In September 1867, Private John Randall of Troop G, United States 10th Cavalry Regiment, was assigned to escort two civilians on a hunting trip. The hunters became the hunted when a band of 70 Cheyenne warriors swept down on the trio. The two civilians were killed in the initial attack and Randall’s horse shot out from under him.
Cornered in a washout under some railroad tracks, Randall single handedly held off the attack with his revolver, despite a gunshot wound to his shoulder and no fewer than 11 lance wounds.
By the time help arrived, 13 Cheyenne warriors lay dead. Private Randall was still standing. Word spread among the Cheyenne about a new kind of soldier, “who had fought like a cornered buffalo; who like a buffalo had suffered wound after wound, yet had not died; and who like a buffalo had a thick and shaggy mane of hair.”
On July 28, 1866, the Army Reorganization Act authorized the formation of 30 new units, including two cavalry and four infantry regiments “which shall be composed of colored men.”
The 10th US Cavalry, formed on September 21, 1866 at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, was the first unit of “Negro Cavalry”. The 10th would soon be joined by the 9th, 24th and 25th Cavalry, all-black units which would come to be known as “Buffalo Soldiers”.
While several all-black regiments were formed during the Civil War, including the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry depicted in the movie “Glory”, these were the first peacetime all-black regiments in the regular Army.
The original units fought in the American Indian Wars, the Spanish-American War, the Philippine-American War, the Border War and two World Wars, amassing 22 Medals of Honor by the end of WW1.
The old met the new during WWII, when 1st Sergeant Mark Matthews, veteran of the Pancho Villa Expedition, WW1, WW2 and the Battle of Saipan, was sent to train with the Tuskeegee Airmen.
In the end, Matthews would prove too old to fly. A member of the Buffalo Soldiers Drum & Bugle Corps, Matthews would play taps at Arlington National Cemetery, always from the woods. Blacks of the era were not allowed at “white” funerals.
Matthews retired shortly before the Buffalo Soldiers were disbanded, part of President Truman’s effort to integrate United States’ armed forces.
In December 1944, the segregated 366th Regiment of the 92nd Infantry Division (colored), the Buffalo Soldiers, were fighting in the vicinity of Sommocolonia, in northern Italy.
On Christmas day, German soldiers began to infiltrate the town, disguised as civilians. A heavy artillery barrage began in the early morning hours of the 26th, followed by an overwhelming attack of enemy ground forces. Vastly outnumbered, American infantry were forced to conduct a fighting retreat.
1st Lieutenant John R. Fox, forward observer for the 598th Field Artillery Battalion, volunteered to stay behind with a small Italian force, to help slow the enemy advance.
From the second floor of a house, Lieutenant Fox directed American defensive fire by radio, adjusting each salvo closer to his own position. Warned that his final adjustment would bring artillery fire down on his head, the soldier who received the message was stunned at the response. 1st Lt. John Fox’ last known words, were “Fire it.”
When American forces retook the town, Lieutenant Fox’ body was found with those of about 100 German soldiers.
Sandra Fox of Boston, his only daughter, was two-years old when her father went to war.
The King James Bible translates John 15:13, as “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”. After the war, the town of Sommocolonia erected a Memorial, to nine brave soldiers who gave their lives, that their brothers might live. Eight Italians, and one American.
In a January 13, 1997 ceremony at the White House, President Bill Clinton awarded the Medal of Honor, posthumously, to the family of 1st Lt. John Robert Fox.
1st Sergeant Mark Matthews died of pneumonia on September 6, 2005, at the age of 111. The last of the Buffalo Soldiers was buried with honors, at Arlington National Cemetery, section 69, grave #4215.
The rank of General of the Armies is equivalent to that of a six-star general, the highest possible operational rank in the United States Armed Forces. The rank has been held only twice in all American history, once awarded posthumously to George Washington, and once to an active-duty officer, John J. Pershing.
Then-1st Lieutenant Pershing served with the Buffalo Soldiers from October 1895 to May 1897 plus another six months in Cuba, and came to respect soldiers of African ancestry as “real soldiers” in every way.
As West Point instructor beginning in 1897, Pershing was looked down upon and insulted by white cadets and officers, aggrieved over Pershing’s strict and unyielding disciplinary policies. The press sanitized the favorite insult to “Black Jack”. The name they called the man, was uglier still.
During WW1, General Pershing bowed to the segregationist policies of President Woodrow Wilson and Secretary of War Newton Baker.
It seems that John Joseph Pershing understood what the northeast academic and the Ohio politician had yet to learn, a principle that the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. would spell out, some fifty years later
“We must learn to live together as brothers, or perish together as fools”.