Buffalo Soldiers originally were members of the U.S. 10th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army, formed on September 21, 1866 at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. This nickname was given to the “Negro Cavalry” by the Native American tribes they fought; the term eventually became synonymous with all of the African-American regiments formed in 1866.
Although several African-American regiments were raised during the Civil War to fight alongside the Union Army (including the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry and the many United States Colored Troops Regiments), the “Buffalo Soldiers” were established by Congress as the first peacetime all-black regiments in the regular U.S. Army. On September 6, 2005, Mark Matthews, who was the oldest living Buffalo Soldier, died at the age of 111 and wasburied at Arlington National Cemetery.
Another member of the Buffalo soldiers was Master Sgt. George Henry Wanton. In addition to being a member of this famous regiment, Wanton received the nation’s highest award for valor in combat—the Medal of Honor—for his actions in the Spanish-American War.
Wanton was born on May 15, 1866 in Paterson, New Jersey, the son of William H. and Margaret (Miller) Wanton. He served in the Navy from 1884 to 1888, and joined the Army in 1889. By June 30, 1898 was serving as a private in Troop M of the 10th Cavalry Regiment. On that day, American forces aboard the USS Florida near Tayacoba, Cuba, dispatched a small landing party to provide reconnaissance on Spanish outposts in the area. The party was discovered by Spanish scouts and came under heavy fire; their boats were sunk by enemy cannon fire, leaving them stranded on shore.
The men aboard the Florida launched several rescue attempts; the first four were forced to retreat under heavy fire. The fifth attempt, manned by Wanton and three other Privates of the 10th Cavalry (Dennis Bell, Fitz Lee, and William H. Thompkins), launched at night and successfully found and rescued the surviving members of the landing party. One year later, on June 23, 1899, all four rescuers were awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions in what had come to be known as the Battle of Tayacoba.
Wanton reached the rank of Master Sergeant and served in the Quartermaster Corps before leaving the Army. He died at age 72 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington County, Virginia.
Read Master Sgt.’s George Wanton’s citation below:
WANTON, GEORGE H.
Rank and organization: Private, Troop M, 10th U.S. Cavalry. Place and date: At Tayabacoa, Cuba, 30 June 1898. Entered service at: Paterson, N.J. Birth: Paterson, N.J. Date of issue: 23 June 1899. Citation: Voluntarily went ashore in the face of the enemy and aided in the rescue of his wounded comrades; this after several previous attempts at rescue had been frustrated.
To learn more about the Army’s Medal of Honor recipients, visit http://www.army.mil/medalofhonor/.