AMERICAN HISTORY: X DEEP – 10th Cavalry Regiment “Buffalo Soldiers”

10th Cavalry Regiment “Buffalo Soldiers”




The 10th Cavalry Regiment is a unit of the United States Army. Formed as a segregated African-American unit, the 10th Cavalry was one of the original “Buffalo Soldier” regiments. It served in combat during the Indian Wars in the western United States, the Spanish-American War in Cuba and in the Philippine-American War. The regiment was trained as a combat unit but later relegated to non-combat duty and served in that capacity in World War II until its deactivation in 1944.
The regiment served during the Spanish-American War in 1898, alongside the 24th and 25th “colored” regiments (1st Division, 1st Brigade) with the 9th Cavalry.
The 9th and 10th formed a core around which volunteer units were attached in the Cavalry Division (Dismounted) under Major General Joseph Wheeler and were in the 1st Brigade under Brigadier General Samuel S. Sumner. The 1st Brigade also included the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry which was commonly known as “Roosevelt’s Rough Riders”.
10th Cavalry in Cuba
They fought in the Battle of Las Guasimas, the Battle of Tayacoba (where all four members of the last rescue party were awarded the Medal of Honor), the Battle of San Juan Hill and the Siege of Santiago de Cuba.
Three principal battles were fought by this brigade on the approach to the principal city of Santiago de Cuba. In many ways this was the 10th most glorious time.
The first of these were the Battle of Las Guasimas on 24 June 1898 where the 10th Cavalry saved a portion of the Rough Riders from annihilation when their lead companies were ambushed and pinned down. This was where Harper’s Weekly war correspondent Frederic Remington experienced the true horror of combat and heard the whistle of bullets near his head. Remington later painted the “Scream of the Shrapnel” in 1899 that represented this event. The second was the Battle of El Caney in the early morning hours of 1 July where stubborn Spanish forces held the Americans at bay for almost twelve hours. Then came the famous Battle of San Juan Hill in the late afternoon.
Battle of San Juan Hill
The battle of the San Juan Heights involved the 10th Cavalry Regiment who took part in the taking of the two main heights. One was on the so-called Kettle Hill by the Americans and other the main height on what would be called San Juan Hill.
As the 10th moved into position, they were receiving fire from the San Juan Heights that was fortified by the Spanish defenders. Other units went into position on the left and the right. But still no orders to advance came. The waiting for other units to come online began to take a toll in men and morale.
US Army victors on Kettle Hill about 3 July 1898 after the battle of “San Juan Hill(s).” Left to right is 3rd US Cavalry, 1st Volunteer Cavalry (Col. Theodore Roosevelt center) and 10th US Cavalry. A similar picture is often shown cropping out all but the 1st Vol Cav and TR.
A former brigade staff officer, then assigned to D Troop of the 10th Cavalry, First Lieutenant Jules Garesche Ord (son of General E.O.C. Ord),[20] arrived and initiated an unusual discussion with his commander, Brigadier General Hamilton S. Hawkins, by asking, “General, if you will order a charge, I will lead it.” Hawkins made no response. Ord again asked “If you do not wish to order a charge, General, I should like to volunteer. We can’t stay here, can we?” “I would not ask any man to volunteer,” Hawkins stated. “If you do not forbid it, I will start it,” returned Ord. Hawkins again remained silent. Ord finally asked “I only ask you not to refuse permission.” Hawkins responded “I will not ask for volunteers, I will not give permission and I will not refuse it,” he said. “God bless you and good luck!”
With that response, Ord rushed to the front of the brigade, advising them to support the charge of the regulars. Captain John Bigelow, Jr., commander of D Troop of the 10th with his second in command of Ord in the lead, moved out of the trenches and advanced up the slope. Other units seeing the “Buffalo Soldiers” advance moved forward without commands to do so. General Hawkins apparently was not opposed to the attack since once the men began he joined in directing supporting regiments. At 150 yards from the top of the hill the troops charged, cutting their way through the barbed wire. Bigelow was hit four times before falling. There he continued to encourage his men to not stop until the top.
Seeing the ‘spontaneous advances’ of Ord and then Roosevelt, General Wheeler (having returned to the front) gave the order for Kent to advance with his whole division while he returned to the Cavalry Division. Kent sent forward Ewers’ brigade to join Hawkins’ men already approaching the hill. Kent’s men discovered that the Spanish had placed their trenches in faulty positions and were actually covered from their fire while the attackers climbed the hill. Ord, still in the lead, was among the first to reach the crest of San Juan Hill. The Spanish fled, as Ord began directing supporting fire into the remaining Spanish when he was shot in the throat and mortally wounded. General Hawkins was wounded shortly after.
Black First Sergeant Givens then took command of D Troop on San Juan Hill and held his position until relieved. Major John J. Pershing, quartermaster of the 10th, took over temporary command of D Troop. Pershing had helped lead the charge up Kettle Hill with the right flank of the 10th. He was later replaced by Lieutenant A. E. Kennington. The 10th would continue to fight during the Siege of Santiago. Santiago fell to the Americans on 17 July 1898.
Kettle Hill
Kettle Hill was a smaller part of the San Juan Heights with San Juan Hill 20.0200185°N 75.7982129°W and its main blockhouses being the highest point with a dip or draw in between the two hills on a north-south axis. The heights are located about a mile east of Santiago. Elements of the 10th Cavalry (“black” regulars) took Kettle Hill on the American right with assistance from Col. Theodore Roosevelt’s 1st Volunteer Cavalry (Rough Riders) and the entire 3rd Cavalry (“white” regulars). Most of the 10th supported by elements of the 24th and 25th colored infantry on the left took San Juan Hill.
The 10th had held the center position between the two hills and when they went forward they split toward the tops of the two hills. Lieutenant Ord started the regulars forward on the American left and Roosevelt claimed he started the charge on the right. Retreating Spanish troops withdrew toward San Juan Hill still being contested. The regulars fired toward them and supported their comrades fighting on the adjacent hill. A legend was started that the Rough Riders alone took Kettle Hill, but this is not true.Sergeant George Berry (10th Cavalry) took his unit colors and that of the 3rd Cavalry to the top of Kettle Hill before the Rough Rider’s flag arrived. This is supported in the writings of John Pershing who fought with the 10th on Kettle Hill and later led the American Expeditionary Force during the First World War.