Stories about Black History: Vol. 2 - Charles Young and the Buffalo Soldiers

Charles Young, as a captain, in 1903 - CMH.

Charles Young, as a captain, in 1903 - CMH.

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Charles Young was a Buffalo Soldier, a pioneer in many ways, and one of the most celebrated African-American military men, at the time of his death.

He was born in 1864, in Kentucky, to Gabriel and Arminta Young.  Gabriel and Arminta moved to Ripley, Ohio in 1866.  Gabriel Young was a soldier in the Union Army during the Civil War and Charles grew up admiring his father's military background.  

His mother encouraged him to excel academically and after being the first African American to graduate from his high school he took the advice of his parents and applied to the United States Military Academy at West Point.  He experienced such discrimination that he later remarked that the worst thing he could wish for an enemy would be to make him a black man and send him to West Point.

He experienced racial harassment from instructors and his peers, but despite these challenges, he finished and became the third African American to graduate from West Point, in 1889.

There would not be another African American to complete West Point until 1936, 47 years later.

Buffalo Soldiers

African Americans were not allowed to join the Regular Army until after the Civil War—they fought and served in every American war from the American Revolution until the present day...they were simply not allowed to enlist in the Regular Army until after the Civil War.

At the conclusion of the Civil War, the U. S. needed soldiers to help rebuild the country and to patrol lands out west.  So, in 1866, Congress created six segregated African-American regiments.

These regiments were eventually condensed into four units—they were the 9th and 10th Calvary and the 24th and 25th Infantry.  Many of them were sent out West to patrol the Western Frontier, since more Americans started to settle in the West and conflicts with existing Native American nations arose.  These soldiers served many roles:

  • they protected Americans on the Western Frontier;

  • guarded mail routes and escorted supply trains;

  • built new roads;

  • served in the Spanish-American War and in the Philippine-American War; and

  • were among the first park rangers in our nation's history.

Native Americans (in particular the Cheyenne), out West, noted the fierce fighting abilities of theses soldiers and compared them to the buffalo.  The buffalo was a well-respected figure in Native American culture and was seen as a fierce fighter.  The term stuck and African Americans who served during this time period became known as "Buffalo Soldiers”!

Charles Young—A Buffalo Soldier

Charles Young left West Point and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army.  He served most of his active years with the Buffalo Soldiers in the 9th and 10th Calvary regiments.

He was assigned to regiments in Nebraska, Montana, and Utah.  During the Spanish-American War he was assigned to the command of a National Guard battalion and temporarily given the rank of major.  In 1899, he went overseas with the 9th Calvary to the Philippines and fought, there, for three years.

In 1902, upon returning to the U. S., Young was Captain of Company "I" of the 9th Calvary.  He was stationed in San Francisco, at the Presidio (or fortified military post) there.  In 1903 Companies "I" and "M" escorted Theodore Roosevelt through San Francisco during his visit; which was the first time African-American soldiers served as the honor guard for a United States President.

Golden Gate Bridge in the Background, Red and Black Ink, LLC, 2013

Young was sent to Sequoia National Park, in the summer of 1903, because the Army was charged with the administration of several national parks before the creation of the National Park Service in 1916.  Young and his soldiers built roads that extended access within the park.  In his role, he became the first African-American Superintendent of a national park.  

Charles Young and his soldiers built more miles of road, in that summer, than what had been built in the three previous summers, combined.

California Road.  Red and Black Ink, LLC. 2013.

A Man of Determination

Young was also, in 1894, appointed as a Professor of Military Science and Tactics at Wilberforce University and the president of that college noted that he was "eminently qualified for the position...teaching not only Military Science courses, but also French and mathematics."  There he met and befriended the famous sociologist, W. E. B. Du Bois.

Young continued to be awarded promotions—he served as the military attache' to Liberia and was a squadron commander in the Punitive Expedition against Pancho Villa in Mexico.  Just prior to the beginning of World War I, Young was the highest ranking African-American officer in the U. S. Army. 

As a part of his regular medical examinations, Young was diagnosed with nephritis (inflammation of the kidney), high blood pressure, and an enlarged heart.  There was also pressure on the President of the United States and the Secretary of War not to let white soldiers serve under Charles Young’s command.

In July of 1917 Young was medically retired and given the rank of Colonel in recognition of his distinguished service.  Young was not happy—he was determined to prove he was fit for service.

He was 54 years old, at the time.  Determined to demonstrate his fitness, he mounted a horse in Wilberforce, Ohio and rode 500 miles to Washington, D.C.  He was granted an audience with the Secretary of War, but was not given a reversal of the decision.  Despite being medically retired, he was kept on as an active duty officer and went on to train African-American servicemen.

Charles Young was a well-known figure and was seen as a highly respected and disciplined military leader.  He died while on a military attache' mission in 1922, in Africa, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, in 1923.  

In an incredible show of respect, he was the fourth soldier, ever, to be honored with a funeral service at the Arlington Memorial Amphitheater, in Arlington National Cemetery.

Arlington Memorial Amphitheater.

Arlington Memorial Amphitheater.

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Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument, Ohio.  History and Culture:  Charles Young., accessed January 2014.

National Park Service.  Presidio of San Francisco, California.  Buffalo Soldiers., accessed January 2014.

National Park Service.  Presidio of San Francisco, California. Charles Young- Leader of Men., accessed January 2014.

Presidential Proclamation - Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument.  March 25, 2013.  The White House.  Office of the Press Secretary., accessed January 2014.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, California.  National Park Service, Charles Young., accessed January 2014.


Charles Young as a Captain in 1903  U.S. Center of Military History.

Golden Gate Bridge.  Red and Black Ink, LLC, 2015.

Sunset in the road.  Red and Black Ink, LLC, 2015.

Arlington Memorial Amphitheater.  Red and Black Ink, LLC, 2015.

Danita Smith