From the American Revolution to the Spanish-American War

Who were the Harlem Hellfighters?

The Harlem Hellfighters, or the 369th Infantry Regiment, was the first all-black U.S. combat unit shipped overseas during World War I. This outstanding unit became the best-known all-black unit in the war; it was in continuous combat longer than any other American unit in World War I. The unit began in 1916 as the 15th New York National Guard Infantry Regiment. It was manned by black and white enlisted soldiers. In 1917 the regiment was federalized and prepared to serve in Europe, arriving in Brest, France, in December. They had become a part of the 93rd Division (Provisional). Meanwhile, France requested military help, and General John J. Pershing responded by assigning the 369th and other regiments in the 93rd Division to the French army, where they were under French command. The regiment received federal designation in March, was reorganized according to the French model, and that summer integrated into the French 161st Division. Now they called themselves “Men of Bronze” and went into combat for over six months—possibly serving the longest period of continuous combat of any American unit. They were said to be the first unit to cross the Rhine and acquitted themselves well at Chateau-Thierry and Belleau Wood. Their enemies gave them the moniker “Hell Fighters.” Almost one-third of the unit died in combat, yet the French government awarded the full regiment the Croix de Guerre. The men were well-received when they returned home and were honored with a parade in February 1919. They were then reabsorbed into the National Guard.


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