Cathay Williams (1844-1894) was the only woman known to serve as a Buffalo Soldier, and the first African-American woman to enlist in the United States Army.
Cathay Williams was born to a free father and an enslaved mother, making her a slave. She worked as a house slave during her youth on the a plantation near Jefferson City, Missouri. Prior to her voluntary enlistment, she was captured by Union forces in1861 along with other slaves, and forced them to serve as military support. She traveled with the infantry and was present at the Red River Campaign and the Battle of Pea Ridge.
In 1866, Cathay Williams enlisted in the U.S Regular Army as a man under the false name of “William Cathay” because women were prohibited from serving in the military. She was assigned to the 38th U.S. Infantry Regiment after passing the cursory medical examination. However, shortly after enlisting, she was infected with smallpox and was hospitalized. While she managed to somehow maintain her secret identity through her hospitalization and rejoin her unit in New Mexico, it was not long before health issues caught up with her and she was discovered. William’s was honorably discharged.
This was not the end of her adventures, she sighed up with an all-black regiment and became part of the Buffalo Soldiers.
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