Military Wiki
369th Infantry Regiment
369th InfantryCOA.jpeg
Coat of arms
Active 1913–1945
Branch New York Army National Guard
Type Infantry
Nickname(s) Harlem Hellfighters
Motto(s) "Don't Tread On Me"

World War I

World War II

Benjamin O. Davis, Sr.
DUI 369SustainBdeDUI.jpg

File:Harlem Hell Fighters.jpg

Harlem Hellfighters in action. Here, the men of the 369th are depicted wearing the American Brodie helmet; however, after being detached and seconded to the French, they wore the Adrian helmet, while retaining the rest of their American uniform. This particular image displays the action at Séchault, France on September 29, 1918 during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. They would have worn the American Brodie helmet at this time.[1]

The 369th Infantry Regiment, formerly the 15th New York National Guard Regiment, was an infantry regiment of the United States Army that saw action in World War I and World War II. The 369th Infantry is known for being the first African-American and Puerto Rican regiment to serve with the American Expeditionary Force during World War I. The regiment was nicknamed the Harlem Hellfighters and the Black Rattlers, in addition to several other nicknames.


The 369th Infantry Regiment was constituted 2 June 1913 in the New York Army National Guard as the 15th New York Infantry Regiment. It was organized on 29 June 1916 at New York City. It was mustered into Federal service on 25 July 1917 at Camp Whitman, New York. It was drafted into Federal service 5 August 1917. The regiment trained in the New York area, performed guard duty at various locations in New York. They trained more intensely at Camp Wadsworth in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where they experienced significant racism from the local communities and from other units.

The 15th Infantry Regiment NYARNG was assigned on 1 December 1917 to the 185th Infantry Brigade. It was commanded by Col. William Hayward, a member of the Union League Club of New York, which sponsored the 369th in the tradition of the 20th U.S. Colored Infantry, which the club had sponsored in the Civil War.

The 15th Infantry Regiment shipped out from the New York Port of Embarkation on 27 December 1917, and joined its brigade upon arrival in France. The unit was relegated to labor service duties instead of combat training. The 185th Infantry Brigade was assigned on 5 January 1918 to the 93rd Division [Provisional].

The 15th Infantry Regiment, NYARNG was reorganized and redesignated 1 March 1918 as the 369th Infantry Regiment, but the unit continued labor service duties while it awaited the decision as to its future.

15th Infantry, in France, wearing French helmets

The US Army decided on 8 April 1918 to assign the unit to the French Army for the duration of the United States' participation in the war. The men were issued French helmets and brown leather belts and pouches, although they continued to wear their U.S. uniforms. The 369th Infantry Regiment was relieved 8 May 1918 from assignment to the 185th Infantry Brigade, and went into the trenches as part of the French 16th Division. It served continuously to 3 July. The regiment returned to combat in the Second Battle of the Marne. Later the 369th was reassigned to Gen. Lebouc’s 161st Division to participate in the Allied counterattack. On 19 August, the regiment went off the line for rest and training of replacements.

On 25 September 1918 the French 4th Army went on the offensive in conjunction with the American drive in the Meuse-Argonne. The 369th turned in a good account in heavy fighting, sustaining severe losses. They captured the important village of Séchault. At one point the 369th advanced faster than French troops on their right and left flanks, and risked being cut off. By the time the regiment pulled back for reorganization, it had advanced fourteen kilometers through severe German resistance.

In mid-October the regiment was moved to a quiet sector in the Vosges Mountains. It was there on 11 November, the day of the Armistice. Six days later, the 369th made its last advance and on 26 November, reached the banks of the Rhine River, the first Allied unit to reach it. The regiment was relieved on 12 December 1918 from assignment to the French 161st Division. It returned to the New York Port of Embarkation and was demobilized on 28 February 1919 at Camp Upton at Yaphank, New York, and returned to the New York Army National Guard.

During its service, the regiment suffered 1500 casualties and took part in the following campaigns:

Wartime poster of the 369th fighting German soldiers, with the figure of Abraham Lincoln above

  1. Champagne–Marne
  2. Meuse–Argonne
  3. Champagne 1918
  4. Alsace 1918

One Medal of Honor and many Distinguished Service Crosses were awarded to members of the regiment. The most celebrated man in the 369th was Pvt. Henry Lincoln Johnson, a former Albany, New York, rail station porter, who earned the nickname "Black Death" for his actions in combat in France. In May 1918 Johnson and Pvt. Needham Roberts fought off a 24-man German patrol, though both were severely wounded. After they expended their ammunition, Roberts used his rifle as a club and Johnson battled with a bolo knife. Johnson was the first American to receive the Croix de Guerre awarded by the French government. By the end of the war, 171 members of the 369th were awarded the Legion of Honor.[2]

Photographs show that the 369th carried the New York Regimental flag overseas. The French government awarded the regiment the Croix de Guerre with silver star for the taking of Séchault. It was pinned to the colors by General Lebouc at a ceremony in Germany, 13 December 1918.

Soldiers of the 369th (15th N.Y.) who won the Croix de Guerre for gallantry in action, 1919. Left to right. Front row: Pvt. Ed Williams, Herbert Taylor, Pvt. Leon Fraitor, Pvt. Ralph Hawkins. Back Row: Sgt. H. D. Prinas, Sgt. Dan Strorms, Pvt. Joe Williams, Pvt. Alfred Hanley, and Cpl. T. W. Taylor

One of the first units in the United States armed forces to have black officers in addition to its all-black enlisted corps, the 369th compiled a war record equal to any other U.S. infantry regiment. It earned several unit citations along with many individual decorations for valor from the French government. The 369th Infantry Regiment was the first New York unit to return to the United States, and was the first unit to march up Fifth Avenue from the Washington Square Park Arch to their armory in Harlem. Their unit was placed on the permanent list with other veteran units.

In re-capping the story of the 369th Arthur W. Little, who had been a battalion commander, wrote in the regimental history From Harlem to the Rhine, that it was official that the outfit was 191 days under fire, never lost a foot of ground or had a man taken prisoner, though on two occasions men were captured but they were recovered. Only once did it fail to take its objective and that was due largely to bungling by French artillery support. There were 1500 casualties.

During the war the 369th's regimental band (under the direction of James Reese Europe) became famous throughout Europe. It introduced the until-then unknown music called jazz to British, French and other audiences, and started an international demand for it.[3]

Famous New York soldiers return home. (The) 369th Infantry (old 15th National Guard of New York Cit . . . - NARA - 533553

At the end of the war, the 369th returned to New York City, and in February 1919, paraded through the city. Thousands lined the streets to see them: the parade began on Fifth Avenue at 61st Street, proceeded uptown past ranks of white bystanders, turned west on 110th Street, and then swung on to Lenox Avenue, and marched into Harlem, where black New Yorkers packed the sidewalks to see them. The parade became a marker of African American service to the nation, a frequent point of reference for those campaigning for civil rights. In the 1920s and 1930s, the 369th was a regular presence on Harlem's streets, each year marching through the neighborhood from their armory to catch a train to their annual summer camp, and then back through the neighborhood on their return two weeks later.[4]

Coast Artillery lineage

After World War I the unit was redesignated and reorganized as a Coast Artillery unit. The coast Artillery section of the lineage is given below. There is some evidence in the New York annual report from 1941 that, like many units of the 1930s, it was underfunded and did not receive any antiaircraft weapons until its mobilization for World War II.[citation needed] After mobilization training the unit was deployed to Hawaii, and eventually Okinawa.

Constituted in the New York National Guard as 369th Coast Artillery (AA)(Coast Artillery Corps) on 11 October 1921 as follows-
  • HHB from HHB 369th Infantry Regiment
  • 1st Battalion from 1st Battalion 369th Infantry
  • 2nd Battalion from 2nd Battalion 369th infantry

Inducted into federal service 13 January 1941 at New York City.

Regiment broken up 12 December 1943 as Follows-

  • HHB as 369th AntiAircraft Artillery Group (disbanded November 1944)
  • 1st battalion as 369th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion (semi Mobile) (Colored) (See 369th Sustainment Brigade (United States)).
  • 2nd Battalion as 870th Antiaircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion. (see 970th Field Artillery Battalion.)


The 369th Regiment Armory was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.[5]

A section of the Harlem River Drive in New York City is named for the 369th Infantry Regiment.

The filker Michael Longcor is the composer and recorder of the song "The Ballad of Esau's Sons" (lyrics by poet Martha Keller), which describes the 369th's exploits during World War I without explicitly naming the unit.

Notable soldiers

  • Benjamin O. Davis Sr., Regimental Commander of the 369th Regiment and first African-American general in the US Armed Forces.
  • James Reese Europe, an early ragtime and jazz bandleader and composer, who served as regimental bandmaster as part of the Harlem Hellfighters who led the first Americans into France, then into Germany after the Armistice. Also established the first African-American musicians union the Clef Club.[6]
  • Hamilton Fish III, Company Commander in the 369th Regiment, New York Congressman, and Founder of the Order of Lafayette.
  • Henry Lincoln Johnson, winner of the Croix de Guerre-posthumously awarded the DSC and Purple Heart.
  • Rafael Hernández Marín, considered to the greatest composer of Puerto Rican music.
  • Spotswood Poles, referred to as "the black Ty Cobb" for his prowess in the professional Negro baseball leagues in the early 20th century.
  • Needham Roberts, winner of the Croix de Guerre and Purple Heart.
  • Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, tap dancer and actor
  • Noble Sissle, American jazz composer, lyricist, bandleader, singer and playwright, who assisted James Reese Europe in forming the regimental band.
  • Vertner Woodson Tandy, who was the first African-American to pass the military commissioning examination and was commissioned as a First Lieutenant in the 15th Infantry Regiment of the New York Guard. Tandy was also one of the founders, or "Seven Jewels," of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.
  • John Woodruff, Battalion Commander, Olympic Gold Medalist in Berlin (1936)

Distinctive unit insignia

  • Description

A silver color metal and enamel device 1 14 inches (3.2 cm) in height overall consisting of a blue shield charged with a silver rattlesnake coiled and ready to strike.

  • Symbolism

The rattlesnake is a symbol used on some colonial flags and is associated with the thirteen original colonies. The silver rattlesnake on the blue shield was the distinctive regimental insignia of the 369th Infantry Regiment, ancestor of the unit, and alludes to the service of the organization during World War I.

  • Background

The distinctive unit insignia was originally approved for the 369th Infantry Regiment on 17 April 1923. It was redesignated for the 369th Coast Artillery Regiment on 3 December 1940. It was redesignated for the 369th Antiaircraft Artillery Gun Battalion on 7 January 1944. It was redesignated for the 569th Field Artillery Battalion on 14 August 1956. The insignia was redesignated for the 369th Artillery Regiment on 4 April 1962. It was amended to correct the wording of the description on 2 September 1964. It was redesignated for the 569th Transportation Battalion and amended to add a motto on 13 March 1969. The insignia was redesignated for the 369th Transportation Battalion and amended to delete the motto on 14 January 1975. It was redesignated for the 369th Support Battalion and amended to revise the description and symbolism on 2 November 1994. The insignia was redesignated for the 369th Sustainment Brigade and amended to revise the description and symbolism on 20 July 2007.

See also



  1. Nelson, Peter. A More Unbending Battle: The Harlem Hellfighters' Struggle for Freedom in WWI and Equality at Home. New York: Basic Civitas, 2009.
  2. [1], Explore Pennsylvania History
  3. Scott, Scott's Official History, ch. XXI: "Negro Music that Stirred France", pp. 300–314.
  4. Stephen Robertson, "Parades in 1920s Harlem", Digital Harlem Blog, 1 February 2011, accessed 23 August 2011
  5. "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2009-03-13. 
  6. The New Amsterdam Musical Association, founded in 1904, makes the NAMA the oldest African-American musical organization in the United States, but it did not admit popular musicians. The Clef Club was unique in this respect. [2]

Further reading

  • Barbeau, Arthur E., and Florette Henri. The Unknown Soldiers; Black American Troops in World War I. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1974. ISBN 0-87722-063-8.
  • Harris, Bill. The Hellfighters of Harlem: African-American Soldiers Who Fought for the Right to Fight for Their Country. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2002. ISBN 0-7867-1050-0, ISBN 0-7867-1307-0.
  • Harris, Stephen L. Harlem's Hell Fighters: The African-American 369th Infantry in World War I. Washington, D.C.: Brassey's, Inc, 2003. ISBN 1-57488-386-0, ISBN 1-57488-635-5.
  • Little, Arthur W. From Harlem to the Rhine: The Story of New York's Colored Volunteers. New York: Covici, Friede, Publishers, 1936. (Reprinted: New York: Haskell House, 1974. ISBN 0-8383-2033-3).
  • Myers, Walter Dean, and Bill Miles. The Harlem Hellfighters: When Pride Met Courage. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006. ISBN 0-06-001136-X, ISBN 0-06-001137-8.
  • Nelson, Peter. A More Unbending Battle: The Harlem Hellfighters' Struggle for Freedom in WWI and Equality at Home. New York: Basic Civitas, 2009. ISBN 0-465-00317-6.

African Americans in World War I

External links

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).