A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

Who were the "buffalo soldiers" depicted on U.S. postage stamps?

December 16, 1994

Dear Cecil:

Who were the "buffalo soldiers"? I recently bought a set of U.S. postage stamps featuring "buffalo soldiers" and depicting flag-carrying gunmen on horseback. One wears a cap of roughly Civil War vintage. My first thought was that these chaps were part of the campaign to eliminate the buffalo and the native peoples dependent on them, and that the post office was perhaps competing for a Least-Politically-Correct Stamp Award. My dad, however, suggested that "buffalo soldier" might have been a name given to black soldiers after the Civil War, which for some reason has the ring of truth. What's the story here?

Cecil replies:

Listen to Pops. The stamp, issued in April 1994, honored the first African-Americans recruited into the peacetime army. The black troopers were nicknamed "buffalo soldiers" by Native Americans, who thought their hair was similar to that of the buffalo. Like most post-Civil War army troops, the buffalo soldiers served primarily in the American west during the infamous Indian wars, and also saw action during the Spanish-American War and subsequent conflicts. Often given inferior equipment, they were subjected to numerous indignities but nonetheless served admirably. Eighteen buffalo soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor, and black regiments reportedly had the lowest desertion rate of any U.S. army unit between 1867 and 1898. In 1992 a monument to the buffalo soldiers was dedicated at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

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