Originally created 02/20/01

Event recalls Buffalo Soldiers



Eleven-year-old William Bishop II sat in disbelief when a historian said Buffalo Soldiers earned $17 per month and made campfire meals out of flour, water and lots of imagination.

"I think that I would like to have their courage," said William, a 6th-grader at Lakeside Middle School.

An audience that spanned several generations gathered at Augusta State University on Monday to salute the black military heroes of the post-Civil War era.

Dressed in blue cavalry uniforms, re-enactors from Aiken and Atlanta rode horses in formation, showing an audience gathered behind the Grover C. Maxwell Performing Arts Theatre various field maneuvers.

It is the third year Augusta State has sponsored the event, which planners say is particularly appropriate for Augusta.

"Augusta is a military community with Fort Gordon and all of the military retirees; that makes it important that we have this here," said Mike Searles, the event's coordinator and an Augusta State assistant professor.

The 9th and 10th cavalry regiments, the first to be called Buffalo Soldiers, were formed in 1866, a year after the Civil War ended, by an act of Congress.

Folklore about how the soldiers got their name differs depending on the source: Some say American Indians likened the hair on the soldiers' heads to that of a buffalo, said Lee N. Coffee, a speaker at the event. He added that others say the Plains Indians who fought the soldiers named them after the buffalo because of the soldiers' prowess and fearlessness during battle.

"The military (after the Civil War) had many men of color, and they didn't know what to do with the soldiers after the war was over," said Don Lee, a re-enactor from Atlanta. "This was a way the black soldiers could stay in the Army and get paid."

The 9th and 10th regiments were formed in Greenville, La., and Fort Leavenworth, Ka. Mr. Lee's great-grandfather was among the original troops, one of the reasons he has wanted to perform with the re-enactors for years.

"I always wanted to keep our history alive," Mr. Lee said. His group is made up of 33 members, who work as police officers, environmentalists and airline mechanics.

Mr. Coffee, an emergency room nurse at Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center, also is a historian and one of the contributors to the book, Black Cowboys of Texas, which was published in March by Texas A&M University.

In addition to his stop at Augusta State, the Fort Gordon master sergeant has lectured in 40 states, because the story of the Buffalo Soldiers is universal and important during months other than February, Black History Month, he said.

"This is Black History Month, yes," Mr. Coffee said. " But this is American history."

Reach Clarissa J. Walker at (706) 828-3851.