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The Buffalo Soldiers at San Juan Hill: What Really Happened?


It remains one of the most mythologized images of the Spanish-American war: Theodore Roosevelt charging on horseback, leading his Rough Rider volunteers up Cuba’s San Juan Hill through the smoke and chaos of battle to claim a decisive victory. Carefully crafted by Roosevelt himself, it’s an image that raised his public profile—and helped catapult him toward the White House.

But it’s not exactly accurate.

WATCH: The HISTORY Channel documentary Black Patriots: Buffalo Soldiers online now.

A combination of savvy public relations and racial bias overemphasized the 40-year-old Roosevelt’s combat role, while downplaying the bravery and contributions of the Black troops, known as Buffalo soldiers, who served alongside white soldiers on that same battlefield. In his book about the war, Roosevelt called them “shirkers.” But for many historians, they stand among the hardest fighting heroes of the three-week war.





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