...Chapter II

...The Call to the Colors


Negro Troops That Were Ready When War Was Declared---The Famous 9th and 10th Cavalry, U. S. Army---The 24th and 25th Infantry---National Guard Units of Colored Troops---The 8th Illinois---The 15th New York-National Guard Units of Ohio, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland and Tennessee---First Separate, Battalion of the District of Columbia---How All of These Responded to the Call.

Nearly 400,000 Negro Soldiers served in the United States Army in the Great World War. About 367,710 of these came into the service through the operation of the Selective Draft Law. How this selective draft operated and how the Negro responded to the call to the colors, will be discussed in another chapter. It is a matter of pride, however, to realize that at the instant of the declaration of war, there were nearly 20,000 soldiers of, the Negro race, in the United States, uniformed, armed, equipped, drilled, trained and ready to take the field against the foe. Proportionately to the total Negro population of America, this was a splendid showing.

Many of these Negro soldiers of the Regular Army and the National Guard bad already seen as long and as active service in the field as any of the Regular Army or National Guard regiments of white soldiers. About 10,000 of these Negro troops that were ready when war was declared were in the original four colored regiments of the Regular Army. Of these, the most famous are the 9th and 10th Cavalry. It was the 9th and 10th Cavalry, the Negro troops of the U. S. Regular Army, that saved the day at San Juan Hill for Colonel Roosevelt's Rough Riders, and helped to give him much of his military prestige and fame. The story of the famous charge of these black troops who rushed the Spanish stronghold, singing "There'll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight," is a familiar story to everyone.

In the war with Spain, in the Philippines, on the Mexican Border, these Negro troops and the two colored infantry regiments of the Regular Army, the 24th and the 25th, won high distinction and merited praise.

Besides these 10,000 Negro soldiers already in the Regular Army, there were nearly 10,000 more in the National Guards of several States, such organizations as the 8th Illinois, the 15th New York, the First Separate Battalion of the District of Columbia, the First Separate Company of Maryland, the 9th Battalion of Ohio, the First Separate Company of Connecticut, Co. L of Massachusetts National Guard and Co. G of the Tennessee National Guard. Some of these, when the United States became a belligerent in the World War, had only recently seen service on the Mexican border.

In the regular army one colored man, Charles Young, of Wilberforce, Ohio, a graduate of West Point, rose to the rank of Colonel, prior to his recent retirement the highest rank attained by any colored man. Benjamin Oliver Davis, of Washington, D. C., rose from the ranks, entering during the Spanish- American War, to Lieutenant-Colonel, and is now stationed with the 9th U. S. Cavalry in the Philippines. Walter H. Loring, retired, another Washingtonian, served with distinction as bandmaster of the Philippines Constabulary Band, and is now a Major. Several colored chaplains of the Regular Army retired with rank of Major, as did one paymaster, Major John R. Lynch, of Chicago. Col. Young was U. S. Military Attaché in the Republic of Haiti, and Lieut.-Col. Davis served in a similar capacity in the Republic of Liberia. Quite a number of colored men were Colonels and Majors in the various National Guard organizations.

Colored Guard Units Called

The Negro people have always taken particular pride in the records of the four Regular Army units, and they were gratified beyond measure that when war was declared April 6, 1917, there became immediately available not only the. Regular Army military units but also the National Guard units, to which reference has been made.

According to the records of the War Department, the Colored National Guard units were called into Federal service as follows:

1st Separate Battalion, District of Columbia National Guard, March 25, 1917; 50 officers, 929 men; Medical Corps attached with 5 officers, 21 men.

1st. Separate Company, Maryland, July 25, 1917, 3 officers, 154 men.

1st Separate Company, Connecticut, July 31, 1917, 1 officer, 136 men; I officer, 4 men attached.

1st Separate Company, Massachusetts (Co. L), August 5, 1917, 3 officers, 150 men.

9th Separate Battalion, Ohio, August 5, 1917, 14 officers, 600 men; 1. officer, 7 men attached.

8th Illinois Regiment, July 25, 1917, 42 officers, 1,405 men.

15th New York Regiment, July 25, 1917, 54 officers, 2,053 men.

All of those units were afterwards brought up to full strength.

The 15th New York went into final training at Camp Wadsworth, Spartanburg, S. C., where the New York National Guard units were trained; the 8th Illinois went into training at Camp Logan, Houston, Texas, along with the Illinois National Guard; the Separate Battalion of the State of Ohio at Camp Sheridan, Montgomery, Alabama, where the Ohio National Guard units were trained; while the various National Guard Companies of Massachusetts, Maryland, and Tennessee were eventually amalgamated with the troops here mentioned at Camp Stuart, Newport News, Virginia, from which point these units were sent overseas as members of the 93d Division (Provisional), under command of Brigadier General Roy Hoffman.

At the beginning of the war the War Department apparently was uncertain as to just exactly what attitude it should take with reference to having Negroes enlist. Eager youths of the race volunteered their services, but after the four regular military units had been brought up to their proper strength, Negro enlistment was discouraged. A sample of the kind of thing which served to discourage the colored people in the early days of the war was reflected in the following Associated Press telegram, which was sent out from Richmond, Virginia, April 24, 1917:


"Richmond, Va., April 24.---No more Negroes will be accepted for enlistment in the United States Army at present. This was the order received by Major Hardeman, officer in charge of the recruiting station here, from the War Department. 'Colored organizations filled,' was the explanation."

The Negro press and Negro leaders generally became insistent and pressure began to reach the War Department from all parts of the country to make provision for colored troops. The attitude of the Negro people was reflected in the editorial expressions of the colored newspapers. Up to the time of the war there had been among colored people generally a great deal of hostility to the administration at Washington, which was regarded as unfriendly to them, and this attitude of mind is reflected in many of the editorial expressions which then appeared in the colored newspapers.

Negro Troops in the Post of Honor

Of particular interest to Negro Americans, however, is the fact that on March 25, 1917, the Secretary of War, by order of the President, called the First Separate Battalion, District of Columbia Infantry, National Guard, to the colors to defend the National Capital. This was even before a formal declaration of war. The telegram follows:

Official Business
Washington, D. C.

2557669 AGO

March 25, 1917.

To Brigadier-General William E. Harvey,
.....Commanding General District of Columbia National Guard,
.....Washington, District of Columbia.

Having in view the necessity of affording a more perfect protection against the interference with postal, commercial, and military channels and instrumentalities of the United States in the District of Columbia and being unable with the regular troops available at his command to insure the faithful execution of the laws of the Union in this regard, the President has thought proper to exercise the authority vested in him by the Constitution and laws and to call out the National Guard necessary for the purpose.

I am, in consequence, instructed by the President to call into the service of the United States forthwith, through you, the following units of the National Guard of the District of Columbia, which the President desires shall be assembled at the places to be designated to you by the Commanding General, Eastern Department, now at Governor's Island, New York, and which said Commanding General has been directed to communicate to you:

First Separate Battalion District of Columbia Infantry, National Guard.

.........................Secretary of War.

Brigadier-General Harvey at once issued orders for the First Separate Battalion to be mobilized for instruction and muster. Before breakfast following the issuance of this order of March 25, 1917, the entire strength of the battalion was ready for orders and assembled at its armory under command of Major James E. Walker, a colored officer.

The battalion was placed in charge of watching the water supply system, guarding six immense reservoirs, the Potomac River projects, and the various power plants of the District of Columbia, to counter any possible scheme of enemy aliens interfering with these projects and various utilities.

The colored Americans of the District of Columbia and all Washington regarded this assignment of the First Separate Battalion to guard duty within the shadow of the White House as a compliment not exceeded by any since the Negro became a full-fledged citizen of the American Republic. The duty of protecting life and property in the Nation's capital was regarded by them as being comparable to the assignments usually given the guard regiments in England, where men of undoubted loyalty and integrity are given the sacred obligation of protecting St. James's Palace, Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, and the Houses of Parliament, the places that stand nearest to the welfare and dignity of the British crown.

The men of the First Separate Battalion and the colored citizens of the District of Columbia, and of the whole United States, regarded the call of the First Separate Battalion to the colors as having in it a special compliment from another point of view. It was highly significant that their very color which was the basis of discrimination in time of peace was considered prima facie evidence of unquestionable loyalty in time of war.

In this battalion there were to be found no hyphenates. In fact, the Negro has always proved himself to be 100-per-cent American, without alien sympathies and without hyphenate allegiance. The fact that a colored military unit was placed in this first honor post, to protect the President, the Congress, and the, great Executive Departments of the Nation, as well as the vital supply stations that make for the health, happiness, and personal security of the capital of the American Republic, was an honor keenly appreciated.

At about the time that the First Separate Battalion was called out to guard the National Capital the Baltimore Sun, a white newspaper, contained the following expression:

"The Afro-American is the only hyphenate, we believe, who has not been suspected of a divided allegiance."

It was altogether natural that there should be speculation among both white and colored citizens as to why this particular regiment should be the first called to the colors on the eve of the great war declaration. Probably the editorial expression of the Baltimore (Maryland) "Afro-American" may be quoted as to the speculative attitude at least, of colored Americans, which was as follows:


"Washington, A C., has assumed a rather warlike aspect through the calling out of the National Guard to keep an eye on the railway bridges in and around the city, the public buildings, and the water and lighting systems. Strangely enough the First Separate Battalion of colored troopers were mustered in to perform this service, and by this time have perhaps taken the oath, which will incorporate them into the ranks of the regulars.

"In answer to this question of why such honor should be conferred upon the colored troops when the white national guards of the same city are more nearly prepared---the Separate Battalion is still wearing its old, blue uniforms---many explanations have been heard in the capital city.

"There are some who have in mind President Wilson's statement that great care should be exercised in calling out the Guardsmen, and every precaution taken that the industrial plants of the country might not suffer by premature loss of workers belonging to the Guards. Should this be the explanation of the Government's move in Washington, then Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, and Illinois might also expect that their colored troopers will be the first to be called into service.

"However, there is also another whisper going the rounds in the capital of the nation, to the effect that the white regiments of the National Guards have so many foreigners and especially Germans belonging that the Government was afraid to entrust to them the task of watching over Governmental buildings of such immense importance as the Capitol, White House and the houses where the various departments transact their business. It is said that a white trooper on guard at some strategic point might be a German-American and be persuaded to let pass a German confederate armed with dynamite to blow up the Capitol. On the other band, the colored troopers are known to be loyal Americans, and the army officials are certain that no one can pass their lines, not even the Commanding General, unless he has the password.

"For loyalty of this kind our country ought to be willing to pay something. It ought to be willing to pay the price of having its loyal colored men educated for commissioned officers in the very best schools in the nation; it ought to be willing to pay the price of having these citizens enjoy every right and privilege that German-Americans or any others enjoy; it ought even to be willing to have trustworthy colored officers command regiments of white men, which may not be regarded as quite so trustworthy.

"Our Government will do these things, if the Negro will regard his loyalty as an asset, to be sold at the price of citizenship."

Major James E. Walker, the colored officer who was in command of the First Separate Battalion, District of Columbia Infantry National Guard, when it was called to guard the National Capital, was born in Albemarle County, Virginia, September 7, 1874. He attended the public schools and was graduated from the high and normal schools of the District of Columbia. He was connected with the public schools of the District for more than twenty-four years as a teacher and supervisor of the Thirteenth Division and served as such until ordered to the Mexican border with the District of Columbia National Guard in 1916.

His military services began in 1896, when he was appointed first lieutenant in the First Separate Battalion of the National Guard of the District of Columbia. In 1909 he was commissioned captain; in 1912, by and through a competitive examination, he was commissioned major, after the resignation of Major, now Lieutenant-Colonel, Arthur Brooks.

The First Separate Battalion, under Major Walker, was the first unit of the District National Guard to be recruited to war strength in Washington City, and they were among the first troops to be sent to the Mexican border at the time war threatened between Mexico and the United States in 1916. They immediately relieved the troops of the regular army and were assigned to the duty of guarding the water works at Naco, Arizona, which supplied five or six towns in the vicinity. Aside from his duties there as battalion commander, Major Walker was selected to act as intelligence officer for the Government.

On March 25, 1917, the battalion was called on to guard the National Capital, and it was there that the constant vigil of Major Walker began its inroads on his health. He realized that in selecting his command to safely guard. the National Capital, with its public buildings, water supply, railroads and all other important facilities, the Government was prompted in its selection by the high rate of efficiency and undoubted loyalty which his battalion had established for itself, and in order to continue in this high regard, he sacrificed health and everything else save that which makes for the true soldier---duty.

He was ordered to Fort Bayard, New Mexico, to the United States hospital, for treatment, hoping to regain his health. However the best medical skill was of no avail and he died, April 4, 1918, the first officer of the military forces of the District of Columbia to give his life for the Nation and world-democracy. His remains were sent home with military escort, and his body was interred in Arlington National Cemetery.

His funeral, which was conducted from the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church, Washington, D. C., of which Rev. W. H. Brooks is pastor, was attended by a large proportion of the colored citizenship of the District of Columbia, who, despite the cold, bleak day, followed his remains to Arlington Cemetery.

Chapter III. Official Recognition of the Negro's Interest

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