The 9th Cavalry
On August 3, 1866, Gen. Phillip Sheridan, commander of the Military Division of the Gulf, was authorized to raise one regiment of "colored" cavalry that was to be designated the 9th Regiment. A recruiting office was established in New Orleans, Louisiana and later that fall, a second office was opened in Louisville, Kentucky. Of the original recruits, the majority came from these two states and were veterans of the Civil War. Enlistment was for five years, with recruits receiving thirteen dollars a month, plus room, board, and clothing.
Col. Edward Hatch was selected to command the new regiment. Hatch, who was a brevet Major General by the close of the Civil War, was an able and ambitious officer. He served admirably in this position until his death in 1889.
Recruitment of White officers proved to be a serious problem for both the 9th and 10th Cavalries. Despite enticements of fast promotion, many officers, including George Armstrong Custer and Frederick Benteen, refused commissions with African-American units. The following advertisement from the Army and Navy Journal illustrates the dilemma: "A first Lieutenant of Infantry (white) stationed at a very desirable post.....desires a transfer with an officer of the same grade, on equal terms if in a white regiment; but if in a colored regiment, a reasonable bonus would be expected."
The 9th Cavalry was ordered to Texas in June of 1867. There it was charged with protecting stage and mail routes, building and maintaining forts, and establishing law and order in a vast area full of outlaws, Mexican revolutionaries, and raiding Comanches, Cheyennes, Kiowas, and Apaches. To compound their problems, many Texans felt that they were being subjected to a particularly harsh form of post-war reconstruction by Washington, and saw the assignment of the Black troopers as a deliberate attempt by the Union to further humiliate them. As such, the relationship between the troopers and locals was often at or near the boiling point. Despite prejudice and the almost impossible task of maintaining some semblance of order from the Staked Plains to El Paso to Brownsville, the 9th established themselves as one of the most effective fighting forces in the Army.
The 9th was transferred to the District of New Mexico during the winter and spring of 1875 and 76. Over the next six years they were thrust into what had been a 300-year struggle to subdue the fiercely independent Apaches. In 1874 - sparked by pressure from greedy contractors supplying the reservations, and by cattlemen, lumber men, and settlers hungry for Apache land - Washington approved a policy of concentrating the Apaches on a select few reservations.
Unfortunately, the main reservation was at San Carlos, Arizona, a desolate wasteland despised by the Apache. The independent lifestyle and culture of the Apaches and their hatred of the San Carlos reservation insured the hostilities that were to come. The renegade Apaches that periodically fled the reservations were highly skilled horsemen with a superior knowledge of their ancestral lands. Under the command of skilled warriors like Skinya, Nana, Victorio, and Geronimo, the Apaches proved to be an illusive and worthy adversary for both the troopers of the 9th and later the 10th Cavalries. As 1881 came to a close, the battle-weary Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th Cavalry had been serving continuously on the Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona frontiers for 14 years.
That November the headquarters of the 9th was transferred to Fort Riley, Kansas, with portions of the regiment assigned to Fort Sill, Fort Supply, and Fort Reno in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). Over the next four years, the troopers were primarily concerned with the unpleasant task of evicting white settlers known as "Boomers," who were attempting to settle on Indian land. The 9th's unpopular duty continued until the regiment was transferred to Wyoming in June of 1885. From here companies were stationed at Fort Robinson and Fort Niobrara, Nebraska, and Fort Duchesne, Utah.
In 1891 the 9th was called on to assist in subduing the Sioux in what became known as the Ghost Dance Campaign. Once rulers of the northern plains, the Sioux were desolate and poverty stricken on their North and South Dakota reservations. In 1889 word spread of a messiah - a Paiute named Wovoka - who had seen through a vision that the ghosts of Plains Indians would return, bringing with them the buffalo herds slaughtered by the whites. The new "religion" swept through the Indians, alarming Dr. D. F. Royer, the newly appointed agent at the Pine Ridge reservation. Royer over-reacted, pleading for troops to protect him and his staff. By the end of November, one-half of the U.S. Army was concentrated on or near the reservations. The Army's show of force was intended to scare the Sioux into submission. However, many Indians, fearing a massacre, bolted from the reservations and fled into the Badlands. The subsequent actions of the Army to pacify and return the Sioux to their reservations culminated in the massacre of 146 men, women, and children at Wounded Knee on December 29th. The 9th played no role in the slaughter. This was to be their last campaign on the frontier.