“He was a Buffalo Soldier…” | Some interesting tidbits of history

Courtesy of the US Army Military History Institute
Troop E, 9th Cavalry at the Presidio before shipping out to the Philippines, 1900.

Here’s a slice of interesting history taken from the National Park Service website (and something I’m studying because of this book I’m copyediting!):

As the war progressed many African American soldiers increasingly felt they were being used in an unjust racial war. The Filipino insurgents subjected Black soldiers to psychological warfare, using propaganda encouraging them to desert. Posters and leaflets addressed to “The Colored American Soldier” described the lynching and discrimination against Blacks in the United States and discouraged them from being the instrument of their white masters’ ambitions to oppress another “people of color.” Blacks who deserted to the Filipino nationalist cause would be welcomed and given positions of responsibility. (23)

During the war in the Philippines, fifteen U.S. soldiers, six of them Black, would defect to Aquinaldo. One of the Black deserters, Private David Fagen became notorious as a “Insurecto Captain,” and was apparently so successful fighting American soldiers that a price of $600 was placed on his head. The bounty was collected by a Filipino defector who brought in Fagen’s decomposed head.

A Black newspaper, the Indianapolis Freeman, editorialized in December, 1901, “Fagen was a traitor and died a traitor’s death, but he was a man no doubt prompted by honest motives to help a weakened side, and one he felt allied by bonds that bind. (24)

The sentiments of most Black soldiers in the Philippines would be summed up by Commissary Sergeant Middleton W. Saddler of the 25th Infantry, who wrote, “We are now arrayed to meet a common foe, men of our own hue and color. Whether it is right to reduce these people to submission is not a question for soldiers to decide. Our oaths of allegiance know neither race, color, nor nation.” (25)

America really does have a bloody history. What’s so interesting about the Philippine–American War is how this war brought two different and similar people together and at war. I am reminded of James Baldwin’s speech at Paris, Baldwin’s Negro, and can really surmise how many blacks felt at this time. They were neither of and not of America, and the kind of psychological warfare the Filipino soldiers played must have been traumatic, manipulative, and yet almost truthful. Here’s some more articles for you to read about this really interesting dynamic between Filipinos, blacks, America, the Philippines, and most of all, the effects of imperialism.

Philippine War, a conflict of conscience | Charles Young, a Buffalo Solider | Buffalo Soldiers and the Spanish–American War


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