After escaping from his slavemaster in Apton Valley, Kentucky, great-grandfather joined the 101st Regiment United States Colored Infantry, at 18 years of age. He served three years as a private in the Civil War. Action was seen at White's Ranch, Boyd's Station and Stevenson's Gap, and at Scottsborough and Larkinsville, Alabama.
Henry Parker enlisted in the U.S. Cavalry on May 18, 1867 in Memphis, Tennessee by Captain Davis for a period of five years. He was 21 years old and listed his occupation as a groom. His description included black eyes, black hair and a complexion listed as mulatto. Henry's height was recorded as 5'9 1/2". He was assigned to Company D of the Tenth U.S. Cavalry and was discharged on May 18, 1872 at Ft. Sill, Indian Territory * as a private. Fort Sill ca. 1827-1876, courtesy
of the National Archives, Fort Sill today. Remarkably, he never reported for sick call during the first two years and four months of service.
On June 6, 1872, Henry Parker re-en1isted in the army at Fort Sill for another five years. His height, however, was now listed as 5' 11 1/2". He was again assigned to Company D of the Tenth U.S. Cavalry. When discharged at Fort Concho, Texas on June 6, 1877, Henry Parker was a sergeant, a member of the "Color Guard" with his character listed as "Excellent".
In every major war, throughout the history of the United States, from the American Revolution through the Indian Wars, Native-Americans and African-Americans have fought with and against each other. This scenario prevailed during the Civil War. Some tribes fought for the South, such as the Cherokees while others assisted the North like the Seminoles.
Slaves and the black soldiers, who couldn't read or write, had no idea of the historical deprivations and the frequent genocidal intent of the U.S. government toward Native Americans. Free blacks, whether they could read and write, generally had no access to first hand or second-hand unbiased information on this relationship. Most whites who had access often didn't really care about the situation. It was business as usual in the name of "Manifest Destiny". Most Americans viewed the Indians as incorrigible and non-reformable savages. Those closest to the warring factions or who were threaten by it, naturally wanted government protection at any cost.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, the government was fighting the Indians in the west. It withdrew most of its men and resources from the Indian wars, to concentrate on ending the rebellion. At the end of the Civil War, 186,000 black soldiers had participated in the war, with 38,000 killed in action. Southerners and eastern populations did not want to see armed Negro soldiers near or in their communities. They were also afraid of the labor market being flooded with a new source of labor. General employment opportunities in these communities was not available to blacks, so many African-Americans took a long hard look at military service which offered shelter, education, steady pay, medical attention and a pension. Some decided it was much better than frequent civilian unemployment. Of course in some quarters, it was thought this is an good way of getting rid of two problems at the same time.
When Congress reorganized the peacetime regular army in the summer of 1866, it had taken the above situation into account. It also recognized the military merits of black soldiers by authorizing two segregated regiments of black cavalry, the Ninth United States Cavalry and the Tenth United States Cavalry and the 24th, 25th , 38th , 39th, 40th and 41st Infantry Regiments. Orders were given to transfer the troops to the western war arena, where they would join the army's fight with the Indians. In 1869, one year after the discharge of Cathay Williams, the female Buffalo Soldier in disguise, the black infantry regiments were consolidated into two units, the Twenty-fourth United States Infantry and the Twenty-fifth United States Infantry. All of the black regiments were commanded by white officers at that time. See Captain David Schooley 25th Infantry, Buffalo Sol
Black soldiers who fought in the Indian Wars, fought their opponents as they have done throughout this country's military history. They fought to win and to give their lives if necessary, for their personal beliefs. They wanted to gain the respect and equality they never saw as slaves and rarely received as freedmen. So, they continued on as soldiers. They were sadly mistaken in thinking they would gain these components of freedom, in a country built in-part by their enslavement and which still held deep racial and cultural prejudices.
As soon as these soldiers were relocated into their hostile environments, they were engaged in life and death struggles. They were under fire. Friends were killed and their oath to keep the peace, put to the test by Indians, settlers and those outside the law. Though they guarded railroads and telegraph lines, stagecoaches, arms shipments, towns, homesteads, whites and Indians, they never knew when they would be ambushed by foes or the very townspeople they were protecting! Not infrequently, just by entering a town or saloon, shoot-outs occurred. There was also the occasional sniper, waiting for a kill. Those that murdered troopers were never punished for their crimes, even when there were witnesses. The troopers always responded with a deadly intent of their own. When investigated by the military, those troopers found guilty were punished accordingly, but not always justly.
After arriving at their posts the alternatives to soldiering were: desert to all white communities, where they were regarded with hateful scorn and risk imprisonment. Death and torture at the hands of the Indians or possible death by exposure to the killing heat and freezing cold. Though the Buffalo Soldiers did their duty in carrying out the government's version of law and order on the frontier west, many influential blacks such as Senator Blanche Kelso Bruce, continually spoke out for the Indians and against the United States treaty making and treaty breaking policies.
So brave and courageous were these men that their legendary Indian foes called them Buffalo Soldiers. Their commanding officer, Colonel Benjamin H. Grierson of Civil War fame, said the name was given because the Indians respected a brave and powerful adversary, which relates directly to their much revered buffalo. Others say it was due to the similarity of the soldier's hair to that of the hair surrounding the buffalo's head.
(9th Cavalry, 24th & 25th Infantry Highlights)
Background Event: Chief Red Cloud of the Oglala Sioux signs Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 after winning a war against the U.S. and dictating the terms of the peace. He would not sign the treaty until the soldiers were gone and his Sioux burned the forts.