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Black Officer in a Buffalo Soldier Regiment: The Military Career of Charles Young, by Brian G. Shellum

Lincoln, Nb.: Bison/University of Nebraska Press, 2010. Pp. xxi, 360. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $19.95 paper. ISBN: 0803213859.

 

Charles Young (1864-1922), the third black man to graduate from West Point (1889), was the first to have a successful career, with service on the frontier, in the Philippines and Mexico, and as a military attaché, rising to colonel, the first African-American to do so in the Regular Army, all during the height of the Jim Crow era.  Along the way, Young so impressed Theodore Roosevelt, that the "Rough Rider" tried to take him to France in command of a black regiment, and earned the respect of John J. Pershing, under whom he served in Mexico, and of the very young George S. Patton, who saw him in action under fire in 1916. 

Despite this impressive record, Black Officer in a Buffalo Soldier Regiment is the first proper biography of this interesting officer.  Intelligence professional Shellum, who previous wrote an account of Young's experiences at West Point, Black Cadet in a White Bastion, does a good job of examining the man's life and career, while at the same time taking a look at the complexities of racism in the Old Army (Young, it seems, had quite a few friends and admirers among officers on the other side of the "color line"), and also at the transition of the "Indian Fighting Army" into a modern force capable of taking part in World War I.  In the process, Shellum provides some interesting insights into the duties of a military attaché and several clear accounts of some now long-forgotten military actions on the frontier, in the Philippines, and in Mexico.

A valuable read for anyone with an interest in the final years of the frontier Army, American imperialism, African-Americans in military service, and American military history in general.

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Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   


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