After my researching for my introduction blog post last week, I was interested in the comparatively large number of Medal of Honor awards given to the Buffalo Soldiers and decided to do some reading on the topic. Also, I wanted to know more about Augustus Walley; I’d found and used his photograph in last week’s article and I felt compelled to learn more about him and how he won his Medal of Honor.
It’s an amazing story. So, today I am privileged to share the story of Augustus Walley, an American hero.
Early Life & Enlisting
Born on March 10, 1856, (happy belated historical birthday!), Augustus Walley grew up in Maryland and enlisted in the U.S. Cavalry when he was 21. The following years were spent in training and serving the regiment – guarding the west, riding and fighting, taking care of his horse and equipment, and seeking equality as an American soldier.
August 16, 1881. New Mexico Territory.
The previous years had been filled with war challenges from the provoked native tribes. Though there were times when the Buffalo Soldiers protected the Native Americans, there were also times when they fought against the tribes who were attacking settlers. By 1881, Victorio – a warring chief in the southwest – was dead, but his some of his followers had escaped and continued resistance and fierce raids. The Buffalo Soldiers had already spent the summer embroiled in this continuous fight with an Apache band led by a Warrior Nana.
On that mid-August day, Company I of the 9th U.S. Cavalry was resting when a distraught settler arrived with the disturbing news that his family had been killed in a raid by Nana. Lieutenant George R. Burnett – a young white officer recently graduated from West Point – took fifteen Buffalo Soldiers, including Private Walley, and started in pursuit while the remainder of the company prepared to follow to aid in the fight.
Though inexperienced Burnett respected his men and trusted First Sergeant Moses Williams who had already served for 11 years. The unit quickly found the scene of the massacre, were joined by a group of Mexican settlers, and identified the Apache warriors’ trail into the foothills.
Now totaling about 50 men, the pursuing group of Buffalo Soldiers and settlers came upon the Apache band which numbered between 40 and 60. A fire fight began and the Apaches retreated about 8 or 10 miles farther into the hills while the soldiers followed, continuing the fight. The situation devolved to a stalemate, but the Apache gained the upper-hand in their defensive position. Burnett sent for reinforcements, which arrived under the command of Captain Valois.
Panic started as Burnett’s rider-less horse galloped through the line, causing his troops to believe he was killed or captured. The unit retreated to evaluate the situation. Only Augustus Walley and Moses Williams stayed with the officer who had been attempting a flanking maneuver. Williams dashed off to rally the troops. Walley and Burnett hid behind the rocks and fought back until their unit rallied and came back. The battle continued.
Valois decided to fall back, but three of his men didn’t hear the order. Burnett noticed the danger and asked for volunteers to go with him to rescue the stranded soldiers. Walley and Williams volunteered. The three soldiers scurried into the crossfire. One of the stranded men was wounded. Walley galloped into the maelstrom of bullets, dismounted, boosted the injured man into the saddle, swung up on the horse, and rode off the battlefield. Though Burnett and Williams drew attention and fire as leaders, they covered the retreat. Walley returned to assist a disoriented soldier out of danger. It took 30 minutes for the rescues to be completed – 30 minutes under enemy fire to save comrades.
Lieutenant Burnett recommended Private Augustus Walley for the Medal of Honor. In 1890, he received his award.
What did the Medal of Honor mean?
The Medal of Honor is the highest military honor in the United States Armed Forces. It is award by the president for acts of valor beyond the call of duty. The medal recognizes courage, devotion to duty, determination, and selflessness – some of the best character qualities of American soldiers.
However, in the late 19th Century, the medal held even more significant to African American soldiers. It was victory against the prejudices and stereotype which were prevalent in that era. It was the assurance of citizenship, and it was formal honor. It was America officially recognizing, appreciating, honoring an American soldier.
An Eager Patriot
When America enlisted troops to go to Europe during World War I, some veterans of previous conflicts wanted to serve again. At age 52, Augustus Walley was anxious to serve in the field again – in the trenches, in the thick of the fighting. His offer was graciously declined. Augustus Walley had served his country and undoubtedly his patriotism inspired younger men in his Maryland community to fight for freedom throughout the world.
Augustus Walley died on April 9, 1938, and he was buried in the graveyard of St. Luke’s Methodist Church in Reisterstown, Maryland. On Memorial Day in 1995, a Medal of Honor marker was placed at his grave, and the street near the church was re-named Augustus Walley Way.
Though unfortunately overshadowed and brushed by in the history books, the Buffalo Soldiers are an important part of American history. Heroes like Augustus Walley should be remembered. Their stories need to be told to inspire the next generation of Americans.
P.S. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – I’m so glad this study was requested. I’m thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to learn about these American heroes who have been neglected in the history books for far too long.
How about you? Did you know about the Buffalo Soldiers or is this a positive new experience for you also?