Huachuca Illustrated, vol 1, 1993:

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U.S. Army Lifestyles at Huchuca in the 1920s:
Relationships Between Officers and Men

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The relationships between the black troops and their white Officers was pretty much the same as in any Regular Army unit: "They either liked you or they disliked you. There was no half way between. If they liked you, they'd follow you to the ends of the Earth and do everything they could to prove their loyalty. If they disliked you, they were indifferent and made no bones about hiding their dislike. "

Two Officers' View

At Fort Huachuca in 1928, they had a commander (Douglas McCaskey, Colonel, 10th Cavalry) whom, according to Matte, they did not like.

When I first arrived at Fort Huachuca the personnel were in a bit of an uproar. The commanding officer had decided to tear down all the shacks that had been standing there for years as housing for enlisted men who were not entitled to quarters. Well, he decided he was going to get rid of those, clean out the post, and have all enlisted men who were not supposed to be on the post have them take their wives out. This was a very serious problem at Fort Huachuca because there was no place for them to go unless they took them all the way to Douglas and Nogales. And that was a very big decision for a soldier to make who did not have the grade to pay for it.

Another order that came out was that every woman who was not employed as a domestic on the post, or in some capacity, would have to leave if her husband was not entitled to quarters. These people had lived there, some of them had been born there, over the years and it was a heartbreaking situation that affected the morale of the married people, though not necessarily the soldiers themselves.

One instance that hurt the morale was one day we were going out to drill and the commanding officer saw two civilians standing on the dump...These two men told the colonel "We come to visit Sergeant So and So who is in charge of this dump. We're retired non-commissioned officers." And the colonel says, "Well, when I retire, I'm not going to stand by any dump! And you folks had better get off the post!"

... They got off the post all right. But not only did they get off the post, they wrote a letter to General Pershing who, it seems, had had service with the 10th Cavalry. They also went to Tucson and Phoenix and told their story and this story was published. Then, eventually, Washington took notice and the commanding officer was asked to retire because they did not feel that his retention was for the good service of the 10th Cavalry.(53)

Captain Matte summed up his feelings about serving with the 10th Cavalry at Fort Huachuca in this way:

I would say that service with the troops was very rewarding and you couldn't help but feel some degree of satisfaction. When you'd go on overnight hikes and you'd be laying [sic] down in your tent you could hear these soldiers around the bonfire, laughing and having a hilarious time, sure that their morale was good and that they were satisfied with their life. They had pride in their organization and very few did anything to dishonor it.(54)

A shanty and tent city along Huachuca Creek for soldier's families.
Photo courtesy Walter J. Markel, son of Capt. Julius W. Markel,
a construction quartermaster at Huachuca from late 1918-1920.

Vance W. Batchelor was a captain with the 10th Cavalry at Fort Huachuca from 1929 to 1931. He later remembered:

Most of the men of the 10th Cavalry were "old timers." The privates, the corporals, and the sergeants knew their duties in the organization and performed them with skill. There was little teaching that had to be done by the white officers. The enlisted men wanted the officers to look and act like officers and to interfere with the administration as little as possible. Once I was taken to task for sitting down to the typewriter in the orderly room. I was told by an old sergeant that the troop preferred that the troop commander did not use the typewriter. I told him he was right and left the orderly room.

Captain Batchelor had other memories of the fort just before the 10th was replaced by the 25th.

The colored troops were very conscious of seniority which they understood and wanted carried out. I had an opening in my troop for a corporal. The senior private was a soldier named Birnie. But Birnie had been on special duty as a telephone operator for more than a year. He drilled only once a week. However he never gave any trouble and was neat and reliable. I called him in the orderly room and asked him, "Birnie, you are the senior private. I have a corporal to make. You have been on special duty for a long time and away from the troop. If I make you corporal do you think that you can come back to the troop and handle the job?"

His reply, "Well, sir, I feel about the way you would feel if an inspector from Washington came down here and asked you if you thought that you could handle the job as Chief of Cavalry."

My reply, "You are a corporal."

The colored soldier's passive resistance is beyond description. One Thanksgiving, one of the troop commanders did something or said something which offended the troop. When time came for the Thanksgiving dinner, not a soldier in that troop showed up. No one there but the officers and their families and the cooks, and lots of turkey. A subsequent investigation brought out the testimony from every mother's son in that troop that they were invited by a pal in another troop to eat with him.

Capt. Paul Matte on the parade field at Huachuca in 1928. Photo courtesy Col. Paul Matte, Jr., US Army Ret.

Men of the Machine Gun Troop, 10th Cavalry, seated in front of their mounts loaded with gun components, at Huachuca in about 1928. Photo courtesy Col. Paul Matte, Jr., U.S. Army Ret.

As I have said, the enlisted men knew their jobs and did them well. The trouble came about by the fights they had among themselves. And devious, diabolical, and violent they were. One night my charge of quarters called me by phone and asked me to come over to the troop. My supply sergeant had thrown a can of lye into the face of a sleeping recruit. The scream had brought the whole troop to their feet and they were milling around and I had better come over. I went by the hospital first to see the recruit. I never believed that he would be able to see again. His whole face was a mass of bubbles and dead skin. When I got to the troop the supply sergeant denied the whole thing. Furthermore, by that time no one would admit knowing who threw the lye, not even the charge of quarters, who said he didn't really see it, some one told him, but he could not remember who. I sensed that everyone was frightened of the supply sergeant and they did not dare to talk. I told the troop to go to bed and that I'd finish the investigation in the morning. I went back to my quarters and went to sleep. I was awakened the second time by the charge of quarters who said, "I'm sorry to have to call you again, captain, but the whole troop is up, fully dressed and out of control. You'll have to come."

"All right," I said. "Fall the troop out in front of the barracks and I'll be right over." When I got there, there was a black troop, on a black night, standing at attention. I called out the name of a private who was helper to the supply sergeant, and told him to go to the store room and bring a rifle and seven rounds of ammunition. When he came back I had him load the rifle in front of the troop. Then I ordered the supply sergeant to take three paces to the front. I told the private to march the sergeant up to the guard house and turn him in. I turned to the troop and said, "I am through fooling! You stand at attention until he returns!" When the private came back I asked him what he had done and he said, "Sir, I have turned the sergeant in to the guard house!" I then said to the troop, "Now you go to bed and stay there. If you don't I'll get that battalion of colored Infantry to put you to bed." I turned on my heel and went home.

Next morning I reported the whole affair to my squadron commander. I recommended that the sergeant not be tried by court-martial, because I did not believe that there was a man in my troop who dared to testify against him, and if they did the sergeant would likely kill them. My squadron commander agreed. The sergeant worked under guard cheerfully and took good care of my property. In about two months I thought that the whole thing had blown over and I turned the sergeant loose. The recruit recovered nicely without even a scar.(55)

Two Noncoms' View

First Sergeant Vance Marchbanks remembered his pre-World War I experience with the 10th and noted the closeness of men and officers at that time.

... The officers and the enlisted men of the 10th Cavalry then felt the common touch of comradeship and mutual helpfulness, which rarely existed a few years later. ...Up to the time the regiment went into Mexico with Gen. John J. Pershing in 1916, the 10th Cavalry was like one large family. However the officers were of a different race they possessed a devotion for the black trooper rarely.ever attained except through long contact under various conditions. We had served in the Philippines together, came around the world on the same transport, our children had attended the same school in Vermont and the wife of one of our officers had taught Sabbath school.

The Tenth Cavalry was just like a large family-men were loyal and devoted to their officers. They would die for them and by them.(56)

At the Battle of Carrizal in 1916, several African-American noncommissioned officers did stand by their dying officers.

George Looney, who's experiences of Huachuca date from the 1930s when he was both a dependent and a private, had this opinion of the relationship between officers and men.

I should say now that the white officers in those days were an entirely different breed than those that were to come with World War II. There were exceptions, but as a rule most of them were West Pointers. All knew of the excellent fighting records of the regular black Cavalry and Infantry and were glad to be a part of these units.(57)

Bachelors' mess at Officers'Club in 1920. From left to right: Unknown lieutenant, Capt. Bailey, Sampson, Boon, waiter named triplet, Brack, unknown, Burch, Reyer. Photo courtesy George William Reyes who served at the Fort Huachuca hospital from 1920 to 1921.


53. Matte manuscript in FHM files.

54. Matte mss.

55. Batchelor manuscript in FHM files.

56. Marchbanks manuscript in FHM files.

57. Motley, Mary Penick, The Invisible Soldier. The Experience of the Black Soldier in World War Wayne State University Press, 1975

22. First Sergeant Vance Hunter Marchbanks

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