Huachuca Illustrated, vol 1, 1993:
Buffalo Soldiers at Huachuca:
Cadres from Huachuca in World War I
New York's own 369th marched in mass formation down Fifth Avenue upon their return from Europe. The New York Times reported on February 18, 1919: "New York's Negro soldiers, bringing with them from France one of the bravest records achieved by any organization in the war, marched amid waving flags National Archives photo.
During the Great War some 404,348 blacks served, among them 1,353 officers and 14 Army nurses. The four regular Army regiments, like the 10th Cavalry at Fort Huachuca, stayed at home along the Mexican border. The best-remembered units fighting in France were the two infantry divisions, the 92d and the 93d,
But there were also blacks doing hard work in stevedore, quartermaster, and pioneer infantry units as well. The French Croix de Guerre was awarded to three 93d Division regiments and to a company of the fourth regiment. The 1st Battalion of the 367th Regiment, 92d Division, also received the French government's award for valor.(20)
In World War 1, the 93d Division had 584 killed from a total of more than 3,000 casualties, a casualty rate of 35 percent. The 92d lost 176 killed in action and had a total of 2,000 casualties .(21)
The press, both black and white, had been unstinting in its praise of the service of black troops in France. Writing about the 371st Infantry Regiment, part of the 93d Division operating with the French, the United Press reported:
American Negro troops proved their value as fighters in the line east of Verdun on June 12.... The Germans attempted a raid in that sector but were completely repulsed by the Negroes. The Boches began a terrific bombardment at one minute after midnight (throwing between 3,000 and 4,000 shells from guns ranging in size from 67 to 340 millimeters). The bombardment was concentrated on small areas. Many of the shells made holes from ten to fifteen feet across.
In the midst of the inferno the Negroes coolly stuck to their posts, operating machine guns and automatic rifles and keeping up such a steady barrage that the German infantry failed to penetrate the American lines. The Americans miraculously sustained only two wounded.(22)
The lead article for the Pittsburgh Chronicle Telegram added:
"The colored troops fought nobly." That was more than half a century ago. They "fought nobly" in the Plains, in the islands of the Pacific and the Atlantic, wherever they have been called upon to fight.... And now in France they are living up to the reputation they have won on other, far distant fields.(23)
The Literary Digest added its prestige to the list of journals recognizing the contributions of the black fighting troops.
Exceptional tho the award of the coveted French War Cross may be, the deeds of valor by which this Negro regiment (the 369th) won it are less exceptional than typical of the way in which all our colored troops measured up to the demands of war. This is the verdict of newspaper correspondents and of soldiers invalided home from the Western Front. Survivors of the fighting now arriving In New York have "nothing but praise for the colored troops," writes a reporter In the New York EvenIng Sun. "They proved their valor on countless occasions, and it was one of the common stories that Jerry feared the 'Smoked Yankees' more than any other troops he met."(24)
Four officers of the 366th Infantry returning on the Aquitania from action in France.
Left to right: Lt. C. L. Abbot, S.D.; Capt. Joseph L. Lowe, Pacific Grove, Calif.,
Lt. A. R. Fisher, Lyles, Ind., winner of Distinguished Service Cross; and Capt. E. White, Pine Bluff, Ark.
But all were not unanimous in their praise of black soldiers. These segregated minority units had been, and always would be until segregation was ended in the Army, under close scrutiny by both the black and white communities. They would be the victims of rumor, innuendo, and generalizations. Despite evidence of unquestioned heroism, their courage under fire would always be attacked. And serious charges would always be levelled about their performance.
Two black junior officers, William M. Colson and A. B. Nutt, joined in the condemnation of the 92d Division as a failure. But they laid the causes at the feet of the white military hierarchy whom they accused of discrimination and mistreatment. Their criticisms were printed in the September 1919 edition of The Messenger, in which they maintained: "The Ninety-Second Division was a tragic failure. It was a failure in organization. It was a failure in morale. It was a failure in accomplishment. The Negro division was the object of special victimization, superimposed upon its sacrifice."
To support their thesis, the authors pointed to the fact that the men assigned to the division were "the most ignorant and physically disqualified Negroes in the United States." The division was fragmented, units trained at separate locations, and, once in France, committed piecemeal to varying sectors, never coming together as a division until near the end of the war. Commissions to Negro officers were handed out unfairly, based on favoritism rather than merit. Historian Ulysses Lee summarized the indictment:
... it was charged that the men were kept out of schools, leaves were prohibited; rather than training, the men spent their time at police duties, staff officers were changed constantly; white officers were transferred into the division and out again as soon as they had obtained desired promotions, Negro officers were "terrorized" by wholesale arrests and transfers, officers. untrained in the duties of those arms, were assigned to artillery and the engineers, then blamed for having failed; the division went into its sectors without the proper equipment and into the short Argonne engagement without proper briefing, artillery support, rifle grenades, wire cutters, or horses. The enthusiasm of the whole division was dampened by restrictions placed upon the contacts of the men with French civilians. "The sole charge of the division staff was to make the life of the Negro soldier unendurable." The old Regular Army enlisted men, now officers, assisted in breaking the morale of the division in an effort to "curry favor." There were a few officers whom the men respected; as for the rest, "the division had no trust in them."(25)
Colson and Nutt claimed that the division, while an organizational failure, could not be said to have failed in combat since it "never had its mettle tried." For the overall failure of the 92d, they called for the court-martial of Maj. Gen. Charles C. Ballou, the unit's commander.
But General Ballou could not be blamed for all of these failures; many were the result of Army policy. Ballou himself was well aware of the handicaps under which the division was laboring. After the war he wrote:
The Secretary of War gave his personal attention to the selection of the white officers of the higher grades, and evidently intended to give the Division the advantage of good white officers. This policy was not continued by the War Department ... the 92d ... was made the dumping ground for discards, both white and black. Some of the latter were officers who had been eliminated as inefficient, from the so-called 93d Division....
In the last battle of the war the Division did some very aggressive work, so far as the companies were concerned, and the same could have been done in the Argonne had there not been too much eagerness to got the Negroes out while their credit was bad, as many preferred it should remain.
The colonel of one regiment came to me, at the request of his officers, to beg me to send them to the front, and pledging me to a man that they would go to the rear only on my order, or on a stretcher. Those men would have been dangerous at that time, and ought not to have been humiliated by being sent to the rear.
To officer a Division in which the best possible leadership was required, only one-half as many students were summoned to the training camp as were summoned from which to select the officers of a white Division. [College degrees were required for admission to the white camp but] only high school educations were required for...the colored ... and in many cases these high school educations would have been a disgrace to any grammar school.
For the parts of a machine requiring the finest steel, pot metal was provided.
Jazz band leader Lt. James Reese returns home from Europe with his regiment, the 369th Infantry (15th NY), here shown on ship deck on February 12, 1919. Ulysses Lee wrote: "Even the regimental band, the band that introduced jazz to France, came in for high praise." According to The Independent and Harper's Weekly of March 1, 1919, "it was considered one of the four best in the world, ranking with the British Grenadiers, the Garde Republicaine, and the Royal Italian bands." National Archives photo.
Remarks like General Ballou's were part of the testimony collected from white officers from the 92d and some officers from separate regiments in the 93d by the Army War College following the war. The preponderance of white regimental commanders and divisional staff officers felt the performance by Negroes in combat had been a failure and that "the Negro should not be used as a combat soldier." A sampling of their opinions follows:
"...a period of training at least twice as long as is necessary In the training of white troops --- otherwise they should be used as pioneer or labor troops."
"As fighting troops, the Negro must be rated as second class material, this due primarily to his inferior intelligence and lack of mental and moral qualities."
"The Negro as an officer is a failure, and this applies to all classes of Negro officers, whether from the Regular Army or from the Officers' Training Camp."
There were a few dissenting views. The commander of the 370th Infantry, Col. Thomas A. Roberts was one of the few white officers who led a unit with all black officers with the exception of himself. He wrote: "I found the men of the 370th Infantry generally amenable to discipline, exceedingly uncomplaining under hardship, and the majority willing and ready to follow an officer anywhere at any time.... Of course there was a large amount of illiteracy, which complicated the non-commissioned officers' problem." He credited the regiment's success to "the influence of a few good men, [officers who] were loyal, hardworking, and reliable men..." But he thought that most of the black officers displayed a "lack of sense of responsibility and of initiative." This he attributed to segregation in training.
... men of the two races should be compared, and if the Negro suffers from the comparison, he should not be commissioned. As I understand the question, what the progressive Negro desires today is the removal of discrimination against him; that this can be accomplished in a military sense I believe to be largely possible, but not if the men of the two races are segregated.
In saying the foregoing, I appreciate the tremendous force of the prejudice against association between Negroes and whites, but my experience has made me believe that the better element among the Negroes desires the removal of the restriction rather than the association itself.
Another white commander concluded that black units should be retained but in smaller formations.
Personally, I think it is a waste of time to consider whether we shall have colored troops and colored officers. It is quite possible that in the future as in the past circumstances will compel us to have both.
I think our past policy of massing them by themselves has not been wise. I believe under conditions as they are this policy should be modified by doing away with the colored regiments and putting a colored unit in every regiment, said unit not to be smaller than a company and not larger than a battalion. I believe in having colored officers for these colored units to the extent that suitable colored personnel are available under the conditions qualifying for the position of an Army officer.
But the majority opinion of those surveyed by the Army War College was damaging to the reputation of the black soldier, and although conditioned by the prevailing prejudice of the time, Army policy would be influenced by studies of this type and be hesitant to field black combat units in the next war. Efforts by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), specifically by W. E. B. DuBois who was then the editor of The Crisis, the journal of the NAACP, to counterbalance this impression went largely unnoticed outside of the black community. The Crisis printed in May 1919 an issue that included documentary evidence of discrimination in the American Expeditionary Force (AEF). This issue was banned from the mails by the Post Office Department. The magazine collected testimonials from American and French officers citing the "efficiency and good conduct of Negro troops." According to Lee, the evidence would reveal:
(1) Negro soldiers and officers performed well when given a chance to do so; (2) if they did not perform well it was because of faulty white leaders too preoccupied with their own prejudices to perform their military jobs well; and (3) Negro soldiers and officers, especially in the latter, performed jobs better than they were credited with doing. Credit had to be withheld, for otherwise there could be no justification for denying full rights and privileges as citizens to Negroes who had won their position as Americans and as capable leaders on the field of battle.(26)
Officers from the 370th Infantry (8th Illinois), 93d Division, returning from France in 1918.
Left to right: Major J.R. White, Lt. Col. Otis B. Duncan, and Lt. W. J. Warfield.
All received the French Croix de Guerre. Lt.Warfield received the
American Distinguished Service Cross also.
The controversy was rekindled in 1925 with the publication of the memoirs of Maj. Gen. Robert L. Bullard, commander of the American 2d Army. In his diary kept during the war he penned:
Poor Negroesl They are hopelessly inferior. I've been talking with them individually about their division's (lack of success, That (lack of) success is not troubling them. With everyone feeling and saying that they are worthless as soldiers, they are going on quite unconcernedly.
The poor 92d Negroes wasted time and dawdled where they did attack, and at some places where they should have attacked, never budged at all.
If you need combat soldiers, and especially if you need them in a hurry, don't put your time upon Negroes. The task of making soldiers of them and fighting with them, if there are any white people near, will be swamped in the race question. If racial uplift or racial equality is your purpose, that is another matter.
DuBois fired back, blaming people like Bullard in the Army leadership for the defamation suffered by black veterans. "Nothing would have been more fatal to their plans than a successful Negro regiment officered by Negroes.... The Negro-haters entrenched in the Army at Washington began, therefore, a concerted campaign [of slander]. Bullard voices the re-vamped lie which was plotted in 1918."(27)
The 367th Infantry had fought creditably at the Battle of Metz on November 10, 1918. Its commander was a white Louisianan who had served eighteen of his twenty-one years in the Army with black troops. Col. James Moss had this to say about his men:
If properly trained and instructed, the colored man makes as good a soldier as the world has ever seen. This history of the Negro in all our wars, including the Indian Campaigns, shows this. He is by nature of a happy disposition; he is responsive and tractable; he is amenable to discipline, he takes pride in his uniform; he has faith and confidence in his leader, he possesses physical courage --- all of which are valuable military assets.
Make the colored man feel you have faith in him. Be strict with him but treat him fairly and justly making him realize that in your dealings with him he will always be given a square deal. Commend him when he does well and punish him when he is refractory---that is to say, let him know he will always know that he will get what is coming to him be it reward or punishment.
In other words, treat and handle the colored man as you would any other human being out of whom you would make a soldier, and you will have as good a soldier as history has ever known.(28)
That conclusion was borne out by the performance of African-American soldiers in every war the United States had or wouldfight, despite repeated attempts to keep alive the old myth of racial inferiority.
20. Lee, Ulysses G., The Employment of Negro Troops, Chief of Military History, Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 1969,5,7.
21. Foner, Jack, Blacks and the Military in American History. A New Perspective, Praeger, NY, 1974,123.
22. Lee, 6.
23. Lee, 6.
24. Lee, 8.
25. Lee, 12-3.
26. Lee, 11 -19.
27. Lee, 15.
28. Quoted in Emmet Scott, The American Negro in the World War, p.194.
10. Post World War I Racial Awareness
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