Art Collection

Object: Canteen

Object: Canteen | UTSA Institute Of Texan Cultures

Object Details

  • Medium: Metal, Leather, Cloth
  • Classification: Reproductions
  • Reproduction: Based off of an 1860s Model
  • Accession Number: EX2010.6.13

This canteen is a reproduction of the canteens that would have been issued to the Buffalo Soldiers during the Indian Wars era. Buffalo Soldier is a name that refers to African American soldiers that served in the United States Army during and following the American Civil War.

Before the Civil War, African Americans were not officially permitted to fight in the Army. During the war, combat roles and positions in the army would be opened up to African Americans after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. With this new opportunity, many signed up to serve over the course of the war. Over 175,000 African Americans served in the United States Colored Troops (USCT). From 1863 to the end of the war the USCT fought in 39 major engagements and hundreds of smaller skirmishes.

After the Civil War, the size of the military was cut down drastically. This affected African American units as well. In 1866, Congress called for the creation of six African American regular army regiments. Two of these regiments were cavalry, the 9th and 10th. These six regiments were represented far fewer soldiers than the massive numbers that fought in the Civil War, but they would distinguish themselves with bravery in the post war period. African American troops also served in state militias after the war ended. In 1882, Texas boasted nine companies, with 352 men, and in each state African American troops were 20 to 40 percent of the state militia.

Map of significant historic sites associated with the Buffalo Soldier Regiments 1860-1900. Image by NPS map, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Map of significant historic sites associated with the Buffalo Soldier Regiments 1860-1900.
NPS map, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

These new regiments of Buffalo Soldiers would have a hard task in front of them in the post Civil War era. This was a time of conflicts between the United States and Native American groups. The first task for the 9th cavalry was to guard mail routes and travel routes in Texas. Native American and Mexican raiders had plagued these routes during the Civil War. Union troops were no longer in the state and the Confederate government was too busy to protect Texas. In the following years the Buffalo Soldiers would see intense fighting in Texas. In 1875 and 1876, there was fighting in west Texas, and the panhandle as well. In the Texas Panhandle was the Red River War.

In the late 1870s, disaster struck the Buffalo Soldiers. 60 men from the 10th cavalry regiment under the command of Captain Nolan got lost scouting for a Comanche war party that had undertaken raids in the area. Due to heat and drought, the expedition dissolved and failed. Four men were court-martialed, and four died. Although segregated into their own units, the Buffalo Soldiers served bravely in the years after the Civil War.

YouTube video

Click the video above to view ‘America the Story of Us: Blacks in the Military’ via History.

— By Ryan Farrell. Edited by Kathryn S. McCloud.