Tomie L. Gaines was a United States world war veteran, a ‘buffalo soldier’ who hails from South Carolina. Sergeant Gaines served from March 1943 to December 1945 and is equally the last member of the 27th Cavalry, all-black unit of United States military force.
The last of the originally acclaimed “buffalo soldier” from South Carolina, died last weekend in Nicholtown, in Greenville, S.C, where he lived with his wife, Clara for over 5 decades; at the age of 93. He will be laid to rest at M. J. Dolly Cooper Veterans Cemetery in Anderson, S.C.
The location of his burial rings a bell for both passed and living African-American soldiers in the United States. It means that Gaines gets to have a tombstone with his name and details engraved on it unlike hundreds of other late buffalo soldiers. In 2005, the oldest living Buffalo soldier at the time, Mark Matthews, passed away at the age of 111-years; he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Sgt. Gaines’ life as a soldier takes us back to the gallantry of the buffalo soldiers.
So who is a ‘Buffalo Soldier’?
Historically the ‘Buffalo Soldier’ term was a nickname for black soldiers, given to them by the opposing native American tribes during the Indian wars. However, there is a variety of theories behind the title,
“According to a member of the 10th Cavalry, in 1871 the Comanche bestowed the name of an animal they revered, the buffalo, on the men of the 10th Cavalry because they were impressed with their toughness in battle. Second, they were given the name because their fierce, brave nature reminded them of the way buffaloes fought. Third, it may have been because they wore thick coats made from buffalo hide during winter, as stated on the Buffalo Soldiers of the American West website.” – Atlanta Blackstar
The Buffalo Soldiers fall into the 9th and 10th cavalries with the 1866 law that permitted the black people to be enlisted in the country’s regular peacetime military. Later on, the system was adjusted in a way that the 24th and 25th Infantry was also categorized for colored soldiers.
Records say that there was about 180,000 Black-Americans who served in the United States Union Army during the Civil War. They enlisted for 5 years for $13 monthly salary.
As categorical members of the 9th and 10th regiments they made their mark in the American military history – standing up for their country and fighting fiercely for their freedom, at a time when white soldiers were massively pulling out from the military force. Many were killed and injured but in spite of that, it is recorded that “black soldiers had the U.S. Army’s lowest desertion and court-martial rates”.
Buffalo Soldiers who efficiently executed extra-military functions – road constructions; official escorts(because of their strength and resilience); discovering water holes amongst others; has the highest official military recognition in the U.S. In a span of 20 years (1870-1890), the U.S army awarded 14 Buffalo Soldiers with medals of honor. After wars well fought in various countries of the world, the all black units were dissolved in the 50’s.