Buffalo Soldiers Hanged after Riot

By | December 11, 2018

[December 11, 2018]  On this date, December 11, 1917, thirteen Buffalo Soldiers of the 24th U.S. Infantry Regiment were hanged for participation in a Houston, Texas riot, mutiny, and murder spree.  There are lessons here for leaders and for also a lesson for those who are now attempting to have these men pardoned on the grounds that their arrest and trials were unjust.1

In 1917, 118 black soldiers were charged with murder, mutiny, aggravated assault, and disobeying orders after a race riot in Houston.  Nineteen of the soldiers were eventually hanged, 13 on today’s date.

If there is one thing I’ve learned about opening old investigations in the U.S. military, it’s that no amount of due-diligence can compensate for failures of the past; perceived or actual failures.  Anyone who would today want to overturn the judgment of those over 100 years ago are doing it for personal reasons having little to do with what actually occurred.

There is little doubt that racism was rampant in 1917 and that bias and prejudice influenced what happened at the time.  From my understanding, a racial incident occurred that sparked the riot and murder spree by a number of black soldiers from the 24th Infantry.  Yet murder and mutiny were and still are a crime and there is no justifications that can be offered to deny it.

What is at issue, I believe, is not that many of the Buffalo soldiers were truly guilty of rioting, murder, aggravated assault, and disobeying orders but that some who were innocent were caught up with the guilty.  For example, soldiers who didn’t sign the duty roll, missed roll call, or were found to be off base during the night of the riots were presumed to be rioting and summarily arrested, according to Graham and other historians.

This is a legitimate charge to make.  The problem, however, is that there is no way to determine the strength of the argument; one way or another.  Yet to make a sweeping decision, especially such an important one, based on an incident 101 years ago and pardon all involved because a few might be innocent is not a proper path to justice.

To pardon all the Buffalo soldiers would send the signal that the murders and other crimes were insufficiently important and justice is weighed more heavily based on the color of their skin.

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  1. https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/sns-tns-bc-buffalo-soldiers-20181121-story.html
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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

21 thoughts on “Buffalo Soldiers Hanged after Riot

  1. Shawn C. Stolarz

    Good article today, General Satterfield and one that is appropriate for our times. Thanks.

    1. Ronny Fisher

      Key conclusion:
      The 24th Infantry Regiment was a unit of the United States Army, active from 1869 until 1951, and again from 1995 until 2006 and was primarily made up of African-American soldiers. The regiment is notable for having a checkered history, with a record of mostly meritorious service and valorous combat performance, marred by racial problems in the Houston Riot of 1917 as well as deficiencies in command leadership during the Korean War.

  2. Tracey Brockman

    Rehasing this episode in American history has its merits but there are those who would want to subvert the history and change it to conform to their race ideology. That should have the light of day shinned on it.

  3. Max Foster

    No white Houstonian was ever prosecuted for the day’s events, but the largest court-martial in U.S. military history tried 63 black soldiers and condemned 13 to die:
    Sgt. William C. Nesbitt
    Corp. Larsen J. Brown
    Corp. James Wheatley
    Corp. Jesse Moore
    Corp. Charles W. Baltimore*
    Pvt. William Brackenridge
    Pvt. Thomas C. Hawkins
    Pvt. Carlos Snodgrass
    Pvt. Ira B. Davis
    Pvt. James Divine
    Pvt. Frank Johnson
    Pvt. Rosley W. Young
    Pvt. Pat MacWharter

    1. Willie Shrumburger

      For years afterward, the incident clouded and complicated race relations, especially in the War Department.

    2. Len Jakosky

      From the same article, this is interesting:
      Meanwhile, the Army noted “the tendency of the Negro soldier, with fire arms in his possession … to become arrogant, overbearing, abusive and a menace to the community in which he happens to be stationed.” It held down its black enlistment throughout the interwar period.

      1. Dale Paul Fox

        Some blacks openly applauded the mutiny as a justified resistance against racist provocation. This kind of thinking didn’t help.

  4. Fred Weber

    The 24th Regiment had its named tarnished also during the Korean War.
    By July 31, 1950 as the 24th was engaged in heavy fighting, desertions reached pandemic proportions. Military Police units were stationed on the roads returning from the front to arrest deserters. When Lt. Leon Gilbert, the lone black officer with the 24th, refused to follow the orders of his white commanding officer to return to the front with his men into positions he had just been forced to leave, Gilbert was arrested on the spot and sent to court martial proceedings where he was sentenced to death. An outpour of public emotion succeeded in persuading President Harry Truman to commute Gilbert’s sentence to 20 years in prison although he would serve only five. The incident demoralized the unit and made it the object of additional distrust and derision by white soldiers.

    1. Martin Shiell

      A lot has been written on the 24th and more should be. We should study it if only to learn what not to do and how the actions of a few bad men can destroy the morale and reputation of a fighting force.

    2. Mr. T.J. Asper

      The unit had a questionable service record during its entire existence. There must have been some truth to the matter.

  5. Albert Ayer

    The Houston Riot was a mutiny by 150 black soldiers of the Twenty-fourth United States Infantry, called the Camp Logan Riots. Sergeant Vida Henry of I Company, 3rd Battalion led about 150 black soldiers in a two-hour march on Houston because they had suffered racial discrimination in the city. The soldiers were met by local policemen and a great crowd of Houston residents, who had armed themselves. When the soldiers killed Captain J.W. Mattes of the Illinois National Guard (after mistaking him for a local policeman), the battalion fell into disarray. Sgt. Henry shot himself, distraught over having killed another serviceman. In their two-hour march on the city, the battalion killed 15 armed whites, including four policemen, and seriously wounded 12 others, one of whom, a policeman, subsequently died. Four black soldiers were killed. Two were accidentally shot by their own men, one in camp and the other on San Felipe Street. The riot took place over one evening, and resulted in the deaths of four soldiers and 15 civilians. The rioters were tried at three courts-martial. Fourteen were executed, and 41 were given life sentences.

  6. Darryl Sitterly

    There was a war going on at the time and the world was in a state of flux. But at the time the US and other nations had no silliness going on by pampering deserters, murderers, rioting, etc. Death was the punishment that was fair and just at the time. To rehash the events serves little purpose other than learning a few lessons.

    1. Lady Hawk

      Correct, there are several lessons and one of them is to NOT attempt to change the outcome. Only a narcissist would attempt to do so. Oh, and the PC crowd, race-identity crowd.

  7. Army Captain

    THe 24th Inf Rgt (not to be confused with the 24th Inf Division) had its history marred by the riots of 1917. Nothing will change that regardless of the rewriting of history.

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