On July 28, 1866, the Thirty-Ninth Congress passed the Act to increase and fix the Military Peace Establishment of the United States; thus the federal government created six all-Colored Army Regiments. The units identified as the 9th and 10th Colored Cavalry Regiments and the 38th, 39th, 40th, and 41st Colored Infantry Regiments. Each regiment would have approximately 1,000 black soldiers led by white officers.
This was the first time in the history of the U.S. Army that black soldiers became a permanent part of the military and as such was the most historically significant change in the makeup of the United States Army immediately after the U.S. Civil War. The impetus for creating the units was the gallant service of over 200,000 black soldiers during that 1861-1865 conflict.
Orders sent to Maj. Gens. William T. Sherman and Philip H. Sheridan to raise four of these regiments. In Sherman’s Military Division of the Missouri, the 38th Infantry organized at Jefferson Barracks, near St. Louis, and the 10th Cavalry at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., while Sheridan’s Department of the Gulf provided the 39th Infantry and the 9th Cavalry, both organized in New Orleans.
Elsewhere, the 40th Infantry recruited largely in Baltimore and Washington, (Department of Washington) while the 41st Infantry, taking most of its men from Kentucky and Louisiana, concentrated at Baton Rouge and Greenville, LA, with Sheridan’s Department of the Gulf.
The initial four black regiments, the Thirty-eighth, Thirty-ninth, Fortieth and Forty-first, served throughout the south and the west during the Reconstruction period. Moreover, these units served as an important experiment, testing the ability of black soldiers to serve in the United States Army.
The Thirty-Eighth Infantry commander was Colonel William B. Hazen; the Thirty-Ninth Infantry commander was Colonel Joseph A Mower; the Fortieth Infantry commander was Colonel Nelson Miles, and the Forty-First Infantry commander was Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie.
In 1869 Congress, passing the Army Appropriation Act, deciding to further reduce the peacetime Army to reduce costs, passed another army reorganization bill which provided for the reduction of the entire infantry to twenty-five regiments. General Sherman, now the Commanding General of the Army, noting that the law did not specify the survival of any of the colored infantry regiments, quickly ordered the 38th Infantry Regiment stationed in Kansas and New Mexico, transferred to Fort McKavett, Texas to merge with the 41st Infantry to form the new 24th Infantry Regiment. The 40th Infantry in Goldsboro, North Carolina traveled by rail to New Orleans where it merged with the 39th Infantry, to form the new 25th Infantry.
This action guaranteed that at least two all-black Infantry units remained in the peacetime U.S. Army. The 24th established its first headquarters at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri under the command of Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie. The 25th established its first headquarters at Jackson Barracks, Louisiana under the command of Colonel Joseph S. Mower. Incidentally, the 9th Cavalry Commander was Colonel Edward Hatch and the 10th Cavalry Commander was Colonel Benjamin Grierson.
These infantry units along with the 9th and 10th Cavalry regiments then entered into a period of frontier duty in almost every state and territory west of the 100th meridian including Alaska and Hawaii and in a few eastern locations such as Fort Ethan Allen, Vermont, Madison Barracks Sackett Harbor New York and military stations around Washington, D.C. (Fort Meyer). All four units came together to participate in the Spanish American War (1898) and the subsequent successful Filipino War (1899-1902). These units continued to participate in U.S. military operations in the early 20th Century including the Punitive Expedition against Francisco (Pancho) Villa and his forces in Northern Mexico in 1916.