to join. Many arguments were made before Congress on behalf of America’s sable warriors to be included in the reorganization of the United States post war military forces. Finally, the Black solder’s continued service was secured July 28, 1866 with President Andrew Johnson’s signing of the act authorizing the formation of the 9th and 10th Cavalries and the 24th and 25th Infantries. However, the creation of the first Black Regular Army units and the prospect of Black soldiers participating in America’s peace-time military was not welcomed by many in the Army’s command.
When General U. S. Grant ordered the formation of the two Black cavalry regiments he recommended that Colonel Edward Hatch be made commander of the 9th and Colonel Benjamin Grierson the commander of the 10th. Colonel Hatch established his headquarters in Greenville, Louisiana and Colonel Grierson’s headquarters was in Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. From these locations, the two commanders had to recruit troopers and officers. Hatch and Grierson encounter difficulty recruiting offices to serve in their units because the Army’s requirement that all officers must be White. It will be many years after the units were formed that the 10th Regiment would receive its first Black officer, Henry O. Flipper, who was the first Black man to graduate from the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York. Most of the White officers that Hatch and Grierson approached to serve with them felt that Blacks were unreliable, fearful, and not in possession of any of the other virtues that a warrior should possess. Therefore, they preferred to receive lower rank and slower promotions to serving with Black men. However, the commanders had no difficulty in recruiting Black personnel. Many young Black men eagerly enlisted for the five year period at thirteen dollars per month pay plus food, clothing, and shelter. They did so because the Army provided many social and economic opportunities that civilian life failed to extend to people of color. However, some of the Army’s command were determined to not provide such progressive opportunities to Blacks. They implemented procedures designed to deter Blacks from enlisting, and to curtail the success of those who insisted on serving despite these obstacles.
General William Hoffman, commander of Ft. Leavenworth, was contemptuous of Black troops and their White officers. Friction soon developed between Colonel Grierson and Hatch because of his Black soldiers. Hoffman did as much as he possibly could to make the 10th Regiment’s assignment at Ft. Leavenworth uncomfortable. This hostile situation would eventually force the 10th Regiment to be transferred to Indian Territory.
Jimmie L. White has been an educator in Oklahoma for nearly 40 years, beginning in 1973 at Capitol Hill Middle School in Oklahoma City. He has taught at Connors State College since 1976 and in 1990 he was appointed to be the Chairman of the Social Sciences Division, making him the first African American to serve as a Division Chair at Connors.