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Colored Death: The Tragedy of Black Troops on the Lower Rio Grande 1864-1906

by Antonio N. Zavaleta, Ph.D.

Originally Published in Studies in Rio Grande Valley History, 2005, Edited by Milo Kearney, Anthony Knopp, and Antonio Zavaleta,

Vol. 6, UTB/TSC Regional History Series, pp.343-360.

From the early 1950’s, my personal experience in Brownsville, Texas included bits and pieces of unarticulated information about the Colored troops (U.S.C.T.) stationed at Fort Brown in the 1800’s. My forty plus years on the campus of Texas Southmost College and The University of Texas at Brownsville (Fort Brown); connections to our family ranch on Palmito Hill (Last Battle of the Civil War); and to my Great-Great Grandfather, Juan Nepomuceno Cortina, (so-called Border Bandit), have urged me to constantly question Brownsville history as I’ve learned it.

I’ve learned that it’s always a mistake to accept “Brownsville History” at face value; there’s always something left out, some fact not told, something important not remembered. This article deals with the forgotten thousands of Colored Soldiers who marched off to Texas from their homes in Indiana, Illinois, Connecticut, Massachusetts, in search of freedom. Many were never heard from again.

Many lost their lives in battle but so many more succumbed to the disease. Today, more than 1,500 of these brave soldiers have been simply disposed of in a mass grave marked “Unknown” in Alexandria, Louisiana. This is their story.

The life and death experience and treatment of Colored troops while they served on the Lower Rio Grande in Texas (Fort Brown and The National Cemetery; Camp Brazos Santiago; Camp Belknap; Fort Ringgold; White’s Ranch) has always concerned me.2

While this article cannot in any way reveal all of the forgotten records, it can answer many questions while posing many more for future investigators to engage in more complete reviews of historical data. There is much more to be learned about the plight of Black troops at Fort Brown and within the context of Brownsville’s history.

United States Colored Troops (U.S.C.T.)

African Americans fought and died in both the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, but they were not formally soldiers. A 1795 law prohibited African Americans from serving in the U.S. armed forces. This law, for the most part, has been ignored in our nation’s early history. However, as the nation prepared for the War of the Rebellion in the early 1860’s, this prohibitive law was3 reconsidered. The Second Confiscation Act (1862) gave President Lincoln power to enlist or conscript into the Civil War military as many Colored troops as needed to defend the nation.

The Militia Act of 1862 repealed the 1795 law that prevented African Americans from serving as soldiers. From their very first experiences as “full” members of the U.S. military, Colored soldiers were treated differentially and unequally in every way; poorer food and clothing, less pay, inferior equipment and housing, and limited health care.

Because African Americans represented a major human capital, the Southern states were forced to follow suit, enlisting African American soldiers in the Army of the Confederacy. The plight of Colored Confederate soldiers was even worse than the treatment they received in the United States Federal Army.

One of the earliest formed Colored troops was the 8th Regiment of Indiana in 1861. The 8th Indiana was organized in Indianapolis in August of 1861, in order to defend Missouri from the Confederate threat.

Philip Thomas Tucker in his book Cathy Williams: From Slave to Female Buffalo Soldier provides a brutal insight to the treatment and conditions African American troops during the Civil War.4 The 8th Indiana Regiment was among the first Federal Regiments to “utilize” the services of recently freed slaves. Early in the War of the Rebellion, African Americans were considered “contraband” and as such could be seized and pressed into service by Federal Regiments.

Tucker states, “In theory, the Union’s contraband policy was based on the legal premise of international law that ex-slaves could be utilized and confiscated by Federal forces because they were formerly employed as property by Confederate forces in supporting the rebellion.”5 As a result, beginning with the 8th Indiana and followed by many others, regiments conscripted former slaves as cooks, laundresses, and for laborers. The Federal Government believed that former slaves were “dominated by passivity and easy manipulation.”

Since Colored soldiers had been born into slavery it is theorized that psychological subjugation was commonplace and therefore made the former slave an easy capture for Federal use. The rights of citizenship that freed slaves would “enjoy” in years to come did not exist in the early months and years after emancipation. Additionally, freed slaves often had no place to go and little or no means of support. While service to Federal troops was extremely difficult, African Americans were offered protection and daily meals in exchange for their service.

As the war progressed and as Federal troops moved through the South, thousands of freed slaves “joined” the movement of Federal troops. Both Union troops and their African American followers suffered unthinkable hardships during the Civil War. Intense heat, inadequate provisions, and the poor quality of drinking water resulted in disease and an enormous loss of life.

Review of the Indiana Regiments (chosen because of the large number of African Americans) indicates that both White and Black Regiments suffered far more loss of life due to illness during the War of the Rebellion than in battle.6

One of the first all-Black regiments were organized in Kansas in 1862 and at the end of 1863; South Carolina was the first southern state to organize a regiment of former slaves. The State of Massachusetts is credited with organizing the 54th United States Colored Troops (U.S.C.T.), the first northern state to organize an all Black regiment. Late in 1863, the State of Indiana was authorized by the War Department to organize a regiment of Negro soldiers that became the 28th Indiana Regiment U.S.C.T.

So many African American freedmen heeded the call to enlist that it caused the Confederate government to announce that armed and uniformed Negroes captured in battle would be considered escaped slaves and dealt with accordingly (shot or hanged).

To prevent such retribution, President Lincoln responded immediately, indicating that for every Negro soldier executed, a Confederate soldier would receive the same fate.

Escaped slave and abolitionist, Frederick Douglass was a fervent supporter of the formation of the United States Colored Troops, he believed that, “Once let a black man get upon his person the brass letters, U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pockets, and there is no power on earth which can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship in the United States.”7

U.S. Colored Troops served in the American Civil War with dignity and courage prompting President Lincoln to state on December 8, 1863, “So far as tested, it is difficult to say that they (speaking of those who were once slaves) are not as good soldiers as any.”8

In October of 1864, General Butler in his review of the operations of the Army of the James speaking of the U.S.C.T. said, “Better men were never better led; better officers never led better men.”9

By the spring of 1865 and the close of the war, the U.S.C.T. consisted of one hundred and twenty regiments of infantry, twelve regiments of heavy artillery, ten companies of light artillery and seven regiments of cavalry for a total of 123,156 men, while the entire U.S. troops in these same services at the end of the war numbered only 178,975 men.

Of these, the total number of U.S.C.T. who were killed or died of wounds from battle numbered 2,894 while 29,521 had died of disease.10 While Colored soldiers comprised approximately ten percent of the entire Union army, thirty percent of the U.S.C.T. lost their lives during the American Civil War, a highly disproportionate number.11

U.S. Colored Troops during the Civil War were commanded by White officers, many of whom were “enlightened” and believed in the cause of equality for African Americans. However, others were not, and extreme discrimination and prejudice toward African Americans existed in the U.S.C.T. both during and after the Civil War.

U.S. Military on the Rio Grande

The Lower Rio Grande has a long an illustrious military history. On April 3, 1835, the American Naval sloop-of-war “Invincible” arrived at the Brazos Santiago Pass near modern day Port Isabel, Texas. Intending to examine an “incident” involving the U.S. Consul at Matamoros, the American Naval officer W.H Livine was dispatched to the Mexican sloop-of-war “General Bravo” also anchored at Brazos Santiago. Livine was taken hostage resulting in the “Invincible” opening fire on the “General Bravo.” Under artillery fire from shore, the “Invincible” set sail for deeper water and Livine was court-martialed by the Mexicans and executed.

The American warship, in foreign waters, was outgunned and forced to retreat. As a point of Texas historical reference, the Battle of the Alamo was in March of 1836, in the year following this incident. Again in 1837, American naval vessels encountered Mexicans in battle near the Brazos Santiago.12

The focus of this article is on the history and experience of U.S. troops stationed or camped on the coast near Brownsville, Texas.

For many years, uneasy conditions between the U.S. and Mexico continued over disputed boundaries with the Rio Grande River, known as the Rio Bravo by Mexicans, as the focal point along with the Nueces River to the north at Corpus Christi. Hostilities continued for the next ten years, 1835 to 1845 when Texas was annexed to the United States.

These hostile actions prompted the United States “Invasion” of Mexico consisting of the movement of the American army from Fort Jessup, Louisiana to the Rio Grande River.

General Zachary Taylor first sailed his army to Corpus Christi and then marched down the Gulf coast to Brazos Santiago arriving “On the Rio Grande” in 1846. The Mexican American War saw its first three battles fought in or near what is today Brownsville, Texas. This action marked the beginning of a continuous African American military experience on the lower U.S. Mexico border that encompassed Brownsville from 1846 to 1906, approximately sixty years.

While African Americans did not serve in the military during the 1840’s and 1850’s, they did accompany and attend their White officers on military campaigns thus experiencing all of the military hardships encountered on the Rio Grande during those years.

At the end of the Mexican American War in 1848, and with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the international boundary with Mexico was established at the Rio Grande. The tenuous nature of the Treaty combined with the need to maintain peace along the border with Mexico required the establishment of a string of permanent military posts and forts along the entirety of the 2000 mile border.

Additionally, the 1850s, along the lower Texas-Mexico border, was a time of considerable restlessness and instability requiring an ever vigilant military presence. Histories of conquered peoples never accurately document patriotic insurgencies that follow conquest, so that during the time after the Mexican American War and the American Civil War, nationalistic patriots such as Juan Nepomuceno Cortina were described by historians as bandits and thieves instead of as patriots or heroes.

People who play at being historians, poorly informed about reality, continue to misunderstand and misinterpret true history, describing nationalistic fervor as banditry, thus promulgating a racist interpretation of local history.

Little is known about the African American presence on the Lower Rio Grande during the years 1848 to the early 1860’s. We do know that African Americans were present in differing capacities both on the Mexican side of the border as well as the American. Shipping and mercantilism that thrived along the lower border attracted an eclectic mix of individuals from all over the world. In addition to those servants and slaves who accompanied their White masters to military service at Fort Brown prior to Emancipation, there were many escaped slaves, freedmen and other African descent citizens of the area although their lives remain in the historical shadows.

A complete review of Federal and U.S. Troops stationed on the Lower Rio Grande in Texas can be found in, Thomas T. Smith’s The Old Army in Texas, A Research Guide to the U.S. Army in Nineteenth-Century Texas

The War of Rebellion (Civil War)

By the outbreak of hostility between the North and the South, Fort Brown at Brownsville, Texas, was home to several companies of the U.S. Army’s First Artillery. The sea route for the delivery of supplies, both military and domestic, from Galveston, New Orleans and points beyond to Matamoros/Brownsville was still the fastest and most reliable. The U.S. military established a disembarkation encampment at Brazos Santiago on the coast. From this point, the U.S. Quartermasters and Engineers received and dispatched troops and supplies to patrol the border between Mexico and south Texas.

Early in the conflict and before Texas had seen much war, on February 22, 1861, Commissioner for Texas, E. B. Nichols arrived at Brazos Santiago and proceeded to Fort Brown with the expressed intention of demanding that the Union troops stationed there who were not sympathetic to the Confederate States abandon the Fort.

Taking heed, by March of 1861, Federal troops at Fort Brown and Brazos Santiago departed Texas allowing Texans to occupy the Gulf coast and the garrisons along the lower border.

In his book, Pierce reports that by November 1, 1862, Fort Brown was occupied by four Companies of Confederate Infantry totaling 404 men.14

Finally, in November 1863, Federal forces launched a counter-offensive on the lower Texas border, as Federal Major General Nathaniel Banks arrived at Brazos Santiago. General Bank’s armed force consisted of approximately 6,998 men of the Second Division, 13th Army Corps, and the 13th and 15th Regiments of the Maine Volunteers; First Texas Cavalry, and the 1st Engineers and 16th Colored Infantry. Part of his command, the 94th Illinois Volunteers, entered Brownsville on November 5, 1863, followed the next day by 1st Missouri Light Artillery and the 13th Maine Volunteers.

The Confederate force at Fort Brown of approximately 1,200 men under the command of General Bee faced certain annihilation by a much superior Federal force of 7,000. In response, General Bee marched his men northward (today Kingsville) but not before burning Fort Brown, all of its provisions, and several city blocks in downtown Brownsville.15

It is important to note that almost immediately after the formation of the U.S. Colored Troops; African American troops arrived on the Rio Grande, at Brazos Santiago, and at Fort Brown. By the spring of 1864, all of the military posts along the Lower Rio Grande had been taken from the Confederates and secured by Colored troops.16 Troops deemed no longer necessary to defend the area were withdrawn in the summer of 1864, the 81st Colored Engineers remained at Brazos Santiago under the command of Colonel Day.

In response, Confederate forces regrouped and in June of 1864, once again occupied Fort Brown. The Federal troops retreated to Brazos Santiago joining the Colored Engineers already there. From the summer of 1864 through May of 1865, there were numerous encounters in the area involving Federal, Confederate, Mexican, and French forces in support of Emperor Maximilian in Mexico.

The “first” Battle of Palmito Hill (overlooked by most historians) took place in September 1864. The guerilla skirmishes between all parties continued through the fall of 1964 and the spring of 1865.

At the time of the official end of the War of the Rebellion, on April 9, 1865, Union forces on the Lower Rio Grande numbered about 1,915, including 675 members of the 66th U.S.C.T., 300 members of the 34th Colored Indiana Infantry and 490 members of the 46th US Colored Infantry. Seventy-five percent of the Federal troops in South Texas, approximately 1,415, were Coloreds.

Later in the spring of 1865, and after the war was officially ended, the second Battle of Palmito Hill took place. Two weeks before the Battle of Palmito Hill on May 12-13, 1865, approximately 2000 Federal troops remaining in the area (Civil War had ended) including 675 men of the 66th U.S. Colored Infantry, and approximately 200 men of the 34th Indiana Colored Infantry marched on Fort Brown and were engaged by a superior Confederate force at Palmito Hill.17 More than one hundred Federal Colored troops died at the Battle of Palmito Hill/Ranch in May of 1865.

Almost immediately after the battle, the remaining U.S.C. Troops mustered out of the service at Brazos Santiago (see Pierce for the description of the Negro Raid on Bagdad). During the remainder of 1865 and through 1867 with the fall of the Mexican Emperor Maximilian, hostilities raged along the lower Rio Grande with numerous actions involving both former African American soldiers, freedmen and others. While it is known that dozens of Regiments and Companies of Colored Troops served in the area, their documentation is difficult.

The following is an important but almost certainly an incomplete list of Colored Units that served in the Brownsville, Texas area with comments if available:

  • 62nd Regiment Infantry U.S.C.T., Brazos Santiago 1864 to 1866 fought at the Battle of Palmito Hill.

  • 65th Regiment Infantry USCT, Brazos Santiago 1864, as many as one third died from the horrific conditions and undiagnosed diseases, poor sanitary conditions, lack of proper food and the means to prepare it. They were thinly clad and had no shoes. Colored soldiers bivouacked near swampy or poorly drained areas of the camps. Even after black soldiers had proven themselves in battle, officers physically abused them, while others routinely assigned them to fatigue duty, performing the most undesirable duties.18

Colored Troops who fought at Palmito Hill:

  • 68th Regiment Infantry U.S.C.T., 1866

  • 76th Regiment Infantry U.S.C.T., 1865

  • 85th Regiment Infantry U.S.C.T. consolidated with 77th U.S.CT. Brownsville 1864

  • 87th Regiment Infantry U.S.C.T., Brazos Santiago 1864

  • 95th Regiment Infantry U.S.C.T„ Brazos Santiago 1864

  • 34th Regiment Indiana Infantry – U.S.C.T., arrived Brazos Santiago Dec. 18,

1864, action at Palmito Hill, marched to Rio Grande Barracks and returned to Fort Brown Feb. 1866. 32 men killed in action, 243 died of disease.

  • 38th Regiment Infantry U.S.C.T., Brownsville 1865-1867, 192 died

  • 28th Regiment Indiana Infantry- U.S. Colored Troops Brazos Santiago 1865

Total enlisted men killed in battle 45; died of disease 21219 “We left our wives and little ones to follow the stars and stripes.” Chaplain Garland White, 28th Colored Regiment, September 19, 1865. After the war was over the Army sent to 28th to Brazos Santiago to keep the peace, they a served there from June 1865 until November 1865 when they mustered out. They lost 212 men to disease.

  • 29th Regiment Connecticut Infantry- U.S. Colored Troops, arrived at Brazos Santiago July 3, 1865, marched to Fort Brown and mustered out in October 1865. 152 died of disease.

  • 22nd Regiment U.S.C.T., (only all-black corps in US history) 22nd sent to Texas border to protect against French invasion. Many believe 22nd sent to the border to avoid a flood in the job market so soon after the surrender and to avoid renewing a flame in the beaten South.20 The 22nd Regiment left Texas in October 1865.

  • 127th U.S.C.T. arrived Brazos Santiago in summer 1865 mustered out in October 1865.

  • 41st U.S.C.T., arrived Brazos Santiago May 1865, mustered out at Fort Brown November 1865. 254 Black soldiers from New Jersey. Left Brazos Santiago in December 1865.

  • 45th U.S.C.T. 230 Black soldiers. 45th assigned to 25th and mustered out at Brownsville in November 1865.

  • 25th U.S.C.T. Duty on the Rio Grande until Feb. 1866.

  • 109th Kentucky U.S.C.T. Brazos Santiago March 1866

  • 9th Regiment U.S.C.T., Brownsville, 1865-Oct. 1866. 266 died from a disease

  • 19th Regiment U.S.C.T., Brownsville June 1865, until Jan 1867.

  • 28th Regiment U.S.C.T., Brazos Santiago until 1865. 161 died from a disease.

  • 114 Kentucky U.S.C.T. Brownsville 1865-1867

  • 115 Kentucky U.S.C.T. Rio Grande 1866

  • 116 Kentucky U.S.C.T. Brazos Santiago 1865-1867 organized at Camp Nelson.

Camp Nelson trained over 10,000 black soldiers. It was the largest recruitment and training camp for black troops in Kentucky and the third largest in the US. At first, these Black soldiers were limited to military labor details, building fortifications, working on roads and bridges, and providing all sorts of manual labor, including cooking. Many were trained and then sent to the border.

  • 117 Kentucky U.S.C.T. Brazos Santiago 1867

  • 118 Kentucky U.S.C.T. Brownsville 1866

  • 122 Kentucky U.S.C.T. Brownsville 1866

  • 36th U.S.C.T. Private John Ives died Brazos Santiago November 5, 1865, Died of Diarrhea Post Hospital Brazos Santiago Texas.

The following represents a very small example of the men of the 36th who died at the Brazos Santiago Post Hospital in 1865 and their reported cause of death:

  • Thomas Covanant 6/10/66 Dropsy

  • Marshall Pritchett 6/27/66 Disease

  • Peter James 7/17/66 Heart Disease

  • Solomon Atwood 8/31/66 Cholera

  • Sandy Sykes 9/1/66 Cholera Cornelius Harris 9/1/66 Cholera

  • Clinton Shorter 9/1/66 Cholera

  • March Williams 9/8/66 Cholera

  • 36th U.S.C.T. Toney Wilson (Drummer) age 15, Died 8/25/65 Brazos Santiago of Pneumonia

The following is a brief narrative of Joseph Higgerson of Company A of the 62nd U.S.C.T. who fought at Palmito and who made it home: From the Missouri Slave Narratives: “How did Uncle Joe get home?” “When they set the “niggahs” free, the boss men come out and read de papers to em saying’ dey was free. When I was discharged from de army I told em I have no home, where shall I go? I decided to go back to Boonville buy all my family was scattered. But I was lucky; someone had started to build a shack and had not finished it. I got permission to finish here and there and made it into a home. I have never been without a home since. My wife and I lived together.21 The narrative from the 28th U.S.C.T who served at Brazos Santiago:

We did our job. And part of our job was to protect the settlers in Texas. But the Texans, who had been on the losing side of the war, felt that they were being penalized by having African American soldiers there. The Texans were supposed to have set their slaves free, but they wouldn’t do it. So we had to help in setting the slaves free in Texas. And that made the Texans a little mad.22 Texas was the most horrendous place for us that we’d ever been in our military lives, Texas was. It was so hot. Men died from malaria, from scurvy. And just like our medical facilities had been during the war, the facilities for these sick men were inadequate.”

At Brazos Santiago, there are many unanswered questions. Many of the death records are signed by T.W. Willoughby. However, searches of military records do not show this person had anything to do with hospital, or disposition/documentation of death. He was not a Surgeon and was not an enlisted man. “There is a tremendous amount of information from here that seems to be deliberately missing, even among the military records.” 23

All soldiers White and Black who served on the Rio Grande during the Civil War faced similar conditions; however, all agree that the conditions for the Colored troops were worst of all, “Epidemics of deadly disease that steadily took men from the ranks, the harsh frontier climate, and arduous service in an untamed land.” 24

Direct observation from African American soldiers in the years after the Civil War recount how African American soldiers were segregated. U.S.C.T. were often ordered to camp apart from White troops, on low and swampy land. Latrines and water sources were located in close proximity further causing disease in the ranks of the U.S.C.T. Additionally, African American soldiers were often afforded inferior rations, clothing, and equipment. Their diets often consisted of stale moldy bread and rotten hardtack.25

While many requirements were harsh, even cruel, the following is the record of an actual order by the White Officers that had a positive effect:

Brazos Santiago, Texas, October 29th, 1864 General Orders No. 35

Hereafter when any soldier of this command is found to be, or to have been, playing cards, he will be placed, standing, in some prominent position in the camp with book in hand, and required then and there to learn a considerable lesson in reading and spelling: and if unwilling to learn, he will be compelled by hunger to do so. When men are found gambling in any way, the money at stake will be seized and turned into the Regt. Hospital fund. No freed slave who cannot read well has a right to waste the time and opportunity here given him to fit himself for the position of a free citizen. This order will be read twice to this command and copied in each order book.

By order of Lieut. Col. David Branson, Regiment Commander.

The following shows that Colonel Barrett took great pride in “promoting” literacy in his Black troops:

In his Farewell to Arms Ceremony, to the 62nd USC Infantry on January 4, 1866, at Fort Ringgold, Rio Grande City, Texas, Col. Theodore H. Barrett, stated, with the utmost of pride that, “of four hundred and thirty-one men, ninety-nine have learned to read and write understandingly: two hundred and eighty-four can read; three hundred and thirty-seven can spell in words of two syllables and are learning to read, not more than ten men have failed to learn the alphabet.” 26

Colored Death: 1864-1866

Examination of the death and burial records for Black troops once buried at the National Cemetery at Fort Brown, in Brownsville, Texas, clearly indicate that the years 1864-1866 were dedicated to death and dying on the part of the Colored troops. United States Colored troops arrived on the lower Rio Grande at Fort Brown and Brazos Santiago in 1864. In the years from 1858 to 1863, very few deaths are recorded for Fort Brown.

Admittedly, during a large portion of this time, Fort Brown was in turmoil due to its alternating possession by Federal and Confederate troops. Records indicate that in 1864, 33 soldiers were buried of whom only 3 were U.S. Colored troops, the majority of deaths that year were attributed to the white Federal soldiers from the 91st, 94th, and 99th, Illinois Regiments.

Also represented were soldiers from Iowa, Indiana, Maine and Wisconsin. The first Colored troops arrived at Brazos Santiago in 1864 and marched inland but did not serve at Fort Brown until 1865. Hence, there is the record of only four Colored troops being buried at Fort Brown in 1864. This is not to say that members of the 34 Indiana U.S.C.T. did not die and were not buried at other places in South Texas like Brazos Santiago or White’s Ranch. Regimental records indicate that overall during the Civil War 12,491 Indianans died.27

The year 1865 saw the heaviest causalities evidenced by the burials at the Fort Brown National Cemetery. Cemetery records indicate that a total of 414 soldiers died that year, 351 Colored troops and 63 White troops. Eighty-seven percent of the deaths in 1865 were Colored troops. Of those who died, more than 70 percent died of disease. In a single year, 245 Negro troops died of disease. If examined by month, the death rate shows a clearly disturbing pattern of deplorable conditions. In the months January 1865 to June 1865, only 11 troops died. In July 1865, 39 troops died, more than one a day for that month alone. In August 1865, 118 soldiers died an average of 4 a day.

In September 1865, 97 soldiers died an average of 3 per day. In October 1865, 75 soldiers an average of more than 2 per day. In November 1865, 47 soldiers died or more than one per day. August and September were clearly months of misery and dying for Colored Troops on the Rio Grande. During the heaviest weeks, it was not unusual for between 5 and 10 soldiers to die per day. Beyond the horror of the suffering and death, it is unimaginable to think of the emotional condition of the men who were required to dispose of the remains of their comrades. Large numbers of men from Regiments and Companies were wiped out. In examining the death and burial records by Regiments and Companies, something that has never been undertaken before, it is obvious that several were hit particularly hard in the summer and fall of 1865.

The 118th Regiment U.S.C.T. lost 43 men: followed by the 43rd Regiment with 36; the 38th Regiment with 34; the 19th Regiment with 33 deaths and so on. Ten Regiments lost 10 or more men that summer.28

In 1866, the number of deaths was greatly reduced to 142 for the year. A large number of the U.S.C.T. was mustered out of the Army at Fort Brown and at Brazos Santiago in 1865, making their way home.

Those troops that were retained were deployed along the border for the purpose of maintaining peace and protecting Americans. The conditions of the contagious disease that were present with such a large concentrations of men in unsanitary conditions were greatly reduced in each year after 1865. In 1866 there were 134 recorded deaths; 1867, 18; and in 1868 there were eleven.

During the late 1870’s and into the early 1880’s with recurring epidemics of Yellow Fever the annual death rate rose and fell but never again would it approach the levels of those deaths experienced by the original Colored troops in 1864 to 1865.

It had long been held by the U.S. Army that Fort Brown and the Lower Rio Grande was one of the unhealthiest military stations in the United States. In his 1893 description of Fort Brown, Chatfield states that Fort Brown was the third sickliest post in the U.S. The Surgeon General made this assumption based upon post hospital visits although many were multiple visits. Chatfield, a White officer, attempted to excuse the reality of illness in Brownsville by apologizing,

These reports are somewhat misleading to the general public, as they are made up from the Post Surgeon’s reports of the number of cases treated, without stating how many times the same names were entered on the hospital records, and it will readily be seen that a small number of men going on the sick report would soon aggregate a large number of “cases;” this would indicate a general prevalence of disease, unless the actual circumstances were explained.”29

No matter that the majorities were Colored troops or that their rate of death vis-a-vis White soldiers would support the higher rate and incidence of disease for Colored troops. Chatfield totally misled the readers in his reports in the late 19th century in his statement that, “the death rate has always been small, even in those periods when epidemics prevailed in its immediate vicinity.”30 In fact, an examination of the records of death for Colored troops on the Lower Rio Grande. The death rate from 1864 to 1906 does not support his statement. Nor does the reality of the more than 3,000 Federal troops buried at Fort Brown (both Black and White). In fact, many thousands of Colored troops came to South Texas and never returned home. Additionally, there is no record that the death of a Colored Troopers was reported ever reported to their families back home. See also, Frank Pierce’s comment on the Negro Raid on Bagdad.31

Contrary to the apologies of Chatfield, Joseph C. Sides, Chaplain, U.S. Army, writes in his Fort Brown Historical: History of Fort Brown, Texas Border Post on the Rio Grande, 1942, speaks of the “Health and Sanitation” conditions at Fort Brown.32 Characterizing the years 1868 to 1900, Sides quotes from the Surgeon General’s Report, 1870, “…the principal diseases being diarrhea, intermittent and remittent fever…I believe that most of the cases of diarrhea are produced by some excess in either eating or drinking and that also by the water.”33

The Surgeon General reported that during the month of November 1888, 58 percent of the command at Fort Brown was taken on sick report for the intermittent fever alone. “This does not fully represent the ill health of the command.”34

In 1889, nearly all the men and their families on the post were taken ill with malaria. Yellow fever also constantly menaced Fort Brown. Command recommended that the troops (Colored) be changed yearly. In his 1890 report to Congress, the Surgeon General reported that Fort Brown was the unhealthiest Fort in the U.S. with 3,710 admissions. 35 Of course, no reference or connection was made to the relationship between how Colored troops were clothed, fed and housed at Fort Brown and the incidence of disease.

The handwriting on the wall was included in the report with the observation that, “were the (sick and death rates at Fort Brown) expunged from the list of our military stations the prevalence of malarial disease in our Army would be greatly reduced.”36

Buffalo Soldiers: 1866-1880’s

At the end of the War of the Rebellion, the nation turned its eyes to a few very clearly defined military objectives. First and foremost, the nation needed to maintain peace and guarantee that the defeated Confederate forces would not regroup and again threaten the nation. Secondly, the nation needed to protect Americans and to maintain the peace along the Mexican border. Large groups of former Confederates, Mexican Nationalists, and the French occupation were all a constant irritant along the border in the years after the Civil War. And finally, the nation needed to subdue the Native populations of the Western U.S. in order to ensure continued expansion and settlement of the area.

After the Civil War, the Union had a very small veteran army. The majority of Federal forces was recruited from state militias and was not regular Army. The survivors of the war had enlisted only for the period of the war. The large number (estimates from 180,000 to 220,000) of African American U.S.C.T. who participated in the War of the Rebellion did not have homes to return to (approximately 38,000 died in the war) and therefore, African Americans were “allowed” to join the regular Army.

The thousands who did were sent to the U.S. Mexican border and to the West. African American Civil War veterans enlisted considering the $13 a month salary to be a far greater destiny than slavery. A brief discussion of the Buffalo Soldiers is relevant to the conditions and treatment of African American soldiers along the Rio Grande and in Brownsville, Texas after the Civil War.

Tucker tells us that the story of the Buffalo soldier (the black infantryman after the Civil War) has overlooked the impressive contributions and sacrifices of these men.37 Finally, in 1866, the U.S. Congress allowed former slaves who had served in the Union Army (U.S.C.T.) to enlist in the Regular Army. Before his death, President Lincoln stated that African American troops, “demonstrated in blood their right to the ballot and citizenship.”38

In 1866, Washington considered the use of Black troops along the Rio Grande and in the West a “social experiment.” African American veterans of the Civil War were selected in the formation of two Cavalry and four Infantry Regiments. Created were the 9th and 10th Cavalry and the 24th and 25th Infantry Regiments. The 38th, 39th, 40th, and 41st Colored Infantry Regiments are also mentioned.39

The 9th Cavalry was ordered to Texas in June of 1867. Along with the 9th Cavalry, the 24th and 25th Infantry were considered “Texas’ Buffalo Soldiers.” Their motto was “We can, we will.”40

Texas Buffalo Soldiers protected the stage lines and the mail, fought against Mexican bandits and French soldiers, as well as raiding Indians. “Many Texans felt that they were being subjected to a particularly harsh form of post-war reconstruction by Washington, and saw the assignment of Black troopers as a deliberate attempt by the Union to further humiliate them. With such an attitude, the relationship between the troopers and locals was often at or near the boiling point.”41

During the years after the Civil War Buffalo soldiers served with great distinction along the Rio Grande and in the West. They also suffered unthinkable hardship that some would say White soldiers never experienced. Many White Army Surgeons held the stereotype that African Americans were more prone to disease such as an epidemic than a White soldier. Records show that during the Cholera epidemics that swept the nations in 1866 and 1867 that African Americans died at a greater rate that White soldiers. Today, however, it has come to light that the inhumane conditions suffered by the African American soldiers were not the experience of the White soldiers.

Colonel Edward Hatch was the commander of the 9th at Regiment Headquarters in Greenville, Louisiana. He organized, “all twelve companies of the regiment by February 1867, even though only eleven officers had reported for duty at that time. In March, Hatch received orders transferring the regiment to Texas. Two companies, L and M, were to be stationed at Brownsville on the Rio Grande…”42

Additionally, at Fort Brown and to the West, African American soldiers were assigned tasks that White soldiers were not. Manual labor including road building and construction of quarters for White soldiers was routine. Meanwhile, African American soldiers were required to live in deplorable conditions. One of the most famous Buffalo soldiers, Sergeant Henry Parker, served with the 101st U.S.C.T. and saw action at White’s Ranch and the Battle of Palmito Hill near Brownsville, Texas. In 1867, he was assigned to the 10th US Cavalry of Buffalo Soldiers.43

In 1866, Buffalo soldiers of the 38th Infantry were decimated by cholera in the West, and similar epidemics decimated the African American soldiers stationed at Fort Brown. Tucker states that “Surgeons on the frontier treated 1,800 medical cases on an annual basis. Some 1,550 cases were disease and illness related while only 250 cases consisted of battle wounds and other injuries.”44

The conditions and treatment of African American Buffalo Soldiers in the years after the Civil War led to a situation of discrimination and mistreatment of these heroes and especially their mistreatment in the growing communities in which they were stationed. Over the course of the years, 1868 to the turn of the century, the Buffalo soldiers proved themselves some of the best-trained and most heroic units in the U.S. Army.

In spite of their outstanding record, the 9th Cavalry was involved in racial disturbances at Fort Ringgold in Rio Grande City Texas in 1899, and the 25th Regiment was accused of attacking civilians in the so-called Brownsville Raid in 1906. The 24th Regiment was involved in the Houston Riot of 1917.

While elements of the 9th were sent to Cuba and took part in the charge up San Juan Hill, July 1, 1898, battle- tested African American soldiers were not sent to France during World War I, although they represented a large force of experienced noncommissioned officers for other black units.45

According to Edward Scott in his 1996 book, “The Unwept: Black American Soldiers and the Spanish American War,”46 the 9th and 10th Calvary and the 24th and 25 Infantry Colored Troops were more responsible than any other group for the victory on San Juan Hill. Five Hundred Black men of the 25th Infantry were locked in hand-to-hand combat for four hours. It is a matter of great irony that as a result of the Battle of San Juan Hill and the heroism displayed by Colored troops, that the “post-battle spotlight shone brightly on the Buffalo Soldiers and that many Negro homes had prints of the famous charge of the Colored troops up San Juan Hill.”47

Buffalo Soldier Postscript

African American Buffalo soldiers who served along the Rio Grande in the 1870’s received no “official” recognition for their service and were not eligible for pensions. In 1927 Congress established a law that made Black soldiers eligible for pensions. “When David Morgan, a veteran of the 24th Infantry (served at Fort Brown) died in 1917, wholly without means, the Brownsville, Texas post of the Grand Army of the Republic, GAR, and Army officers at Fort Brown bore the expenses.”48

How ironic that eight short years after the Buffalo Soldiers of the 25th Regiment became national heroes in Cuba that they would be transferred to Fort Brown in Brownsville, Texas and in less than one month be forced to leave by a racist community and drummed out of the Army in disgrace, in many cases these were men who were veterans of Cuba.49

William Crawford Gorgas and Yellow Fever: 1882

When Lieutenant William Crawford Gorgas arrived at Fort Brown a Yellow Fever epidemic was in full course. The Surgeon General advised the Post Commander at Fort Brown that, “I’m sending you the most progressive young surgeon under my command.”50

Gorgas was almost immediately stricken with yellow fever. Even though his direct orders commanded him to stay away from the sick, Gorgas constantly disobeyed. Gorgas’ career contribution would be the “mosquito” theory of the transfer of disease. While it is documented that there was an epidemic of Yellow fever at Fort Brown 1882-1883, death and burial records do not indicate that an inordinate number of Colored soldiers died during his short tenure in Brownsville.

This fact debunks a commonly held myth that Gorgas, “experimented” on Black soldiers resulting in their death from Yellow Fever. Gorgas learned greatly about the need for sanitation while at Fort Brown assisting him in combating communicable diseases in the military. In fact, Gorgas “played no part in determining the cause of Yellow Fever.”5 *

The man most credited for his work on Yellow Fever and its “cure” was the Cuban physician Dr. Carlos J. Finlay.52 Gorgas would work on the Panama Canal project and ultimately became Surgeon General of the United States.

Today the name Gorgas is associated with scientific activities at The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College located on the former Fort Brown reservation. For more on Gorgas and the Panama Canal see David McCullough’s book The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal 1870-1914.

The Ultimate Insult: The Brownsville Raid 1906

Available historical documents combined with a century of secondary historical analysis clearly indicates that African American soldiers were admitted to the U.S. Army during the Civil War and then again after the Civil War as a stop-gap measure. In Texas, the conditions they faced and their treatment was particularly harsh resulting in approximately thirty percent of their force being lost to the disease. In Texas communities, open racism and discrimination promoted a constant tension between the African American soldiers, whose mission was to protect and defend the community, and the hatred of the community for their protectors.

The racial tension, palpable, in Texas surfaced in the early 20th century in several notable cases. Of particular significance to understanding the plight of African American soldiers on the Rio Grande, is an incident known as “The 1906 Brownsville Affair or Raid.”

U.S.C.T.s followed by regular Army Colored Troops had served in and around Brownsville, Texas from 1864 to 1906. By all accounts, their experience on the Rio Grande was horrendous, fraught with racism, horrible living conditions, disease and ultimately untimely death. After the turn of the 20th century, Brownsville was booming.

African American troops experienced a host of new difficulties on the border. Competition for jobs at the bottom of the economic ladder with the Mexican population was one of the major considerations for keeping Blacks out of town. In Brownsville, an ample supply of cheap labor had always been delivered by Mexicans through a separation of race and class. The presence of Blacks mustering out of the Army posed a serious complication to a delicate balance. Additionally, Brownsville people in the early 20th century identified with the defeated South and harbored racist attitudes toward African Americans.

In her book, The Brownsville Affair, Ann Lane claims that “race riots began to replace lynchings as methods of repression and expressions of hatred.”53

For more than two months in the summer of 1906, Brownsville townsfolk anticipated and feared the arrival of the greatly decorated First Battalion, 25th Regiment Infantry (Colored). White troops at Fort Brown were to be replaced by African American troops. Arriving on July 28, 1906, Companies B, C and D, consisting of one hundred and seventy Colored soldiers and five White officers paraded past very somber townsfolk to Fort Brown.54

These particular soldiers were amongst the best trained and most experienced and disciplined in the U.S. Army. In spite of their honorable service to our nation, the 25th Regiment Infantry (Colored) had experienced racial trouble with Texans in Kansas and had been routed away from Austin against protests of their officers on their way to Brownsville.

Addressing racial problems in the Army of the day, Secretary of War, Taft wrote, “That a certain amount of race prejudice between white and black seems to have become almost universal throughout the country, and no matter where colored troops are sent there are always some who make objections to their coming. It is a fact, however, as shown by our records that colored troops are quite well disciplined and behaved as the average of other troops, and it does not seem logical to anticipate any greater trouble from them than from the rest.”55 What Taft did not understand was that in Brownsville, the “trouble” would not come from the Colored troops but from the townspeople.

Within two weeks of their arrival, a racial incident involving a “White Woman” was concocted arousing extreme hostility in the civilian population. The Brownsville Herald reported, “Infamous Outrage: Negro Soldier Invaded Private Premises Last Night and Attempted to Seize a White Lady.”56 The following day, August 13, 1906, shooting broke out in downtown Brownsville and the Negro troops were immediately accused. Less than two weeks later on August 25, 1906, and less than one month from their arrival in Brownsville the 25th was withdrawn.

In October of 1906, all the Colored Companies withdraw from Brownsville were “drummed” out of the Army. It would take most of the 20th century before these men would be completely exonerated by Congress.

Most notable Brownsville historians never recognized their innocence, and claimed to this author until their death, that the Colored troops were culpable even if it had been proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that the incident in Brownsville, Texas was an internal set-up. The Brownsville incident that became a national scandal was promulgated by local racism, a final blow to African American troops in service to the Nation on the Rio Grande. After 1906, Colored troops never returned to Brownsville.

A National Cemetery Abandoned

A National Disgrace occurred at Fort Brown, Texas in 1909. The National Cemetery at Fort Brown was abandoned. Fort Brown was the principal U.S. military post for the region south of San Antonio and Laredo to the Gulf of Mexico. Other U.S. military installations in the region included Fort Ringgold at Rio Grande City and Brazos Santiago on the coast near Port Isabel. The history of the U.S. military at Fort Brown covered a century from 1846 to 1946.

After World War II, Fort Brown was decommissioned. The base closure was a political decision and shortsighted given U.S.-Mexico border history in the second half of the 20th century. One would suspect that over the course of the second half of the 19th century, 1848-1900, military men would die, in battle, by accident, and from a disease. But when the history of Fort Brown is examined two issues are apparent, 1) a higher than average number of Negro troops were stationed at Fort Brown compared to White troops and, 2) A higher percentage of Negro troops died of disease, relative to their White counterparts who were also stationed at Fort Brown.57

For the period beginning with the creation of the Black units in the Civil War and running through 1906 with the departure of Black troops from Brownsville, the available records on disease and death are compelling. This paper focused on the period of the Civil War and the immediate post-Civil War period including the French Intervention and the Cortina era, approximately, 1862-1867.

Also examined was the period that William C. Gorgas served at Fort Brown, 1882-1883. My interest in the Civil War period is due to the exceptionally high number of deaths that occurred during that time. Interest in the Gorgas phase and his work on Yellow Fever concerned allegations concerning his “experimentation” with Negro soldiers, a story told to me by credible Brownsville historians over the past 30 years. This research required me to examine the question, “did William Gorgas experiment on Negro soldiers “subjecting” them to Yellow Fever, causing their death?” Had this experimentation been covered up by the U.S. military?

It is important to note that for most of its history, 1848 until 1911, Fort Brown had a National Cemetery located on the Fort property, located on the peninsula in the Fort Brown Resaca. Interment records for the cemetery were extant at the time that the cemetery was “closed” in 1909 and moved in 1911.58

The human remains buried at the Fort Brown National Cemetery were re-interred at Alexandria, Louisiana in 1909-1911.”59 This was a mere five years after the infamous Brownsville Raid in which the 25th Infantry Colored troops were “set up” by Brownsville citizens ultimately causing some of the most decorated soldiers in the U.S. Army to be drummed out of the Army in disgrace.

Students of Brownsville history owe a debt of gratitude to Chula and Sam Griffin and to Bruce Aiken for their work on 19th-century burial records for the “Old City Cemetery” and Fort Brown. The Griffins examined the records of the U.S. Quartermaster General, in 1987, produced a monumental work of transcription and alphabetization of the burial of some 3,000 soldiers buried at Fort Brown. However, their work did not have the benefit of the digital age and hence are not computerized.

These soldiers had died at approximately 24 different locations in the Southeastern Texas region between 1846 and 1909 and were buried at the National Cemetery at Fort Brown.

In the forward to their work the Griffin’s comment on the inhumanity of the deaths and burials of Colored soldiers, They stated, “This book has been prepared in the interest of genealogy in the hope that it will be helpful to some genealogist searching for a relative or a person that was buried in a Military Cemetery in Texas prior to 1906.”

The National Cemetery at Fort Brown was believed to have been the last location for at least 183 Officers and 3,600 enlisted men the majority of whom were Colored.60

The March 22, 1936, issue of the Brownsville Herald commenting on the closure of disinterment of the National Cemetery at Fort Brown stated that, “Most of the men who were killed in these battles were volunteers, and the records of events during the war (Civil War) were kept badly so that it was practically impossible to identify the dead.”61

The Herald failed to state the obvious; that the majority of the so-called unknown soldiers buried at Fort Brown were African Americans and we know their names and units. Furthermore, the article stated that the decision to move the dead followed the closure of the Fort after the “Negro Raid” on Brownsville (1906).

The townspeople were aware that the majority of the dead in the National Cemetery at Fort Brown were Colored troops and presumably did not want them buried in Brownsville.

Over the course of the years, 1864 to 1906, the majority of the troops stationed at Fort Brown were U.S.C.T. Brownsville history documents cholera epidemics in 1866 and yellow fever epidemics in 1867, 1892 and 1893, during the period that Colored troops were stationed on the Lower Rio Grande.62

In his 1893 tome, The Twin Cities, Lieut. W. Chatfield described the cemetery and its surroundings as follows, “An elliptical sheet of water, called the “Lagoon” (we call it Fort Brown Resaca) lies in the center of the reservation (Fort Brown reservation)… Surrounded by this lagoon and the river is an island of twenty-five acres, which, previous to 1846, was covered with timber… A National Cemetery is located on this island, containing nearly three thousand graves. Many of the graves were formerly submerged at every high stage of water, and it was all times impracticable to do anything beyond a comparatively shallow resting place for those who were to be buried there; but a levee has been constructed, which prevents such overflows.” 63

Chatfield described that both Confederate and Federal Civil War dead were buried in the Fort Brown National Cemetery as well as those who had been buried at the “original” post cemetery. Chatfield reminds us (in 1893) of the many epidemics in Brownsville and Fort Brown and especially the African American troops stationed there both during and after the Civil War. “During an epidemic of smallpox, soon after the last war (Civil War) while a large garrison was kept here (Fort Brown) six hundred (600) colored soldiers fell victims to the scourge, and their bodies were interred in this cemetery. There have been three yellow fever epidemics since that time (1865-1893), but owing to the troops being promptly removed to isolated camps, the mortality among them was very slight.”

Today, the “Dead of Fort Brown,” Texas are located at the Alexandria National Cemetery at Pineville, Louisiana. The soldiers removed from Fort Brown in 1909-1911 are identified by three markers: l)“Remains of 1,537 Unknown Federal Soldiers removed from the United States National Cemetery Brownsville, Texas; 2) Remains of 16 unknown Federal Soldiers Removed from Fort Ringgold, Texas 1911 and 3) Jacob Brown, Major 7th U.S. Infantry May 9, 1846.64 Nearly one hundred years after their removal from Fort Brown and reburial in Louisiana, certain inconsistencies in the documentation of the military dead from Fort Brown remain. Military burial records (1846-1906) and re-interment records (1909-1911) indicate that more than 3,000 persons were buried at the Fort Brown National Cemetery.

It is difficult to determine how many of those are African American but those identifiable as such may be counted at more than 1,500. As cited above, the National Cemetery in Alexandria documents a single grave with the remains of 1,537 “unknown” Federal Soldiers. Examination of the “general” burial records of more than 7,000 soldiers at Alexandria does not readily identify the 1,500 or so “unaccounted” for soldiers from Brownsville.

It could be that they are buried in the general cemetery but they might not be as well, it’s hard to say. In locating the results of a study of Vermont Civil War dead originally buried in Texas, the report indicates that the entire cemetery at Fort Brown, 3,007 bodies were moved to Alexandria. Additionally, it states that all Civil War soldiers from Vermont (6 soldiers) who were originally buried at Brazos Santiago and Brownsville, Texas were also moved to Alexandria, Louisiana National Cemetery further supporting the possibility of their being buried in the general population.65

Final Comments and Recommendations

Before this research there has been no reference or hint of the fact that the majority of the troops buried first at Fort Brown and now at Alexandria, Louisiana are Colored.66 Black troops served and died on the Lower Rio Grande during some of the most critical times in our national and regional history yet we fail to recognize them in their final resting place or for their accomplishments. The fact that there is a mass grave containing the remains of 1,537 “unknown” soldiers from Fort Brown, Texas, may have been acceptable for the early 1900s, but it is not acceptable today. We know their names, their Regiments, and Companies, where they served and died as well as their race. In no way are they unknown.

This information has simply not been adequately communicated from National Cemetery to National Cemetery for reasons cited above. These soldiers did not have a voice. At a minimum, the following should be done.

At Alexandria, Louisiana:

  • The marker that identifies the mass grave 1,537 “unknown” soldiers from Fort Brown should indicate that the majority are African American.

  • An effort should be made if there is to be a record of their names for the benefit of their descendants. Numerous families are still searching for their ancestors.

  • A brief history of the history of African American troops and their life and death on the Border should be available for researchers and descendants.

At Brownsville, Texas:

  • A historical marker should be prominently erected at Fort Brown, on the campus of Texas Southmost College, commemorating the contributions of African American soldiers on the Lower Rio Grande and at Fort Brown. Importantly, it should recount the hardships and sacrifice of human life endured by former slaves in the initial years after emancipation and for their service to the nation in the Civil War and Post War period.


  1. * For the purpose of this paper, the labels African American, Black, Colored, and Negro are used interchangeably and were appropriate for the historical context. For example, if in particular passage the references used were referring to Colored troops then I used that term but attempted to alternate terms. I ask for the readers understanding in advance in that it is with great reverence that I tell this story and that it cannot be adequately achieved without the use of all of the racial labels of the day. Although out of respect there is one particular pejorative term that I refuse to use, a variant does occur only once in an oral history from a Colored soldier who returned home from the Civil War. Additionally, the term Colored Death is a play on the term Colored Troops (USCT) and Yellow Fever from which a large majority of the Colored Troops died at Fort Brown, Texas.

In searching the internet for material for this article I came across numerous persons seeking information on what happened to their Civil War ancestor. Many were African American, and some had been stationed on the Rio Grande and at Fort Brown.

  1. http: www. Indiana the civil war. com/rgmnt2 8 thus ct.htm

  2. Philip Thomas Tucker, Cathy Williams: From Slave to Female Buffalo Soldier (Mechanicsburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 2001).

  3. Ibid. p. 36.

  4. Indiana Civil War,

  5. The Colonel Eli Lilly Civil War Museum, 2001, Colored Soldier Document.

  6. Ibid. Lincoln December 8, 1863.

  7. p. 11.

  8. Ibid. p.13.

  9. p.2.

  10. Frank Cushman Pierce, Texas’ Last Frontier A Brief History of the Lower Rio Grande Valley (1917/1962), pp.22-30.

  11. Thomas Smith, The Old Army in Texas, A Research Guide to the U.S. Army in Nineteenth-Century Texas (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 2000).

  12. Pierce, p.40.

  13. Ibid. p.42-43.

  14. This research found reference to the following Colored Regiments stationed at or near Fort Brown from 1864 to 1906: 2nd; 7th; 8th; 9th; 10th; 16th; 19th; 22nd; 23rd; 24th; 25th; 28th; 29th; 31st; 34th; 36th; 38th; 39th; 40th; 41st; 42nd; 45th; 46th; 62nd; 65th; 67th; 68th; 76th; 77th; 80th; 81st; 85th; 87th; 91st; 94th; 95th; 99th; 109th; 101st; 114th; 115th; 116th; 117th; 118th; 127th.

  15. Pierce, p.52.



  18., p.l.

  19. http ://

  20. The Colonel Eli Lilly Civil War Museum an Indiana War Memorials Museum (2001), pp.24 and 35.


  22. Tucker, p.l 02.

  23. Tucker, p. 172.

  24. Soldiers from the 62nd and 65th USCT founded the Lincoln Institute in Jefferson City, Mo. Now Lincoln University. Each year, Lincoln University holds its Founder’s Day Celebration, which commemorates the soldiers of the 62nd and 65th USCT who were stationed at Brazos Santiago and forced to learn to read.


  26. Griffin, Griffin, and Aiken, unpublished manuscript, Hunter Room, Oliveira Library, UTB/ TSC.

  27. William H. Chatfield, Twin Cities of the Border: Brownsville, Texas and Matamoros, Mexico, and the Country of the Rio Grande (New Orleans: E. P. Brando, 1893), p. 29.

  28. Chatfield, p.30.

  29. Pierce, p.57.

  30. Joseph C. Sides, Fort Brown Historical (San Antonio: Naylor, 1942), p. 121.

  31. Sides, pl21.

  32. Sides, p.123.

  33. Sides p.l24.

  34. Sides, p.126.

  35. Tucker, p. xiii.

  36. Tucker, p.69.

  37. http://www/


  39. http: //www. / imh/buf/buf2. Html.



  42. Tucker, p.179.


  44. Edward Van Zale Scott The Unwept: Black American Soldiers and the Spanish American War, as cited by Frank N. Schubert, Buffalo Soldiers at San Juan Hill, pg/documents/spanam/bssjh/shbrt-bssjh.htm, Montgomery, Alabama, p. 13.

  45., Frank N. Schubert.


  47. The Black Troopers or The Darling Heroism of The Negro Soldiers in the Spanish American War, New York: AMS, 1971), p. 77.

  48. David McCullough, The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 18701914 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1977), p.412.

  49. Ibid, p.410.

  50. Carlos J. Finlay, Obras Completas, (Havana: Academia de Ciencias de Cuba, 1965).

  51. Ann J. Lane, The Brownsville Affair: National Crisis and Black Reaction (Port Washington, New York: Kennikat Press, 1971), p.7.

  52. Weaver, John, The Brownsville Raid (New York: Norton, 1970), p.22.

  53. Ibid. p22.

  54. Ibid., p.29

  55. For the purpose of this paper, I have access to the secondary death records from Fort Brown during the period in question. I have not made an actual comparison to other military installations in the U.S. for the same period.

  56. We are fortunate for the dedicated historical work of Chula T. and Sam S. Griffin as well as that of Bruce Aiken. Their work on both the Fort Brown National Cemetery and the Old Brownsville Cemetery (1987) allowed this analysis to be performed.

59 Griffin, forward.

  1. The Brownsville Herald, March 22, 1936.

  2. Ibid. p. 1936.

  3. The Berry Report on National Cemeteries; shtml; Names of dead from Fort Brown Brownsville, buried at Alexandria National Cemetery, Pineville, Louisiana.

  4. Chatfield, p. 28.

  5. National Cemetery at Alexandria Louisiana, 209 E. Shamrock St., Pineville, Louisiana;


  7. Resting Places of United States Colored Troops http://www/ usct.htm



Edited by
Milo Kearney
Anthony Knopp
Antonio Zavaleta

Illustrated by

Jessica Cisneros
Salomon Colmenero


Dr. Tony Zavaleta grew up in Brownsville and is a member of one of the 13 founding families of northern Mexico. He is the nephew of Dr. Joe Zavaleta and Prax Orive, each of whom served on the TSC Board.

Dr. Zavaleta graduated from Saint Joseph Academy in 1964 and entered Texas Southmost College, graduating and transferring to The University of Texas at Austin in 1966, where he completed a Ph.D. in Anthropology in 1976. Moving back to Brownsville in 1976, Dr. Zavaleta began teaching sociology and anthropology at Texas Southmost College and at Pan American University at Brownsville. Dr. Zavaleta became the first Dean of the College of Liberal Arts for UTB/TSC, and also served as the Dean of the College of Mathematics and Science and Technology. He next served as Vice President for Partnership Affairs, where he coordinated all of the work between the TSC Board and UTB, and then became the Vice President for External Affairs, which included governmental relations and all external programs such as Workforce Training and Continuing Education. Dr. Zavaleta served as Interim Provost, the chief operating officer of UTB/TSC, and then as the Associate Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. In 2011 he retired from the administration to return to full-time teaching. Dr. Zavaleta retired in May 2016 after 40 years of service.

Dr. Zavaleta is regarded as one of the top experts on the US-Mexico Border, and frequently speaks throughout Mexico and the U.S. Dr. Zavaleta was appointed to two Federal commissions by Presidents Reagan and Obama, and he served two terms on the Brownsville City Commission, followed by a term on the City of Brownsville Civil Service Commission.

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