Skip to main content

Collection William A. Gladstone Afro-American Military Collection

Timeline

A chronology of key events in the history of African American military service.

Revolutionary War and War of 1812

  • 1770

    Crispus Attucks, a runaway slave, became the first American killed by British soldiers in the Boston Massacre.

  • 1773-1783

    Beginning with the earliest Battles of Lexington and Concord, enslaved and free black men fought with the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. By war’s end, about 5,000 slaves had been granted freedom through military service.

  • 1775

    Salem Poor, a free black man who enlisted in the Massachusetts militia, was the first black soldier to win a battle commendation for valor at the Battle of Bunker Hill.

  • 1778

    The First Rhode Island Regiment became the first and only all-black unit to fight in the American Revolution.

  • 1812-1815

    Enslaved and free blacks also served in the War of 1812. Black sailors comprised about 20 percent of navy crews. William Brown, a black seaman, was wounded in fighting the French warship L’Insurente and also fought against La Vengeance. He was granted 160 acres of land for his service.

  • 1814

    General Andrew Jackson called on free blacks to fight as part of the militia in defense of New Orleans. These black volunteers helped secure the American victory at the Battle of New Orleans.

Civil War

  • 1861, May

    The First Louisiana Native Guard became the first official black regiment of the Confederacy. In September 1862, the First Native Guard joined the Union army (later renamed the 73rd U.S.C. Infantry).

  • 1862, May

    Without official authorization, General David Hunter organized the First South Carolina Volunteers, the first Union regiment in the South chiefly comprised of ex-slaves.

  • 1862, May 13

    Robert Smalls commandeered the Confederate steamer Planter and sailed it to Union forces. He went on to become the first and only black Civil War naval captain and later served as a state legislator and U.S. congressman.

  • 1862, Sept. 22

    President Abraham Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, officially allowing black soldiers and sailors into Union forces. Shortly thereafter, Governor John A. Andrew of Massachusetts called for volunteers to form two black regiments, the 54th and 55th Massachusetts Infantry.

  • 1862, Oct. 28-29

    The First Kansas Volunteers (colored) fought Confederate soldiers at the Battle of Island Mound, Missouri. It is the first engagement by black troops against Confederate forces during the war.

  • 1863, Jan. 1

    President Abraham Lincoln issued the final Emancipation Proclamation.

  • 1863, Jan. 13

    The First Kansas Volunteers (colored) were mustered into service.

  • 1863, May 22

    The Bureau of Colored Troops was established to organize black regiments.

  • 1863, May 27

    The First and Third Native Guards made unsuccessful charges on the Confederate stronghold at Port Hudson, Louisiana.

  • 1863, June 7

    Three black regiments and a small band of white troops repulsed an assault by Confederate forces at Milliken’s Bend, Louisiana.

  • 1863, June 30

    The First U.S. Colored Troops in Washington, D.C., was the first black federal regiment enrolled by the Bureau of Colored Troops.

  • 1863, July 9

    Eight black regiments had an important part in the siege of Port Hudson, which gave the Union control of the Mississippi River.

  • 1863, July 18

    The 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment led the Union assault on Fort Wagner in South Carolina. Colonel Robert G. Shaw was killed along with nearly half of the attacking forces. In this battle, Sergeant William H. Carney became the first African American to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.

  • 1863, Dec. 23

    Robert Black, powder boy on the USS Marblehead, was the first black in the Union navy to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. Around 30,000 sailors served in the Union navy.

  • 1864, Aug.

    During the battle of Mobile Bay, John Lawson kept the guns operating aboard the USS Hartford despite being badly wounded. He was later awarded the Medal of Honor.

  • 1865

    Sergeant-Major Christian A. Fleetwood won the Congressional Medal of Honor for services on September 29, 1864, at the Battle of Chapin’s Farm, Virginia.

  • 1865, Mar. 13

    Confederacy passed a bill authorizing the enlistment of blacks as soldiers.

  • 1865, Apr.

    The 62nd U.S. Colored Troops and two white regiments fought in the war’s last battle at Palmito Ranch, Texas. Over the course of the Civil War, 250,000 blacks served in the Union forces, and 37,000 were killed.

  • 1866, July 28

    Congress created six all-black Regular Army regiments: 9th and 10th Cavalry regiments, and 38th, 39th, 40th, and 41st Infantry regiments.

  • 1869, Mar. 3

    The 38th and 41st Infantry regiments consolidated into the 24th Infantry; 39th and 40th regiments consolidated into the 25th Infantry.

  • 1872, Sept. 21

    John H. Conyers became the first black admitted to the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland.

  • 1877, June 15

    Henry O. Flipper became the first black graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.

Post-Civil War through World War I

  • 1869-1918

    During the Indian Wars, the 9th and 10th Cavalry regiments and the 24th and 25th Infantry regiments were assigned to patrol the Native American population in the Western territories. The Native Americans called these black troops “Buffalo Soldiers” because their hair was thought to resemble buffalo fur.

  • 1898

    During the Spanish-American War, Buffalo Soldiers formed the nucleus of the African American military force during the war. They distinguished themselves in combat; five received the Medal of Honor. The 10th Cavalry rode beside future president Theodore Roosevelt and the Rough Riders in the famous battle of San Juan Hill in Cuba.

  • 1906, Aug. 13

    Gun battle broke out in Brownsville, Texas. White residents blame three companies of the 25th Infantry stationed at nearby Fort Brown. President Theodore Roosevelt dishonorably discharged the companies without a court martial.

  • 1917, May 12

    U. S. Army established a black Officer Training School near Des Moines, Iowa, which commissioned 639 black officers.

  • 1917, Oct. 24

    U.S. Army formed the all-black 92nd Infantry Division, comprised largely of draftees. Most of the 404,348 black troops were in the Services of Supply, American Expeditionary Forces.

  • 1917, Dec. 27

    The 369th Infantry regiment was the first black combat unit overseas. The 369th in 191 consecutive days of frontline action became known as the “Hell Fighters.” The French awarded the entire 369th the Croix de Guerre (War Cross given for valorous service).

  • 1918, Jan. 5

    U.S. Army activated the all-black 93rd Infantry Division, built up around black National Guard units.

  • 1918, Dec. 9

    The 10th Cavalry fought in the last campaign of the Indian Wars, the Battle of Bear Valley in Arizona against the Yaqui natives.

  • 1918, May 15

    Henry Johnson and Needham Roberts of the 369th Infantry regiment became the first Americans to be individually awarded the French Croix de Guerre.

World War II

  • 1940, Oct. 25

    Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., was promoted the rank of brigadier general, becoming the first African American general in the U.S. Army.

  • 1941, Mar. 25

    The 99th Pursuit Squadron of black aviators was activated.

  • 1941, May 12

    The 275th Construction Company became the first black Signal Corp unit.

  • 1941, June 1

    The first black tank battalion (758th) was activated.

  • 1941, July 1

    U.S. Army integrated its Officers Candidate School.

  • 1941, July 19

    Black pilots began training at Tuskegee Army Air Field. Around 600 black pilots received their wings during World War II.

  • 1941, Dec. 1

    Dorie Miller, a mess steward on the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor, emerged as the first national hero of World War II when he commandeered an antiaircraft gun and shot down Japanese planes. He was awarded the Navy Cross.

  • 1942, Mar. 7

    First black pilots received commissions in the Air Corps.

  • 1942, Apr. 7

    U.S. Navy announced acceptance of blacks in all ratings and branches.

  • 1942, May 15

    U.S. Army activated the 93rd Infantry Division.

  • 1942, June 1

    U.S. Marine Corps began the enlistment of blacks. The U.S. Navy permitted blacks to enlist in positions other than stewards.

  • 1942, July 20

    The Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAC), later known as Women’s Army Corps, accepted black women.

  • 1942. Aug. 24

    Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., became the commanding officer of the 99th Pursuit Squadron. A West Point graduate, Davis flew 60 missions and received a Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, and Air Medal with oak leaf clusters.

  • 1942, Oct. 13

    U.S. Army activated the 100th, 301st, and 302nd Fighter Squadrons. Combined with the 99th, these four squadrons of black pilots became the 332nd Fighter Group, popularly known as the Tuskegee Airmen.

  • 1943, June 1

    U.S. Army Air Corps formed the 477th Bomber Group.

  • 1943, June 2

    Tuskegee pilots flew their first combat mission in North Africa.

  • 1943, July 2

    The 99th Pursuit Squadron downed its first enemy aircraft over Italy.

  • 1943, Aug.

    Major Charity Earley was the first black commissioned officer in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC).

  • 1943, Sept.

    Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., was recalled to organize the 332nd Fighter Group.

  • 1944, Jan. 3

    The 332nd Fighter Group entered the war.

  • 1944, Mar. 20

    The antisubmarine ship USS Mason, the first navy vessel with a predominantly black crew, was commissioned.

  • 1944, June 6

    The all-black 329th Anti-Aircraft Barrage Balloon Battalion assisted in the D- Day landings of the Allied invasion of Normandy in Operation Overlord.

  • 1944, Oct. 19

    Black women accepted in the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services (WAVES), a unit of the U.S. Naval Reserve.

  • 1944, Nov. 8

    The first black tank battalion (761st) went into combat in Europe serving under General George S. Patton.

  • 1945

    A. Philip Randolph organized the Committee Against Jim Crow Services and Training, which became the League for Nonviolent Civil Disobedience Against Military Service in 1948.

  • 1945, Mar.

    The 332nd Fighter Group staged a raid over Berlin. The 332nd later received a Presidential Unit Citation for their “outstanding courage, aggressiveness, and combat technique.”

  • 1948, July 26

    President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981 abolishing racial discrimination in the U.S. Armed Forces and eventually leading to the end of segregation in the military services.

 Back to top