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Buffalo Soldiers History: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Lindsey Spencer

Lindsey has taught regular and special educations students in grades 1-8 since 2009 and has a master's degree in special education.

The Buffalo Soldiers were the first army regiments made up of only African-Americans to serve the United States after the Civil War. In this lesson, you will learn the history of the Buffalo Soldiers, where they worked, and their accomplishments.

Who Were The Buffalo Soldiers?

When you hear the term Buffalo Soldier, what image do you see in your head? Would you be surprised to learn that Buffalo Soldiers were the first African-American soldier groups who served the United States after the Civil War?

These soldiers fought in over 200 major and minor battles in the Indian Wars during their time in the American West. During these battles, they were given the nickname Buffalo Soldiers from the Indians because they were fierce fighters, just like real buffalos. Legend also says that the soldiers wore buffalo fur coats.

A group of Buffalo Soldiers
Buffalo Soldiers.

A Unique Opportunity

After the Civil War ended, Congress made a law in 1866 that created regiments, or army units, of all African-American soldiers.

Many African-Americans who joined these new regiments had fought for the Union in the Civil War. Others were former slaves or free men. Even though the Civil War ended slavery, African-Americans still did not have full rights as American citizens. They joined because it was a unique opportunity.

The United States Army was paying white and African-American soldiers the same, $13 a month. The army also taught African-American soldiers to read and write because African-Americans had a very hard time finding a school that would let them in.

The Buffalo Soldiers in the American West

The first all African-American units created were the 9th and 10th cavalry (soldiers who fought on horseback) and the 38th, 39th, 40th, and 41st infantry (soldiers who fought on foot). For about 30 years, the Buffalo Soldiers had to work out in the West in many places, like Texas, Kansas, Indian Territory (what we now call Oklahoma), and Montana Territory.

Buffalo Soldier on horseback
cavalry

Their main job was fighting Indians during the Indian Wars. From 1870 to 1890, the Buffalo Soldiers earned a total of 14 medals of honor, the highest award a soldier can receive from the army. They also helped to protect settlers, make roads, put up telegraph wires, and lay train tracks.

Life was not easy for the Buffalo Soldiers. Many white soldiers treated the African-American soldiers very badly, giving them the worst food, lower army ranks, and bad supplies. The soldiers who rode horses often had horses that were sick or old.

Places where Buffalo Soldiers served
map

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