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Williams or William Cathay (Cathey)
Private, Thirty-eighth U.S. Infantry 1866-1868
At the outbreak of the Civil
War, the government was fighting the Indians in the west. It withdrew most of
its men and resources from the Indian wars, to concentrate on ending the
rebellion. At the end of the Civil War, 186,000 black soldiers had participated
in the war, with 38,000 killed in action. Southerners and eastern populations
did not want to see armed Negro soldiers near or in their communities. They were
also afraid of the labor market being flooded with a new source of labor.
General employment opportunities in these communities was not available to
blacks, so many African-Americans took a long hard look at military service
which offered shelter, education, steady pay, medical attention and a pension.
Some, such as Cathay Williams, the future female Buffalo Soldier, decided it was
much better than frequent civilian unemployment. In a newspaper article, she
said "I wanted to make my own living and not be dependent of relations or
friends." Of course in some quarters, it was thought this is an good way of
getting rid of two problems at the same time.
When Congress reorganized the peacetime regular army in the summer of 1866, it had taken the above situation into account. It also recognized the military merits of black soldiers by authorizing two segregated regiments of black cavalry, the Ninth United States Cavalry and the Tenth United States Cavalry and the 24th, 25th ,38th , 39th, 40th and 41st Infantry Regiments. Orders were given to transfer the troops to the western war arena, where they would join the army's fight with the Indians. In 1869, one year after Cathay Williams' discharge from the army, the black infantry regiments were consolidated into two units, the Twenty-fourth United States Infantry and the Twenty-fifth United States Infantry. The 38th U.S. Infantry became the Twenty-fourth United States Infantry. All of the black regiments were commanded by white officers at that time.
Initial recruiting efforts
concentrated on filling recruitment quotas with little regard for the recruit's
capability and soldiering skills. These recruits had to be discharged and
replaced, causing a delay in some regiments arriving at their assigned
The army surgeon might have examimed Cathay superficially, or not at all. The result was still historcal. William Cathay, the new recurit, was declared "fit for duty", thus giving assurance of her place in history as the only documented female Buffalo Soldier, and as the only documented African-American woman who served in the U.S. army prior to the 1948 law, which officially allowed women to join the army.
The Buffalo Soldiers had the lowest desertion rate in the army, though their army posts were often in the worst country in the west. Official reports, show these soldiers were frequently subjected to the harshest of discipline, racist officers, poor food, equipment and shelter."
Source: St. Louis Daily Times, January 2, 1876
"My Father a was a freeman, but my mother a slave, belonging to William Johnson, a wealthy farmer who lived at the time I was born near Independence, Jackson county, Missouri. While I was a small girl my master and family moved to Jefferson City. My master died there and when the war broke out and the United States soldiers came to Jefferson City they took me and other colored folks with them to Little Rock. Col. Benton of the 13th army corps was the officer that carried us off. I did not want to go. He wanted me to cook for the officers, but I had always been a house girl and did not know how to cook. I learned to cook after going to Little Rock and was with the army at The Battle of Pea Ridge. Afterwards the command moved over various portions of Arkansas and Louisiana. I saw the soldiers burn lots of cotton and was at Shreveport when the rebel gunboats were captured and burned on Red River. We afterwards went to New Orleans, then by way of the Gulf to Savannah Georgia, then to Macon and other places in the South. Finally I was sent to Washington City and at the time Gen. Sheridan made his raids in the Shenandoah valley I was cook and washwoman for his staff I was sent from Virginia to some place in Iowa and afterwards to Jefferson Barracks, where I remained some time. You will see by this paper that on the 15th day of November 1866 I enlisted in the United States army at St. Louis, in the Thirty-eighth United States Infantry Company A, Capt. Charles E. Clarke commanding.
Captain Charles E. Clarke in the Civil War 6th Infantry at the Battle of Baton Rouge.
"The regiment I joined wore the Zouave uniform and only two persons, a cousin and a particular friend, members of the regiment, knew that I was a woman. They never 'blowed' on me. They were partly the cause of my joining the army. Another reason was I wanted to make my own living and not be dependent on relations or friends. Soon after I joined the army, I was taken with the small-pox and was sick at a hospital across the river from St. Louis, but as soon as I got well I joined my company in New Mexico. I was as that paper says, I was never put in the guard house, no bayonet was ever put to my back. I carried my musket and did guard and other duties while in the army, but finally I got tired and wanted to get off. I played sick, complained of pains in my side, and rheumatism in my knees. The post surgeon found out I was a woman and I got my discharge. The men all wanted to get rid of me after they found out I was a woman. Some of them acted real bad to me. After leaving the army I went to Pueblo, Colorado, where I made money by cooking and washing. I got married while there, but my husband was no account. He stole my watch and chain, a hundred dollars in money and my team of horses and wagon. I had him arrested and put in jail, and then I came here. I like this town. I know all the good people here, and I expect to get rich yet. I have not got my land warrant. I thought I would wait till the railroad came and then take my land near the depot. Grant owns all this land around here, and it won't cost me anything. I shall never live in the states again. You see I've got a good sewing machine and I get washing to do and clothes to make. I want to get along and not be a burden to my friends or relatives."