Huachuca Illustrated, vol 1, 1993:

chuca Illustrathuca Illustrat

Roll Call:
Colonel Charles Young
Black Cavalryman, Huachuca Commander
and Early Intelligence Officer

chuca Illustrat

Kentucky-born (1864), Charles Young graduated from West Point in 1889, the third African-American to do so, and was assigned to the 10th Cavalry. His entire field career was spent in black regiments---the 9th and 10th Cavalry, and the 25th Infantry.

Young was an accomplished linguist, speaking Latin, Greek, French, Spanish and German. He served as Professor of Military Science at Wilberforce University, Ohio. From 1894-98 and during the Spanish-American War, he was with the 9th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. In 1903 he was superintendent of parks at Sequoia and General Grant National Parks in California.

Congress authorized in 1889 a system of military attachés that would be controlled by the Military Information Division (MID), the first official and permanent U.S. Army intelligence agency that had emerged in 1885 with a small office under the Adjutant General. Their job was to observe the training and exercises of foreign armies and make reports on their relative strengths and weaknesses. One of the first of these dozen or so attachés was Charles Young who, from 1904 to 1907, was military attaché to the American legation in Port Au Prince, Haiti. During this time he made an extended military reconnaissance of the country and the neighboring Republic of Santo Domingo, producing maps of much of the terrain.

Following his service in Haiti, he reported for duty in the 2d Division of the War Department in Washington, D.C. The 2d Division was the designation given to that element of the newly created General Staff which had the responsibility for the collection and dissemination of military information (intelligence).

In 1908 Young was sent to the Philippines to join his regiment and command a squadron of two troops there. In 1912 he was once again selected for attaché duty, this time to Liberia where he advised the Liberian constabulary and supervised the construction of new roads to provide military lines of communication. For his services there he was awarded the Springarn Medal, an award that annually recognized the African-American who had made the highest achievement during the year in any field of honorable human endeavor.

He was most renowned for his leadership during the 1916 Punitive Expedition which marched into Mexico in pursuit of the bandit Pancho Villa who had murdered American citizens. On 9 March at Agua Caliente, Mexico, Young, then a major, led the 2d Squadron in a cavalry pistol charge against the Villista forces, threatening to envelope the right flank of General Beltran. Beltran's 150 men were driven out with no losses to Young's aggressive squadron.

At the Hacienda Santa Cruz de la Villegas, 12 April, he was the hero of the hour when he rode with his squadron to the relief of Major Frank Tompkins, who was severely wounded while his 13th U.S. Cavalry squadron fought a heavy rear guard action. Young's reinforcement of Major Tompkins at this critical time is credited by many as preventing a war with Mexico.

Of the colonel, First Sergeant Vance H. Marchbanks said:

...He was a splendid man, possessed a wonderful personality, superb leadership and the men who followed him possessed almost sublime faith in his ability,

...An officer's school was started immediately at Fort Huachuca ... by Lt. Col. Charles Young. This school was carried on about six weeks and then we were ordered to Fort Des Moines, Iowa, where we went through four months and fifteen days training before receiving our commissions.

...Col. Charles Young, one of the few Colored graduates from West Point Military Academy, was our instructor for a long time, even before the school started. He was a past master at the military game, a strict disciplinarian, and he knew all the answers to military problems.(66)

Young's brilliant and aggressive operations in Mexico won him a lieutenant colonelcy in the 10th Cavalry in 1916 A year later he was promoted to colonel and was briefly Fort Huachuca's commander. He was medically retired in 1917 for high blood pressure and Bright's disease said to have been incurred during his African service.

Young was described by a fellow officer of the 10th Cavalry, Jerome W. Howe, as "a fine specimen of an athletic officer and a perfect gentleman." Howe "found him very likable. I often visited him in his quarters, and heard him play beautifully on the piano. He had a fine family, but never had them with him on a military post."

Anxious to command his black troopers in France in World War 1, the 53-year-old colonel rode on horseback from his home in Ohio to the War Department in Washington, D.C. to demonstrate his fitness for duty. Young wrote about the experience:

... As soon as the school year was over, I rode on horseback from Wilberforce to Washington, walking on foot fifteen minutes in each hour, the distance of 497 miles to show, if possible, my physical fitness for command of troops. I there offered my services gladly at the risk of life, which has no value to me if I cannot give it for the great ends for which the United States is striving.(67)

Charles Young was not wanted on the greater stage of World War I Europe. He would remain an understudy, not for want of talent, all of his comrades testified to his abilities, but because of the hue of his skin. An African-American leader emerging upon the world stage would invalidate the theory held by those of paler skin about the inferiority of people of color. It was a theory that had to be maintained within the United States to explain the continued denial of equality to the descendants of older victims of inhumanity. It was the great American untruth. Charles Young knew it. Most of his fellow officers knew it. This big lie would take many formulations over the ensuing years and, like any falsehood, it would deny possibilities. It was the untruth that would prevent the democracy from achieving its promise in the 20th century.

Denied the opportunity to get in on the fighting in Europe, he was later recalled to active duty to serve as Military Attaché to Liberia. He died on 8 January 1922 in that post. At the time he was on a research expedition in Lagos, Nigeria. His body was returned to the U.S. and interred at Arlington Cemetery in Washington, D.C. Charles Young married Ada Barr in 1903 and had two children, Charles Noel, born in 1907 and Marie, born in 1909.

Historian and NAACP founder W.E.B. DuBois wrote this memorial to Colonel Young in the February 1922 issue of The Crisis.

The life of Charles Young was a triumph of tragedy. No one ever knew the truth about the Hell he went through at West Point. He seldom even mentioned it. The pain was too great. Few knew what faced him always in his army life. It was not enough for him to do well-he must always do better; and so much and so conspicuously better, as to disarm the scoundrels that ever trailed him. He lived in the army surrounded by insult and intrigue and yet he set his teeth and kept his soul serene and triumphed.

He was one of the few men I know who literally turned the other cheek with Jesus Christ. He was laughed at for it and his own people chided him bitterly, yet he persisted. When a white Southern pigmy at West Point protested at taking food from a dish passed first to Young, Young passed it to him first and afterward to himself. When officers of inferior rank refused to salute a "nigger," he saluted them. Seldom did he lose his temper, seldom complain.

With his own people he was always the genial, hearty, half-boyish friend. He kissed the girls, slapped the boys on the back, ,threw his arms about his friends, scattered his money in charity; only now and then behind the Veil did his nearest comrades see ,the Hurt and Pain graven on his heart; and when it appeared he promptly drowned it in his music---his beloved music, which always poured from his quick, nervous fingers, to caress and bathe his soul.

Steadily, unswervingly he did his duty. And Duty to him, as to few modern men, was spelled in capitals. It was his lodestar, his soul; and neither force nor reason swerved him from it. His second going to Africa, after a terrible attack of black water fever, was suicide. He knew it. His wife knew it. His friends knew it. He had been sent to Africa because the Army considered his blood pressure too high to let him go to Europe! They sent him there to die. They sent him there because he was one of the very best officers in the service and if he had gone to Europe he could not have been denied the stars of a General. They could not stand a black American General. Therefore they sent him to the fever coast of Africa. They ordered him to make roads back in the haunted jungle. He knew what they wanted and intended. He could have escaped it by accepting his retirement from active service, refusing his call to active duty and then he could have lounged and lived at leisure on his retirement pay. But Africa needed him. He did not yell and collect money and advertise great schemes and parade in crimson---he just went quietly, ,ignoring appeal and protest.

He is dead. But the heart of the Great Black Race, the Ancient of Days---the Undying and Eternal---rises and salutes his shining memory: Well done! Charles Young, Soldier and Man and unswerving Friend.


66. Marchbanks mss.

67. Young, Charles, papers in FHM files.

20. Roll Call: Brigadier General William C. Brown

table of contents