Buffalo Soldiers in the National Parks Study Act

Posted June 19th, 2013 by
Category: Public History Tags: , , ,

Buffalo Soldiers from the 24th Infantry at Yosemite (1899)On Monday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 520, the “Buffalo Soldiers in the National Parks Study Act,” which would study ways for the National Park Service to commemorate these black troops and their historic role in the post-Civil War era.

The history of the Buffalo Soldiers

The Buffalo Soldiers were U.S. Army troops who, as the bill puts it, “served in many critical roles in the western United States, including protecting some of the first National Parks” in the Sierra Nevada. Their origins date to 1866, when Congress authorized the creation of all-black Army regiments: the 24th and 25th infantry regiments and the 9th and 10th cavalry regiments. The soldiers who enlisted were primarily southerners leaving behind sharply limited economic opportunities for black citizens in the Jim Crow South. The Buffalo Soldiers performed many duties in the West, including service in the Spanish-American and Indian Wars and patrolling large territories to maintain law and order.

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Myth-busting and the Civil War: The South turns to federal authority to preserve slavery

Posted September 21st, 2012 by
Category: Public History Tags: , , , , ,
Lincoln, Douglas, Breckinridge, and Bell divide the country in 1860.

1860 political cartoon, showing presidential candidates Lincoln, Douglas, Breckinridge, and Bell dividing the country.

This is the second part of Katrina Browne’s reflections on the 150th anniversary commemoration at Antietam this past weekend. The first part, focused on northern myths about the civil war, was entitled “The Emancipation Proclamation: ‘… all the moral grandeur of a bill of lading.’

Irony.  It’s the word that came fast to mind as I sat listening this past weekend to former National Park Service Chief Historian Dwight Pitcaithley as he revealed the following: that in the heated days of late 1860 and early 1861, from just after Lincoln’s election to several weeks after his inauguration, pro-slavery Southern political leaders, while seceding, simultaneously turned to the power of the federal government to try to protect slavery!  I was at the 150th anniversary commemoration of the Battle of Antietam/Sharpsburg, and Prof. Pitcaithley was speaking on “Secession as a Constitutional Crisis.”

He explained that in the span of five months, no fewer than 66 constitutional amendments were proposed in Congress to shore up the institution of slavery.  To turn to the Constitution was the ultimate turn to federal power in an attempt to enshrine slavery.  The case was made primarily based on the 5th amendment’s protection of the right to property.  (Interestingly, pro-abolition crusaders were turning to the same clause in the 5th amendment: that no person “shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law” and focusing on liberty rather than property.  Ironies abounding.)

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