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Lewis Broadus
Broadus in 1909, wearing the
ribbon of the Certificate of Merit.
Birth name Louis Cunningham
Nickname "Cap"
Born (1877-07-24)July 24, 1877
Died June 23, 1961(1961-06-23) (aged 83)
Place of birth Henrico County, Virginia, U.S.
Place of death Jamaica, Queens, U.S.
Buried at Pinelawn Cemetery
Allegiance United States
Service/branch Seal of the United States Department of War.png United States Army
Years of service 1897-1923
Rank US-O3 insignia.svg Captain
Unit 25th Infantry Regiment
366th Infantry Regiment,
US 92nd Infantry Division SVG.svg 92nd Infantry Division
Battles/wars Indian Wars
Spanish–American War
 • Battle of El Caney
 • Battle of San Juan Hill
Philippine–American War
Border War
World War I
Awards Distinguished Service Cross ribbon.svg Distinguished Service Cross
Spouse(s) Florence Blackwood (m. 1897)
Edith McClenny (m. 1931)
Other work Special Officer, Mount Vernon PD
Alcohol Tax Division, New York City

Captain Lewis Cunningham Broadus (1877–1961) was a Buffalo Soldier born in Henrico County, Virginia, who served his country with distinction in the 25th Infantry Regiment and the 92nd Infantry Division of the United States Army. He served from 1897 to 1923, and was a veteran of the Indian Wars, Spanish–American War, Philippine–American War, Border War, and World War I.

He began his military career as a Private in Company D, 25th Infantry Regiment. Over the course of the many military campaigns he participated in, Lewis rose through the ranks, reaching the highest enlisted rank of his regiment, Sergeant Major. With the outbreak of World War I, and after many petitions and commendations, he was granted the chance to attend officer training, and successfully commissioned in 1918.

Lewis was awarded a Certificate of Merit for "coolness, presence of mind, and bravery in saving lives of others at Fort Niobrara," by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. After the Certificate of Merit Medal was declared obsolete in 1918, his medal was first exchanged for the newly established Distinguished Service Medal, and, after a change in award regulations by Congress in 1934, converted into the Distinguished Service Cross.

Background & Personal Life

Born on July 24, 1877 in Richmond, Virginia, he was the son of an Irish slave owner, Louis Cunningham, and an enslaved African woman, today known only as Lizzie. He appears in the U.S. Census dated June 3, 1880, Henrico County, Virginia, as Louis Cunningham, age three. After the untimely death of his mother, he was raised by the Broadus family, listed in the census as "Arthur- stable hand", his son "David- tobacco hand", and daughter "Mary- washerwoman". He later changed his name to Lewis Broadus.

While stationed at Fort Custer, Montana, he met and married Florence Blackwood, a young Native American woman of the Lakota (Sioux) born of the Burnt Thigh Tiyošpaye Band, which was later named the Rosebud Sioux, during the time period when the Dakota Territory became the State of South Dakota. After marrying, Lewis decided to make the U.S. Army his career, which involved frequent postings to many different areas of the country. Postings required many adjustments to new communities such as new local military schools and new neighborhoods for his young family, which then consisted of Lewis, Florence, daughter Mabel, and son Ernest. After the death of his first wife, Florence, Lewis remarried in 1931. He and his second wife Edith McClenny had daughter, Elizabeth.[1]

Military career

After the end of the Civil War and just eight years before his birth, the U.S. Army had established four African American regiments which became the 24th and the 25th Infantry, and the 9th and the 10th Cavalry. At age twenty, in 1897, he enlisted as a young volunteer in the 25th Infantry and was sent to Fort Custer, Montana. Shortly after, he was sent to fight in America's first overseas conflict, the Spanish American War.

Spanish-American War

Since 1885, Cuba had been fighting for independence from Spain. In 1898, when the battleship U.S.S. Maine exploded in Havana Harbor, American troops were mobilized for war. The African American regiments of the 24th and 25th Infantry and 9th and 10th Cavalry were in the forefront of the fighting. Lewis Broadus saw action at the Battle of El Caney. The following excerpt is an eyewitness account of charging the blockhouse at El Caney:

It has been reported that the 12th U.S. Infantry made the charge, assisted by the 25th Infantry, but it is a recorded fact that the 25th Infantry fought the battle alone, the 12th Infantry coming up after the firing had nearly ceased. Private T.C. Butler, Company H, 25th Infantry, was the first man to enter the block-house at El Caney, and took possession of the Spanish flag for his regiment. An officer of the 12th Infantry came up while Butler was in the house and ordered him to give up the flag, which he was compelled to do, but not until he had torn a piece off the flag to substantiate his report to his Colonel of the injustice which had been done to him. Thus, by using the authority given him by his shoulder-straps, this officer took for his regiment that which had been won by the hearts' blood of some of the bravest, though black, soldiers of Shafter's army. The charge of El Caney has been little spoken of, but it was quite as great a show of bravery as the famous taking of San Juan Hill.

Frank W. Pullen, Jr., Ex-Sergeant-Major 25th U.S. Infantry. Enfield, N.C., March 23, 1899.[2]

He also saw action in the Battle of San Juan Hill along with Lt.Col. Theodore Roosevelt's famous Rough Riders. Although an infantryman, he ended up with the African American 10th Cavalry as they charged the hill on horseback. The 10th never received recognition for the charge but his family keeps the memory of their forbearer—whom they affectionately call "Cap"—hanging onto a horse's neck, galloping up San Juan Hill under heavy artillery fire. The victory at San Juan Hill led to the swift defeat of the Spanish army. African American troops bravely served their country, but the U.S. War Department refused to promote African American men as commissioned officers. "Cap" nonetheless requested promotion as he had distinguished himself by recovering the horses of the mounted officers at great personal risk, and also saved the lives of four men of the regiment. In a letter to Captain W.S. Scott, Company G, 25th Infantry, Fort McIntosh, Texas, dated September 4, 1899, he wrote the following:


I have the honor to request that the Capt. will recommend me to the war Dept. for an appointment as a commissioned officer in the Volunteer regiment which was ordered a few days ago. My service in the army is from Jan. 28/97 to the present time and in the present company. I served in the Spanish American War in early 1898. Battles El cancy [sic], under fire July 2nd and 3rd, and before Santiago, 10th and 11th, 1898. I was among the first to charge the block house at El cancy [sic] and on the night of July 2, I volunteered to go back through the bamboo jungles and got some papers, horses and a part of the lost platoons. I brought them to the firing line in the morning of the 3rd and I volunteered to go with Lt. O'Neil over on the bluff to take observation of the Spanish guns, which the Captain knows was a danger in it. Hoping this will meet your approval.

Very respectfully,

Lewis Broadus

Company G, 25th Infantry, Fort McIntosh, Texas

Philippine-American War

Broadus was recommended for a commission as a Lieutenant to command the Philippine Scouts; however, the War Department sent him to the Presidio, which was then a military training base located on the tip of the San Francisco Peninsula. Thousands of regiments passed through it on their way to fight against Filipino nationalists (Insurectos) during the Philippine-American War. His regiment was stationed in Mindanao, the second largest island after Luzon, and engaged in numerous skirmishes.

Indian Wars & Certificate of Merit Action

Upon returning to the U.S., he was sent back to the frontier to once again serve as a Buffalo Soldier, patrolling and defending what was called the "Indian Territories"—the Western Plains region. An incident occurred while he served as 1st Sergeant at Fort Niobrara, Nebraska on July 3, 1906. A memorandum from the Acting Secretary of the U.S. War Department, Office of the Chief of Staff, Washington dated September, 1906 states:

At breakfast on July 3, 1906, Sergeant Thompson gave orders to Private William Burnett, Co. M, 25th Infantry, who replied in abusive language and reported Thompson to the company commander for abuse. The company commander investigated the complaint and ordered Burnett in arrest and to prepare for trial by summary court. Burnett seemed sullen after this, and a little before 1 p.m. was again warned to prepare for trial. About 1 p.m. Thompson was near the outer door of the 2d squad room of Co. M, 25th Infantry, many men, including 1st Sergeant Broadus, being in the room. The door opened, and Private Burnett stepped in with a rifle and pointed it at Thompson. Broadus sprang forward, seized the rifle near the muzzle, and deflected it upward just as it was fired, the flame and bullet passing between his face and upraised shoulder. Broadus was in imminent danger in performing this act, and had just time to seize the rifle before it was fired. If Broadus had not seized the rifle just as he did, Thompson or one of the many men in line of fire would have been shot.

He was awarded the Certificate of Merit Medal on Sept. 25, 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt.

Border War

During the Border War, Broadus was sent to fight Mexican revolutionaries in skirmishes on the Texas–Mexican border. Later, between 1913 to 1917, the 25th Infantry Regiment was sent to Oahu, Hawaii where approximately 800 African American soldiers were housed in the Schofield Barracks.

During 1917, he was assigned to special duty in Hartford, Connecticut where he served in the capacity of Ordnance Sergeant, a staff non commissioned officer, receiving and issuing all ordnance, (artillery, weapons, ammunition) "assisting the Property and Disbursing Officer for the State of Connecticut, per Special Orders #281 C.D. of Long Island Sound, Fort H.G. Wright, N.Y." Once again, he petitioned for appointment as "Commissioned Officer in the Colored Regiments" citing his exemplary service record:

Enlisted Jan. 20, 1897
Appointed Corporal and Sergeant Sept 25, 1898 Company D 25th Infantry
Promoted to 1st Sergeant July 26, 1900.
Served in Company D 25th Infantry to Feb 26, 1901
Transferred to Company M
Appointed Corporal Sergeant and 1st Sergeant Company M 25th Infantry
Served in Company M to May 19, 1912
Battalion Sergeant Major 25th Infantry to May 2, 1914
Ordnance Sergeant US Army from May 2, 1914 to 1917.
Awarded Certificate of Merit
Qualified as Expert Rifleman 1904, 05, 06, 07, 1910, 1912 and 1914.
Qualified as Expert Pistol Shot 1910, 1911, 1912, and 1913

Feature in The Crisis Magazine

Lewis Broadus, as featured in The Crisis Magazine, June 1917

As W.E.B. DuBois had founded The Crisis Magazine in 1910—the official publication of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the June 1917 issue featured Broadus as one of four "outstanding men of the month."[3] His photograph shows him in formal military dress wearing the insignia of Regimental Sergeant Major on his left arm, black and gold service stripes above his wrists, ornamental braided cord across his chest, and over twenty medals from shoulder to waist. His feature in the magazine reads:


Mr. Lewis Broadus has been in the U. S. Army for twenty-six years and has served in Cuba, Hawaii and the Philippines. In Cuba he distinguished himself by recovering the horses of the mounted officers at a great personal risk, and also saved the lives of four men of the regiment. He received a certificate of merit from President Roosevelt in 1906 for saving the life of Sergeant J. M. Thompson of Fort Niobrara, Nebraska. Mr. Broadus is now stationed at the State Armory at Hartford, Conn., by request of the Adjutant General of the State of Connecticut, to assist in the preparation of the ordnance returns.[4]

World War I

As the United States entered World War I, the 25th Infantry Regiment was assigned garrison duty in Hawaii, and did not see combat. During this time, the military experienced a rapid buildup, including the addition of over 350,000 colored recruits and draftees, and required additional colored officers to train the draftees, as well as lead them in the field. Lewis took this opportunity to once again petition for promotion as Commissioned Officer, and received another commendation. The letter was in support of sending him to, "the Reserves Officers Training Camp at Fort Des Moines, Iowa [5] for the term of his instruction commencing June 18, 1917 … [as] he is in a high degree the type of a soldier desired there." This time, he fulfilled his goal.

Lewis, along with the majority of black officers and draftees who trained at Camp Dodge, was organized into the 366th Infantry Reserve Regiment.[6] After months of training, the division departed for France in June, 1918, where the 366th fought in engagements such as the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the largest American engagement of the war.

Retirement and Legacy

An elderly Lewis Broadus

After his military career ended, Lewis settled in the town of Mount Vernon, New York where he worked as Special Officer for the Mount Vernon police department and was employed by the Alcohol Tax Division of NYC until his retirement in 1947. By 1961, he had served his country for 26 years with "impeccable military and combat credentials" and was one of the last remaining Spanish–American War veterans. He died at age 83 in Veterans Hospital in Jamaica, NY and had a military burial in Pinelawn Cemetery, Farmingdale, Long Island.

The Certificate of Merit Medal that he was awarded as a young man in 1906 by President Roosevelt had been converted to the Distinguished Service Medal in 1919. By the "Act of Congress approval March 5, 1934, authorization of the U.S. War Department," the Distinguished Service Medal was converted into the Distinguished Service Cross. This award was sent to his surviving family, who presented it as a gift to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. and accepted by the Museum's Curator of Collections[7] His military papers were donated to the Library of Virginia Foundation, on behalf of the Library of Virginia.[8]


Army distinguished service cross medal.jpg
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross, in lieu of a previously issued Certificate of Merit and Distinguished Service Medal, to First Sergeant Lewis Broadus, United States Army, for coolness, presence of mind, and bravery in saving lives of others at Fort Niobrara, Nebraska, on 3 July 1906, while serving as a member of Company M, 25th Infantry Regiment.[9]

In 2007, his medal was donated by his family to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, D.C., where it is included in its permanent collection and special exhibitions.


Broadus was the first of several military men in his family. Several members of subsequent generations would follow in his footsteps and serve in notable services during times of major conflict. These members include: son-in-law Calvin Hanes Norman, a Sergeant of the ”Harlem Hellfighters” during the First World War, and grandson Lewis Norman, a paratrooper in the “Tripple Nickels” 555th Infantry Battalion of the 82nd Airborne Division.

Awards and Decorations

Additional Images


  1. US Census 1940 Mt Vernon, NY
  2. Chapter III
  3. THE CRISIS, JUNE 1917 "BLACK DEFENDERS OF AMERICA" Schomburg Collection, NYC 355.1 page 70, "AN ARMY SERGEANT"
  4. pg.83–84
  7. SMITHSONIAN NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY AND CULTURE April 23, 2007, Curatorial Department, Curator of Collections.

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