Bivins, Horace W.

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Horace W. Bivins


Horace Waymon Bivins was born on May 8, 1862, on the eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay at Pungoteague, in Accomack County, Virginia. His parents, Severn S. and Elizabeth Bivins, were farmers. Bivins worked with his parents learning how to farm. At the age of fifteen, Bivins was placed in charge of an eight-horse farm located one mile from Keller Station, Virginia. But Bivins had bigger dreams that went beyond his father's farm. Bivins's father wanted to see the black race in his neighborhood have something that they could call their own. In 1862, he began to build the first church and schoolhouse for blacks to be built on Virginia's eastern shore. All was financed by Bivins himself. On the same day the church and schoolhouse were finished, the buildings were destroyed by fire.

Joins the Tenth Calvary

In June 1885, Horace Bivins enrolled at Hampton Institute in Virginia, where he studied and received his military training. He also studied at Wayland Seminary in Washington D.C. In 1887, Bivins enlisted in the U.S. Army in Washington D.C. He was sent to Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, and was assigned to Troup E, Tenth Calvary. Bivins joined the regiment at Fort Grant, Arizona Territory, in time to participate in the final phases of the Apache wars.

Bivins saw action in the Cuban campaign of 1898. He was commended for his bravery as operator of a Hotchkiss mountain gun in the battle for Santiago. For his outstanding performance, Bivins was promoted to squadron sergeant major in November 1900. In the summer of 1901, Bivins commanded a detachment at LaGranga, on Samar Island in the Philippines. In July, Bivins received an appointment as ordinance sergeant and left the Tenth Calvary to accept the new posts in December. He served at posts in Montana, California, Wyoming, New York, and Vermont, before he retired to a home he had established in Billings, Montana.

When World War I began, Bivins offered to organize some volunteers from his home town in Virginia. The government declined his offer, but they appointed Bivins a captain of Infantry. Bivins spent six months on active duty at Camp Dix in New Jersey in 1918; after his duty ended he returned to his Montana residence.

Bivins was a remarkable marksman, one of the best in the army. He won many medals in the military in different military competitions. In 1892 he placed sixth with the pistol in the combined departments of Dakota and Colorado. He placed second the following year in the same competition. In 1894, he won first place gold medals with both the revolver and carbine. Bivins represented the Department of Dakota in the 1894 army-wide carbine competition at Fort Sheridan, near Chicago, and won first place with an almost perfect score. Bivins still qualified as an expert marksman as late as 1910.

Writes about Military Life

Bivins's writings about his marksmanship developed into a short book called Negro Troops in Cuba. In this book he wrote about hardships that blacks faced in the army and experiences in Cuba. Bivins also writes about his offer to travel with Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show, which he turned down to return to Hampton on furlough in December 1897. Bivins was in Hampton when the United States declared war on Spain in the spring of 1898.


Born in Pungoteague, Accomack County, Virginia on May 8
Father builds a church and schoolhouse at Pungoteague (first buildings for Negroes); buildings burn the same day they are completed
Enters Hampton School to receive military training
Enlists in the U.S. Army in Washington D.C.
Joins troops at St. Grant Argon Territory
Becomes gunner
Promoted to rank of corporal
Wins eight medals and badges at the department's competition
Writes part and compiles Under the Fire with the Tenth Cavalry
Promoted to squadron sergeant major
Commands a detachment at LaGranga, on San Samar Island in the Philippines, leading patrols in the pursuit of insurrectionists
Promoted to ordinance sergeant then leaves the Tenth Cavalry to accept new post
Dies of unknown cause

On July 1, 1898, the same day on which men of Bivins's regiment successfully stormed San Juan Hill, Bivins was one of a three-man Hotchkiss crew. During the battles, two of the men were wounded, and Bivins had to operate the weapon alone in spite of heavy enemy fire and a slight head wound. His courage won him national fame. The semiofficial Army and Navy Journal chronicled his deeds, as did several black newspapers. Among these newspapers was the Indianapolis Freeman which called him "a character worthy of the emulation of every young man of the Negro race." W. E. B. Du Bois also took note of his career in an article in The Crisis in May 1930.

Shortly after Bivins returned from Cuba, he contributed to Under the Fire with Tenth Calvary (1899, reprint 1969) about the heroism of black regulars in Cuba. His thirty-page recollection of the Cuban campaign is one of several eyewitness accounts in the volume. He compiled the book with United States Land Office recorder Herschel Cashin and other black writers: Charles Alexander, and two Tenth Cavalry comrades, Chaplain William T. Anderson and surgeon Arthur M. Brown. The book provides important information about the black experience in the army. Bivins also documented his service in the military by writing a diary.

Bivins was married to Claudia Bivins, who became active in the Colored Women's Club of Montana. Bivins enjoyed a long life and died in 1937 at the age of seventy-five. A man of valor, courage, and enthusiasm, Bivins' determination and hard work brought him national fame as well as a sense of personal worth.



Cashin, Herschel V. Under Fire with the Tenth U.S. Calvary. Niwot, Colo.: University Press of Colorado, 1993.

Logan, Radford W., and Michael R. Winston, eds. Dictionary of American Negro Biography. New York: Norton, 1982.


Buffalo Soldiers National Museum (2004). (Accessed 2 February 2005).

                           LaVerne Laney McLaughlin