Book Review: Men of Color to Arms!: Black Soldiers, Indian Wars, and the Quest for Equality


by Elizabeth D. Leonard

New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2010. Pp. xx, 315. Illus., notes, index. $27.95. ISBN: 039306039X

Men of Color to Arms! concentrates on the service of African-Americans and the “Indian Fighting Army” through the early 1890s.

Prof. Leonard (Colby College) opens with a chapter providing a short overview of the role of black men in the U.S. Army during the Civil War.  Two chapters follow that deal directly with African American troops on the frontier.  There follow three chapters that explore the struggle for racial progress during the post-Civil War era.  These address racism as it affected black men in military service, from hostile civilians, comrades, politicians, senior officers, and even Native Americans.  There is an interesting look at efforts to secure commissions for black men, with short profiles of the handful of African American cadets at West Point and the even fewer black men who became line officers, and the tribulations that some of them experienced.  These are seen with the framework of the larger struggle to attain wider recognition for men and women of color in America. 

The book is well written, and while it does cover some ground explored by earlier historians, also breaks ground as well, such as in its look at relations between black troops and other communities on the frontier.  There are a number of small errors: the account of the “Fetterman Massacre” is just wrong (and unnecessary to the point of the book), an NCO is never referred to as “officer,” nor were the Black Seminole Indian Scouts a “regiment” or ever part of the 24th Infantry, none of which are fatal to Leonard's basic argument, that black troops performed their duties loyally and well, despite racism and hostility, seeking only to attain their rights as Americans.

Men of Color to Arms! is a valuable contribution not only to the role of black troops in the army but also as a look at race in the history of the waning days of the American frontier.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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