105. Brigadier General Benjamin Grierson Monument

This monument is part of the Buffalo Soldier Commemorative Area located at 290 Stimson Ave, Fort Leavenworth, KS 66027

After overcoming a childhood fear of horses that called into question any possibility of a military career, Pittsburgh native and music teacher Brigadier General Benjamin Grierson ended up becoming the first commander of the 10th Cavalry of Buffalo Soldiers. He first made his name during the Civil War, starting out as a volunteer and quickly rising through the ranks to become a colonel by 1862. Surprisingly, he continued to pursue his career as an Army officer after the Civil War despite his lacking a West Point education and the general trend of volunteer officers leaving the military after the end of the war. As the white commander of the 10th Cavalry, BG Grierson offered his men incredible support and even became a controversial figure amongst his fellow officers for his positive connections with Black soldiers in addition to his relatively tolerant attitude toward Native Americans compared to most other Army officers. This tolerance included supporting Indigenous artists and opposing the shrinking of already-small reservations. BG Grierson’s dedication to moving toward racial equality and his support for Black soldiers and officers are the reasons why the decision was made to honor him with a bust sculpted by Eddie Dixon in 2012.

BG Grierson might be best known for his eponymous 1863 mission, Grierson’s Raid, which was featured prominently in the late general’s obituary and described by General Sherman himself as “the most brilliant expedition of the war.” Grierson’s Raid was part of General Ulysses S. Grant’s larger “Vicksburg Campaign,” the goal of which was to gain control over the Mississippi River. Grierson’s Raid directly paved the way for the Union victory in occupying the strategic town of Vicksburg by disrupting the region’s communication and transportation lines and distracting Confederate forces from the main offensive. During the initial phase of Reconstruction after the Civil War, BG Grierson was involved in various projects in the South. While there, he observed that Black soldiers were replacing white soldiers as guards and peacekeepers. BG Grierson voices his support for this in his autobiography, noting the importance of increasing visibility of Black people in positions of authority, particularly in areas where loyalty to the Confederacy remained common. This reflects an early desire to promote racial justice, although BG Grierson admitted he had yet to publicly voice his support for it at this point. Summed up, though, these experiences gave BG Grierson the military knowledge and recognition he would need to be appointed to lead the Buffalo Soldiers of the 10th Cavalry just three years later.

Most white officers were opposed working with Black soldiers, with some even choosing to forgo promotions just so they could stay with white soldiers. Considering this, it’s not hard to imagine that Grierson met with a barrage of from his peers for actively accepting his role as leader of the 10th Cavalry of Buffalo Soldiers. For instance, even Fort Leavenworth’s then-commanding officer, William Hoffman, would regularly try to sabotage the 10th Cavalry and insult Grierson. Grierson was only stationed at Fort Leavenworth from September 1866 to August 1867, but he would stay with the 10th Cavalry and travel throughout the frontier until his retirement in 1890. Under his leadership, the 10th Cavalry carried out their first missions, from scouting active combat in the Frontier Wars to the drearier frontier duties like construction. Grierson mentored the Army’s first Black commissioned officer, Second Lieutenant Henry Flipper, while they were both in the 10th Cavalry together. You might’ve noticed that a quote referring to 2LT Flipper appears on BG Grierson’s bust. As mentioned in 2LT Flipper’s respective section, BG Grierson provided a strong (but ignored) defense of 2LT Flipper during a racially-charged court martial and they even privately kept in contact afterward. Throughout all of this, BG Grierson helped prove to other officers that it was worth investing in the futures of Black soldiers and that their contribution to the Army was as valuable as that of white soldiers. For his military achievements and leadership, BG Grierson was promoted to Brigadier General shortly before his retirement, but his legacy will remain most of all one of a man who aimed for equality when it was incredibly unpopular to do so.

Sources

American Battlefield Trust. “Vicksburg.” Accessed June 30, 2022. https://www.battlefields.org/learn/civil-war/battles/vicksburg

Bower, Melissa. “Grierson Bust Added to Circle of Firsts.” U.S. Army. Accessed May 19, 2022. https://www.army.mil/article/85303/grierson_bust_added_to_circle_of_firsts.

Brown, Dee. Dee Brown on the Civil War: Grierson’s Raid, the Bold Cavaliers, and the Galvanized Yankees. Newburyport, MA: Open Road, 2017.

Dinges, Bruce J. “Grierson, Benjamin Henry.” Texas Historical Association, 1952. https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/grierson-benjamin-henry.

Fowler, Arlen L. 1971. The Black Infantry in the West, 1869-1891. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Corporation.

“Gen. Benjamin H. Grierson.” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society (1908-1984) 4, no. 3 (1911): 383–89. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40193745.   

Grierson, Benjamin H.. A Just and Righteous Cause: Benjamin H. Grierson’s Civil War Memoir, eds. Bruce J. Dinges and Shirley A. Leckie. Southern Illinois University Press, 2008.

Jackson, Jesse, Jr.. “A Social History of the Tenth Cavalry, 1931-1941,” CGSC, 1976.

Leckie, William H. and Shirley A. Leckie. Unlikely Warriors: General Benjamin H. Grierson and His Family. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1984.

National Park Service. “Colonel Benjamin Grierson,” October 30, 2021. https://www.nps.gov/foda/colonel-benjamin-grierson.htm.