Army officer receives promotion to BG 100 years after his death

| May 1, 2022

then-Major Charles Young

Here’s an interesting one. Charles Young is an inspiring historical figure. Born to enslaved parents in 1864 Kentucky he would become one of the first black men to attend West Point (scoring second-highest on the entrance exam). His father had escaped slavery in 1865 and served with the 5th United States Colored Heavy Artillery Regiment towards the end of the Civil War. Charles Young was the third black man to graduate the institution in 1889. He and the other black cadets endured significant racism while at the Military Academy.

Young would then serve as an officer in the Buffalo Soldier regiments during the waning days of the Indian Wars. By 1898, at the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, he was made a major of Volunteers, but did not see overseas service. Reverting to his permanent rank of 1st lieutenant, he was promoted to captain in 1901. In 1903 when his company of black soldiers was stationed at The Presidio in San Francisco, Young became the first superintendent of a National Park.

Young continued to rise in the ranks, and his service took him all over the world, to Haiti, to the Philippines during our war there, to Liberia, and to Mexico as part of the Pancho Villa Expedition. During the latter action he led his cavalry in a pistol charge against Pancho Villa’s forces near Agua Caliente, routing the enemy without losing a single man. For this he was promoted to lieutenant colonel in September 1916.

Despite his record of exemplary service and combat acumen, Young was forcibly medically retired in 1917. Officially, the issue was his high blood pressure. Which for a field officer at age 53 is a valid concern. Sources say that he was forced out because racist white officers didn’t want to serve under a black general. Since the US military was expanding for World War I his promotion to the flag ranks was almost certain. Instead, he was promoted to colonel and retired. Young was the first black man to reach the rank of colonel and was the highest ranking black officer in the Army at the time.

Young had over his many years of service acquired powerful associates. Among them was former President Theodore Roosevelt. While Roosevelt (a Republican) was unable to sway the Democratic Wilson Administration into reversing their decision to retire Colonel Young, he did offer the man a position leading a black regiment in his “volunteer division” that he was organizing for service in France before official US entry to the war. Roosevelt’s plan fell through when Wilson ultimately refused permission for Roosevelt’s division.

Young meanwhile returned to Wilberforce University in Ohio, where he had taught off an on part time during his military service. On 6 November, 1918, after Colonel Young rode on horseback from Ohio to D.C. to prove his physical fitness, was Young reinstated in the active Army at the rank of colonel. The following year he was again posted as the military attache to Liberia.

In late-1921, while on a reconnaissance mission in Nigeria, Young fell ill and died of a kidney infection soon after in January 1922. Young would remain the highest ranking black officer until Benjamin Davis Sr would be promoted to brigadier general in 1940. Davis’s son Benjamin Jr is an Air Force legend. He would command some of the Tuskeegee Airmen in combat during WWII, remaining in the Air Force after the war, and rise to the rank of lieutenant general (promoted to general on the retired list some years later). Interestingly, Young was the third black man to graduate West Point and was the last until Benjamin Davis Jr did nearly 50 years later in 1936.

Colonel Young’s legacy is one of inspirational perseverance in the face of daunting pressure. His record of service, regardless of his race, is exemplary and noteworthy. Naturally, because of his race, his story is even more remarkable. As such, it’d drawn lots of attention over the years. Even during his lifetime, he was honored by the NAACP awarded him their Spingarn Medal in 1916 for his accomplishments in Liberia.

Most interesting is a latter day effort to posthumously promote Young to brigadier general, even though he died 100 years ago. In 2020, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) promoted Young to brigadier general in Kentucky (though it doesn’t appear as if Young ever served in the Kentucky Militia or National Guard). The DoD has now approved a promotion for Young to the same rank, with a promotion ceremony yesterday at West Point.

While Under Secretary of the Army Gabe Camarillo said Young was a “model leader” and called his legacy “frankly inspiring” (both of which I whole-heartedly agree with), Camrillo also said, Young’s “promotion today to brigadier general has been a long time delayed, but fortunately for all of us no longer denied.”

I’m not sure how to feel about this, and look forward to hearing others’ opinions. This promotion now “corrects” history to say Charles Young was the first black Army general officer as well as the first black West Point general officer. While I think this is done to try and right some perceived historical wrong, it feels like it’s taking away the hard earned accomplishments of Benjamin Davis Sr (first black general) and Benjamin Davis Jr (first black West Pointer general). The Davis’s achievements could not have been done without the trail that Young blazed for them. While I can’t find that Young was specifically denied promotion to B/Gen. during his life, his contemporaries (lieutenant colonels with 30 years of service and records of combat leadership) were certainly receiving promotions to flag ranks in the Army of the United States (the combined active, conscript, and federalized state troops of the US Army). I’m sure there were also a good number of lieutenant colonels who, for myriad reasons, did not have stars fall on them during the Great War.

Category: Army, Historical, Real Soldiers, We Remember

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President Elect Toxic Deplorable Racist SAH Neande

A well deserved promotion, but political posturing nonetheless.

Agreed. I wonder what 100 years of back pay comes out to.


He’ll have a hard time spending it.


OK fucker… 🤔🫡😁 I should not have have laughed at this but I’m gonna admit it here in front of God everybody … I did, oh I did. 😝😂


oh, hell, promote him to a 5 star and he can outrank Pershing. Then we can rewrite the books, get rid of that problematic “Black Jack” name and diminish the fella who invaded Mexico in pursuit of Hispanis/Indigenous/People of Color. /s


I concur that, while Young’s service is laudable and he may have been railroaded (if so, he’s hardly the only serviceman in history to find himself on the wrong side of internal politics), this seems like a slap in the face to the legacies of both Generals Davis.


If ol’ Poe recalls correctly, AF GEN Chappie James, the first black to make four-star, was also forced to retire early due to heart issues that killed him a short time later.

As for COL Young, it’s just more liberal, feel-good foolishness that accomplishes nothing other than to displace two other deserving black generals. Who can possibly prove that Young was more entitled to those firsts than they were?

Ol’ Poe is sick to death of all this history revision crap… 😡 

Mustang Major

The Army must have a bad batch of colonels serving if they have to promote a guy to BG that died one hundred years ago.


All the good ones choose to retire rather than get on their knees.


We looked up Charles Young in USMA “The Register of Graduates.”

He graduated with the Class of 1889. There were only 49 graduates in his class.

He was the “Goat” of his Class, i.e. he graduated last in his class (His cullum number was 3330).

Don’t know what the standards were in 1889 for Class standings, but normally Class standings are based on one’s academic average.

Some more pictures and information of him at this site:

We hope everyone was sincere in promoting COL Charles Young to BG and not used him for their political agenda.

We 100% agree with what Mason wrote reference Benjamin Davis SR and Benjamin Davis Jr.

We still salute BG Young for what his accomplishments in serving our Country.

USMC Steve

I appreciate the gesture, but I don’t think at this point the guy really cares anymore.