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The birth of Cathy Williams in 1844 is celebrated on this date. She was a Black domestic worker and a soldier.
Born in Independence, MO, she worked as a house slave for William Johnson, a wealthy planter in Jefferson City, until his death. At about that time, the American Civil War broke out, and Union soldiers freed her. Thereafter, Williams worked for the Army as a paid servant.
While serving the soldiers, she experienced military life firsthand, serving Colonel Benton in Little Rock, AR. She also served General Phillip Sheridan and his staff. The Army recruited her to attend Washington, D.C., as a cook and laundress. While traveling with the Army, Williams witnessed the Shenandoah Valley raids in Virginia.
After leaving Virginia, she traveled to Iowa and St. Louis; Williams wanted to be independent when the war ended. She enlisted in the Army in November 1866 as William Cathay in the Thirty-Eighth United States Infantry, Company A (Buffalo Soldiers). She could do so because a medical examination was not required then. Women were not allowed to serve as soldiers when they enlisted in the Army. So Williams posed as a man. Of the approximately 3,800 black infantrymen and cavalrymen who served in the frontier Army between 1866 and 1900, she was the only woman to serve as a Buffalo Soldier, as far as is known. Only her cousin and a friend were aware of her real identity.
Company A arrived at Fort Cummings, New Mexico, on October 1, 1867, where her company protected miners and traveling immigrants from Apache attacks. 1868 Williams grew tired of military life, so she pretended to be ill. She was examined by a post-surgeon, who then discovered that she was a woman.
She was discharged on October 14, 1868, and lived many years after her military service. Cathy Williams died at the age of 82 in Raton, New Mexico.
To Have a Military Career