| posted on 7.4.2010 at 11:15 PM
The Bicycle Soldiers (later to become the Buffalo Soldiers) Part II
African American Buffalo Soldiers
Test Bikes for U.S. Army
on 1,900 Mile Expedition
by Eric Shalit | December 17th, 2009
Formed in 1896, the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps at Fort Missoula, Mont., was established to test the practicality of bikes for military purposes in
mountainous terrain. The idea had been kicking around for years, as bikes already had been put to military use in Europe, and cycling for sport,
recreation and transportation gained tremendous popularity on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1890s.
Gen. Nelson A. Miles, born in Westminster, Mass., began advocating for bicycle couriers in the Army after seeing a six-day bicycle race in Madison
Square Garden in New York in 1891. He wrote that unlike a horse, a bike did not need to be fed and watered and rested, and would be less likely to
collapse. Furthermore, a bike is smaller and quieter than a horse and thus could help a soldier sneak up on the enemy, he argued. It was Gen. Miles,
who became known as “the patron of military cycling,” who approved Lt. James A. Moss’ request from Missoula to form the bicycle corps.
The 25th Infantry regiment was made up of black men, known as buffalo soldiers, commanded by white officers. Its Bicycle Corps began with eight riders
using one-speed Spalding bicycles on loan from the manufacturer in Chicago. Their exploits are detailed in the book “Iron Riders: Story of the 1890s
Fort Missoula Buffalo Soldiers Bicycle Corps” by George Niels Sorensen (Pictorial Histories Publishing Co., 2000).
1895 Spalding Bicycle
Their first major outing was a four-day, 126-mile trip to Lake McDonald and back. Each bike loaded with gear weighed about 76 pounds.
The lieutenant listed their rations: “1 jar Armour’s extract of beef, 1/4 lb.; 7 cans beans, 19 lbs.; 2 lbs. salt; 5 lbs. prunes; 6 lbs. sugar; 5 lbs.
rice; 2 lbs. baking powder; 1 can condensed milk; 20 lbs. bacon; 3 cans deviled ham; 2 lbs. 2 ounces pepper; 2 lbs. coffee; 35 lbs. flour; 3 cans
corn, 5 1/4 lbs.; 1 can syrup, 12 lbs.; 3 lbs. lard. Total, 120 lbs.”
At times the dirt roads were so muddy and the grades so steep, the men walked the bikes along railroad tracks. After crossing Mission Creek, the
soldiers had to re-cement loosened tires onto their wooden rims. Despite breakdowns and delays, their commander considered the trip a success and
immediately planned a longer, tougher one.
This time the soldiers covered 790 miles in 16 days, visiting Yellowstone National Park. They dealt with mud, headwinds, rain, punctured tires,
stomach ailments and other suffering, but the riders all kept a positive outlook, according to Lt. Moss’ account.
The following summer, 1897, came the Bicycle Corps’ most remarkable adventure, a 1,900-mile trip from Missoula to St. Louis, Mo. In 34 days of
riding, 20 soldiers averaged 56 miles per day. Their average speed registered 6.3 mph. Newspapers carried daily updates on their journey, and the Army
& Navy Journal quoted Lt. Moss at the conclusion:
“The trip has proved beyond peradventure my contention that the bicycle has a place in modern warfare. In every kind of weather, over all sorts of
roads, we averaged fifty miles a day. At the end of the journey we are all in good physical condition. Seventeen tires and half a dozen frames is the
sum of our damage. The practical result of the trip shows that an Army Bicycle Corps can travel twice as fast as cavalry or infantry under any
conditions, and at one third the cost and effort.”
Buffalo Soldier Bicycle Brigade
Sorenson’s book puts the Bicycle Corps’ accomplishments into perspective by exploring the role of blacks in the U.S. military, the attitudes leading
up to the bicycle experiment, the Western setting in which the troops were stationed, and the rapid changes taking place in America at the time,
including the evolution of the bicycle itself.
In 1974, 10 bicyclists honored the Buffalo Soldiers Bicycle Corps by retracing their route from Missoula to St. Louis. The ride was organized by two
professors, Pferron Doss and Richard Smith, from the Black Studies Department at the University of Montana. They borrowed the motto of the original
25th Infantry: “Onward.”
Of course, the 20th century riders encountered a changed nation. But when viewed over the handlebars, some things were hardly different. One of Doss’
reflections on the Bicycle Corps odyssey:
“It was not until we were pedaling down their shadows that we could fully appreciate what they had endured. Though 77 years’ progress boasted the
luxuries of paved freeways and high-caliber equipment, the steep hills, weather and snakes proved to be equal opportunists in evening the score.”
Lynne Tolman is a copy editor and former bicycling columnist for the Worcester, Mass., Telegram & Gazette, and a board member of the Major Taylor
| posted on 7.4.2010 at 11:23 PM
There is a story I want to tell. It begins with the African-American Buffalo Bicycle Soldiers. At least with one of them. I am so sorry I cannot
remember the brutha's name, for his is the tale I wish to tell.
But first, I needed to give the background of the Sgt. It began with the Bicycle Corps. It will end with the Sgt. and other black soldiers of the25th
Infantry charging up San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War and saving that damnable racist, Theodore Roosevelt and his "about to be slaughtered
by the Spanish" Rough Riders. The history WE read is a LIE! Without the all-black 25th, Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders
would be just another patriotic slogan, as in "Remember the Alamo/Maine/Rough Riders!" Not only the Bicycle Solider Sgt and his men save Teddy's
rich, racist butt from the Spanish, but he saved him TWICE, the second time by getting the blacks to share their rations with the starving Rough
Riders..... after Teddy Roosevelt came to him with hat in hand.
It's a tragic story. I almost cry remembering the details. But.... those who refuse to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. So, in
a later thread, I shall tell the story of heroism.... and betrayal.
Sgt. Mingo Sanders is the sarge's name (God bless google! )
| posted on 7.5.2010 at 12:45 PM
Another Account of the black bicycle warriors
The endurance and capability of the men of the 25th Infantry gave the bicycle a permanent place in military history.
By William and Terra Hangen
In 1896, two years before the Spanish-American War of 1898, the U.S. Army began testing a mechanical alternative to horses and mules—the bicycle. At
Fort Missoula, Mont., the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps, a small band of black volunteers, were preparing for a major training ride to Lake McDonald,
Mont., and another to Yellowstone National Park. These training rides, the first official military experiments testing bicycles for the field, would
culminate in 1897 with a 41-day, 1,900-mile ride to St. Louis. Those years leading up to the Spanish-American War—what could be called the calm before
the storm—gave the men of the bicycle corps time to earn the title of black bicycle warriors.
Strength in numbers
The men of 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps were unusual not only because of their mode of transportation, but also because they all were black. Between
180,000 and 200,000 black men served in the Union armed forces during the Civil War, making up about 12 percent of the men under arms (most of whom
were volunteers, rather than regular Army soldiers) at the end of the war. After the war, however, the Army resized rapidly, resulting in the
inclusion of more black regiments. On July 28, 1866, Congress authorized the first black units in the regular Army. Black soldiers, often called
buffalo soldiers by the American Indians they fought, made up 10 percent of military troops between 1870 and 1898. The cavalry had some black
officers, but there weren’t any in the infantry until 1901.
The 25th Infantry, one of the first black units, spent a brief period of time in Louisiana and then in Texas. It eventually landed in Fort Missoula
where it was headquartered from 1888 to 1898. The original bicycle unit consisted of eight black enlisted men under the command of Lt. James A. Moss,
a southern white officer. The men he led were musician William W. Brown, Pvt. John Findley, Pvt. Elwood Forman, Sgt. Dalbert P. Green, Pvt. William
Haynes, Pvt. Frank L. Johnson, Pvt. William Proctor, and Cpl. John G. Williams.
Green joined the infantry during the 1890s and served through 1916. In addition to bicycling to Yellowstone, he was the captain, manager, and
historian of the regiment’s baseball team. He called these years the happiest of his life.
Findley, Haynes, Johnson, and Proctor participated in both the rides in 1896 and the 1897 ride to St. Louis. Findley, the chief bicycle mechanic, was
indispensable on both trips. He had worked for four years in the repair shop of the Imperial Bicycle Works of Chicago, so he was well prepared to
teach the soldiers how to repair their bicycles.
It was Moss’ innovative idea to use bicycles in courier and reconnaissance work, as well as to move supplies and ammunition, which had been restricted
to slow foot marches or tedious wagon trains. Moss had graduated at the bottom of his West Point class and had been assigned to then-remote Fort
Missoula, a frontier outpost. Despite his poor showing at the renowned military academy, his plan to revolutionize Army transportation was brilliant.
He realized that bicycles, unlike horses, did not need to be fed or allowed to graze and could easily be hidden in a gulch or riverbed, while a large
herd of horses would be more visible and less silent.
Fortunately, Moss’ request to form the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps landed on the desk of the one man in the Army who would approve it. Gen. Nelson
Miles, who later gained the nickname “patron of military cycling,” became interested in the military potential for bicycles in 1891, when he saw a
six-day bicycle race at Madison Square Garden in New York.
A.G. Spalding & Bros., a sports company in Chicopee Falls, Mass., donated the bicycles tested for military use to the bicycle corps. The bicycles were
state of the art for their time, with steel frames and rims, which made them strong—but heavy and cumbersome.
The bicycle corps began training in July 1896 with grueling exercises such as the one which started with the command “jump fence.” It involved the
soldiers scaling a 9-foot obstacle by standing on the bike seat, climbing to the top of the obstacle, and then pulling the bicycle up and over.
The eight-man group tested the bicycles further by riding to Lake McDonald from Fort Missoula, a round trip of 126 miles. It took three days, and the
25th Infantry men encountered heavy rains, deep mud, and equipment breakdowns. These difficult conditions provided useful experience for future rides
the corps would take.
On Aug. 19, 1896, the men embarked on a second trip, this time to Yellowstone National Park, which meant they had to cross the Rocky Mountains. To
maintain a fast pace as they climbed, the men often rode along railroad beds. The surface was hard on both their bodies and their bikes. Still, the
one-way trip was completed in eight days, the cyclists’ speed averaging 6 mph.
As Moss observed his soldiers performing heroically during storms and through mud, heat, and thirst, he admired their tenacity. He described the corps
as “about as fine looking and well-disciplined a lot as could be found anywhere in the United States Army.”
The corps generally was well received, and the Army and the 25th Infantry men both realized that these black soldiers were goodwill ambassadors for
both their race and for the Army. At one point along the route, a German farm family invited the men to join them at the supper table. Upon reaching
Yellowstone, however, the men of the corps encountered segregation and racial prejudice.
See you in St. Louis
The major test came in 1897. Forty men volunteered, but only 20 were selected for a ride east to St. Louis. The enlisted men making this 1,900-mile
trek were Pvt. Travis Bridges, Pvt. Francis Button, Pvt. John Cook, Pvt. Hiram L.B. Dingman, musician Elias Johnson, Pvt. Sam Johnson, Pvt. Eugene
Jones, Lance Cpl. Abram Martin, Pvt. Samuel Reid, Pvt. Richard Rout, Sgt. Mingo Sanders, Pvt. George Scott, Pvt. William Williamson,
Pvt. Sam Williamson, and Pvt. John Wilson, all new additions to the bicycle corps. They were joined by the more experienced Findley, Forman, Haynes,
Johnson, and Proctor, who had ridden in 1896. The corps, joined by Edward Boos, a reporter for the Daily Missoulian newspaper, and the assistant post
surgeon, Dr. James M. Kennedy, left Fort Missoula at 5:30 a.m. June 14, 1897. Even at this early hour, citizens of Missoula gathered along the street
to cheer them.
Ranging in age from 24 to 39, these men were extremely fit, and they needed to be. They faced pressure to cycle 50 miles a day, as food pickup points
were 100 miles apart and each man carried a two-day food supply. This pace proved impossible, so rations and water were in short supply. With
permission, corps members often spent the nights camping on farms. This was quite an event for the farm families, who provided the soldiers with milk,
eggs, and bread.
On July 10, Boos wrote: “When nearing Beaver Creek, the road became impassable for bicycles and the order was given to keep to the railroad track. We
tried this plan for several miles and were nearly jolted to pieces.” He went on to describe pushing the bikes uphill and through mud bogs, estimating
that of the 1,900 miles covered, the bikes were pushed about 300 to 400 miles.
The journey took 41 days, with corps members persevering through snow, rain, and extreme heat. It is a testament to their physical strength and sheer
determination that they overcame all these obstacles.
At about the halfway point, Boos reported: “After leaving the mountainous country the roads improved somewhat, but dust was encountered where mud was
lacking. The heat is also growing in intensity and the remainder of the trip promises to be under a sweltering sun. The men are in good spirits and
health and though some of them seemed to be trained down pretty fine, they are strong and active and able to make forced marches if necessary.”
When the corps members were 23 miles west of their destination, another reporter camping with the bicycle corps sent word to the St. Louis Star that
the men were in great condition and their morale was high. On July 24, 1897, people from St. Louis cycled out to meet the corps and accompanied them
on the last leg of the journey.
Upon reaching St. Louis, the men were greeted by a cheering crowd of about 10,000 people. The Star reported the trip as “the most marvelous cycling
trip in the history of the wheel and the most rapid military march on record.” In an interview in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Moss described his men
and the “spirit, pluck, and fine soldierly qualities they displayed.”
The corps remained in St. Louis for a week and returned to Fort Missoula by train. The men of the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps could hold their heads
high. Their mission was accomplished, and they had shown that bicycles could be used by the military.
Separate ways(This section "begins" the next topic of Sgt. Sanders and the all-black infantry who saved the lives of
Theodore Roosevelt and the Rough Riders when they rode up San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War)
When the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps returned to Fort Missoula, Moss studied British, French, and German military cycling strategy and history and
submitted a proposal for a 20-man ride to San Francisco. Upper command approved his plan but stipulated that it be at no cost to the government.
Eventually, however, the San Francisco project was killed by the War Department, which had shifted its attention to Cuba and Spain. Within one year,
the men of the 25th Infantry were fighting in Cuba.
After the Spanish-American War, the men of the bicycle corps went their separate ways. Green served 25 years until his retirement in 1916. Haynes
ranked highly as a rifle marksman and was described as an extremely capable noncommissioned officer. Jones was wounded in action in Cuba. Forman died
in the Philippines in 1901. Brown retired with his wife to the orange groves of Los Angeles.
A shooting incident in Brownsville, Texas, ended the military careers of two of the bicycle soldiers. On Aug. 13, 1906, a white bartender was killed
and a policeman wounded. The 25th Infantry soldiers were blamed, and without witnesses or a trial, President Theodore Roosevelt ordered 167 black
soldiers of the 25th Infantry to be discharged without honor, Sanders and Cook among them.
Bigger and Better
Bicycles were not integrated into the military as a result of the 25th Infantry’s efforts, but there is potential for an increased use of bikes in the
military. The 1st Tactical Studies Group (Airborne), a nonprofit group of airborne veterans, is working to have human-powered vehicles, called HPVs,
play a role in the 82nd Airborne Division. They have assembled a militarized all-terrain bicycle (ATB) with off-the-shelf parts, and even have an
airdrop-capable ATB that folds into the size of a backpack.Sanders apparently was asleep at the time of the shootings and was discharged with little
more than a year left until his retirement. Brig. Gen. A.S. Burt defended him, saying, “Mingo Sanders is the best noncommissioned
officer I have ever known.” Sanders appealed to the president to be allowed to reenlist. Despite many strong commendations, excellent official
rankings, and service in the thick of the fighting in Cuba and the Philippines, his request was denied. It was not until 1972 that the Brownsville
injustice was corrected and all 167 men received honorable discharges—43 years after Sanders’ death.
The bike bust
Gus Chambers, a TV producer for the University of Montana, spent two years researching the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps. The result of his research is
the PBS film he produced, “The Bicycle Corps: America’s Black Army on Wheels,” which first aired in September 2000. Chambers says that for the men
who participated in the corps bicycle tests, it merely was time away from the post and an adventure. None of the riders had any idea that people would
find their accomplishments compelling or of historic merit.
The black bicycle warriors performed nobly on their arduous test rides more than 100 years ago, yet the bicycle never replaced the horse in the Army.
The fate of the horse, and indeed of the cavalry, was sealed by something the riders never could have foreseen—the invention of the internal
combustion engine and the development of armored divisions of trucks, tanks, and other rumbling machines.
It was on PBS that I saw the story of Sgt. Mingo Sanders. Although it was about the Bicycle Soldiers, his story, and run-in with Teddy Roosevelt and
his Rough Riders, was so compelling it stole the emphasis of the show from the black bicycle warriors to Sgt. Mingo Sanders.
As a result, the next thread will deal with the history of Sgt. Mingo Sanders and his and the men of the 25th Infantry under his command's, heroism
and bravery in the Spanish-American War.
| posted on 3.2.2014 at 04:01 PM