By MG Sean B. MacFarland, 1st AD and Fort Bliss Commanding General:
Fort Bliss’ Buffalo Soldier Gate and Road
At the beginning of this month Fort Bliss changed the name of the Robert E. Lee Gate (on Airport Road) to Buffalo Soldier Gate. In due course, we will change the name of Robert E. Lee Road to Buffalo Soldier Road. I wanted to take the opportunity to comment on the basis for this change.
Fort Bliss was once home to elements of the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments and 24th and 25th Infantry Regiments, known as the Buffalo Soldiers. Their service here is already commemorated near the same gate by the Buffalo Soldiers Monument, a large bronze statue of Corporal John Ross of I Troop, 9th Cavalry, returning to Fort Bliss from a mission along the Guadalupe Mountains. It stands not far from where the Buffalo Soldiers’ barracks once were during WW II.
While Confederate General Robert E. Lee was a worthy opponent to General Ulysses S. Grant and one of our most celebrated cavalry leaders, he neither visited nor served at Fort Bliss and has no historic connection with this installation. In no way is this action part of some broader effort to rename the streets currently named after Confederate Civil War leaders; this is a measure to commemorate the Buffalo Soldiers and their role within the history of Fort Bliss and the U.S. Army.
The Buffalo Soldiers in the American Southwest
The 24th and 25th Infantry Regiments and the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments were assembled in 1866, following the Civil War. Formed with black Soldiers and posted to the Southwestern United States, they maintained a presence and conducted operations in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona well into the 20th Century. They participated in numerous scouting missions and campaigns against American Indians. Many earned Medals of Honor in these tough campaigns in which the frontier was secured and these regiments earned the grudging admiration of their Native American opponents. It was the Indians who gave them the name “Buffalo Soldier” in part because their hair reminded them of coarse buffalo hair, but also out of respect for their strength and endurance. The buffalo occupied a central place in Native American culture and the title was a great honor, which the black regiments adopted with pride.
The Buffalo Soldiers on Fort Bliss
From 1869 to 1876, the Army stationed companies of these Buffalo Soldiers on Fort Bliss. These units lived on the Camp Concordia site, just south of what are now I-10 and the Concordia Cemetery. These troops lived a rough life with limited supplies of food and primitive adobe shelters they built for themselves about three miles from the Rio Grande River. They suffered from heat, insects, and diseases such as malaria and dysentery. There are a number of Buffalo Soldiers buried at Concordia Cemetery, where a monument to them also stands. When the Army closed the post in 1876, the Soldiers were happy to leave it. A year later, a large element of the 9th Cavalry Regiment returned to El Paso from New Mexico to quell the disturbance known today as the San Elizario Salt War. The United States Army then reopened Fort Bliss, this time in the downtown El Paso area, stationing the Buffalo Soldiers in rented buildings.
During World War II, the Army trained a number of black anti-aircraft battalions on Fort Bliss. The Army at the time was still segregated, so these troops were separately housed in the vicinity of the soon to be renamed Buffalo Soldiers Road, not far from the Buffalo Soldier Monument. A chapel and several buildings from this period still remain. The post also housed a black labor battalion, charged with building and maintaining training areas and facilities on Fort Bliss. Among other things, this battalion built and maintained the “Little Tokyo” mock-up training village east of Fort Bliss near the Hueco Mountains.
In honor of their service to the Nation and to Fort Bliss, I’m proud to recognize the Buffalo Soldiers’ legacy by renaming the gate this month and road that it serves.
Twelfth Anniversary of 9/11
Yesterday marked the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania. The month after the attacks on our country, the United States Armed Forces launched an offensive against the Taliban and Al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan and later expanded our war against terrorism in Iraq. This community and this division know the tremendous price our Soldiers and families paid during the past 12 years. The war continues. We cannot allow time to weaken our resolve to defend our nation and defeat its enemies. Despite budget constraints, we will do all we can to ensure that the U.S. Army remains the most powerful Army in the world, so that we never suffer another attack like the one we witnessed in 2001. Thanks for all you have done and continue to do to protect this great country of ours.
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