This article was originally published in SABR’s The National Pastime, Vol. 15 (1995).
The 25th Infantry Regiment baseball team, c. 1918. (JERRY MALLOY)
The 25th Regiment of United States Infantry was one of four African-American Regular Army units created after the Civil War, the others being the 24th Infantry, and the 9th and 10th Cavalry. Its baseball program began in Missoula, Montana, in 1894, and 25 years later six players from the 25th, including Bullet Rogan and Dobie Moore, formed the backbone of the Kansas City Monarchs, the Negro League’s powerhouse of the plains. So strongly were the Monarchs identified with the ballplaying soldiers of the 25th Infantry that in the early 1920s they commonly were called “the Army team.”1
Colonel Andrew S. Burt decided to form a regimental baseball team upon observing the hoopla of an informal game at Fort Buford, North Dakota, in 1893. The post was garrisoned by three companies of the 25th as well as one company of the (white) 20th Infantry and Troops D and H of the (black) 10th Cavalry. A game was played between an interracial infantry team and an all-black cavalry team, with the Doughboys whipping the Cavalrymen, 7-0. ”This certainly was a holiday,” recalled the 25th’s pitcher, Master Sergeant Dalbert P. Green, “the whole garrison was out in force, such noise and fireworks.”2
Burt’s choice of Green to organize a regimental team was fortunate for historians of African-American military baseball. Twenty years of close association with the team enabled him to recount its genesis for a regimental history compiled in 1927.3 “As Captain of the team,” Green wrote, “I spent the happiest days of my life, and was proud of the honor of being a member of one of the scrappiest teams in the U.S. Army.”4
Initially, players wore makeshift uniforms, improvised by company tailors. Games were played on Sundays and holidays, and players practiced and maintained the grounds on their own time. Baseball was not permitted to interfere with any drills or training. In deed, ballplayers “had to show soldierly qualities of the very highest type,” wrote Green, and withholding per mission to play for or watch the regimental team proved a useful disciplinary tool.5
The culmination of the Indian Wars gave African American soldiers the most recreational time they had ever known, and competition on the baseball diamond became fierce. Although the second commander of the 24th Infantry was none other than Abner Doubleday, it was the 25th Infantry that attained supremacy in baseball among the Army’s four African-American units, followed by the 10th Cavalry.6 The 25th Infantry “played gilt-edged ball” from 1894 until 1898, when war with Spain carried the 25th overseas, and the 25th car ried their emergent baseball tradition with them.
Cuba and the Philippines, 1898-1902
The Spanish-American War brought changes in the use of the Army’s four black regiments. Participation in larger military operations and assignments near population centers east of the Mississippi River brought them into unprecedented proximity with white soldiers and civilians, and not always harmoniously.
The 25th Infantry, the first United States Army unit ordered into wartime duty, was assigned to Chickamauga Park, Lyle, Georgia, where an intercontinental baseball rivalry arose, pitting the 25th Infantry against the (white) 12th Infantry. “The 12th Infantry,” wrote Green, “with its well known practically semi-professional team … won handily and the 25th with the Colonel leading, swore to get even if it took twenty years.”7 Nonetheless, he added, “all other teams fell before our prowess.”8
Colonel Burt and his men would not have to wait 20 years to extract revenge. In the summer of 1899, the 25th Infantry arrived in the Philippine Islands, and immediately defeated the 12th Infantry in a game that “was played with that fighting spirit that both regiments are noted for,” according to Green. The black soldiers agreed to play on Christmas Day, 1899, at 12th Infantry Headquarters, and “delivered the goods,” with another dose of vengeance. Green described the 12th Infantry as “our old rival and best friend,” but battlefield events in Cuba must have made the 25th’s baseball field triumph in the Philippine Islands all the sweeter. At issue was not a pennant, but the Spanish flag that both regiments claimed to have taken in the surrender at the battle of El Caney on July 1, 1898.9
Initial response to the performance of the Regular Army’s four black regiments in Cuba was quite favorable in both the military and the press. But martial exhilaration soon gave way to the accrued momentum of the nation’s racial mores, and Jim Crow would follow the flag overseas. The regiment was sent to Fort Logan, Colorado, for a few months before being assigned to the Philippine Islands from 1899 until 1902. Green wrote cavalierly that, while in the Philippines, “the regiment was busy engaged in policing the territory that was assigned to them of the many insurgent bands that were roaming through the country at that time, but a small matter like that never caused a moment of laxity in playing ball.” Nonetheless, Green, like his teammates on the diamond, was a soldier first and foremost. In November, 1899, he singlehandedly rescued four unarmed civilians from a band of 30 armed insurgents, prompting his commander to recommend him for a Medal of Honor.10
Green called the 25th Infantry’s baseball team the champions of the Philippines from 1899 through 1902. They usually played twice a week and attracted the attention of the local population.11 The army encouraged the regimental baseball team for its contributions to camaraderie and morale. Chaplains, however, were of a mixed mind. On one hand, baseball was an attractive alternative to more unsavory diversions. On the other hand, it also presented a diversion from chapel attendance on Sundays. And while the national pastime helped alleviate many of the vices that accompany barracks life, it positively fostered one of them: gambling.12
In 1901, when the 25th was sent to Manila for a month, the team issued a challenge in the Manila Times to play anyone — “for money, marbles or chalk, money being preferred.”13 This braggadocio nearly came to a ruinous conclusion. The team entered a five-game competition with $500 at stake to win at least three — and lost their first two games. But, as Green informs us, they came back and won the last three.
The last and final game was played against the famous Battery H, 6th Artillery, a great team, and at that time considered the champions of Manila, and since this game was for the championship of the Islands, we won, as usual. Their scalps, added to our already well-filled belts, was a trophy worth fighting for.14
In 1902 Major Arlie Pond, who had compiled a 35-19 record as a pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles from 1895 to 1898, became the manager of the 25th Infantry team. When the regiment was ordered back to the United States, it defeated several teams en route, most notably the champions of the Manila League, “Major Archie Butt’s Quartermaster Team.”15
Department of the Missouri, 1903-1905
Rotation back to the United States in 1902 resulted in the fragmentation of the regimental baseball team. Four companies were sent to Fort Reno, Oklahoma Territory, while the remainder of the unit (including Sergeant Green) was ordered to Fort Niobrara, Nebraska. Events on the field one year later reveal how strong and deep the 25th had become in baseball, even when broken into separate components.
In 1903, both elements of the 25th were ordered to Fort Riley, Kansas, for fall maneuvers. The 25th Fort Niobrara contingent won every game it played against local competition along its 254-mile march to Fort Riley, where a Department of the Missouri baseball tournament was arranged. Though teams from several white units participated, the co-favorites, as identified by the gambling community, were two African American teams: the 25th Infantry’s Fort Reno team, and the 10th Cavalry, then stationed at Fort Robinson, Nebraska. The 25th’s Fort Niobrara squad was given little chance, due to the arduous march it had recently endured.
But Fort Niobrara fared well, and even knocked their Fort Reno brethren out of contention. Eventually all the white teams were eliminated, and the championship game featured two African American units: the 25th Infantry of Fort Niobrara, and the 10th Cavalry of Fort Robinson. “These two teams battled desperately for 12 innings,” wrote Green, “play after play of the sensational order were made, until finally the 25th Infantry won the game by a score of 3-2. …” As for the vanquished players of the 10th Cav, “their excellent playing and gameness will be long remembered by the fortunate ones who witnessed that hard-fought con test.”16
The Army and Navy Journal reported a final score of 4-3, not 3-2, and in 10 innings, not 12 (Army and Navy Journal, November 3, 1903). But in any case, the 25th Infantry’s Fort Niobrara contingent was crowned champions of the Department of the Missouri and took proud possession of the handsome banner that accompanied the distinction. During the regiment’s tour at Fort Niobrara, from 1902 through 1905, the team lost only three games, one to a squad from Deadwood, South Dakota, and two to what must have been a pretty good team in Gordon, Nebraska.17
Brownsville, Texas, 1906
The 25th Infantry had survived desperate battles against Native American warriors in the west, Spanish soldiers in Cuba, and guerilla insurgents in the Philippines, but nothing prepared them for the wounds inflicted on the racial battlefield of Brownsville, Texas, in 1906.
In June, the 25th Infantry was dispersed once again, this time to three posts in Texas. One battalion was sent to Fort McIntosh. Sergeant Green was ordered to Fort Bliss, along with the regiment’s main body, where “games played were minor affairs.”18 Affairs would prove far from minor for the three companies sent to Fort Brown, on the Rio Grande near its mouth at the Gulf of Mexico. Gunfire in the adjoining town of Brownsville, during which a bartender was killed and a police officer wounded, resulted in President Theodore Roosevelt discharging without honor 167 African-American soldiers, six of them Medal of Honor recipients, without any sort of judicial proceeding.
The Brownsville affray remains the only documented case of mass punishment in the history of the United States Army.19 In 1970, John D. Weaver vindicated the honor of the soldiers of the 25th in The Brownsville Raid, illustrating how Jim Crow attitudes of that tragic year turned racial predators into prey, and vice versa.
Weaver cited a typical incident in which a government investigator distorted a soldier’s identification of players in a team portrait of Company B’s baseball team into a bogus “confession.” A witness to the proceeding called the report “the most absolutely false, the most willful misrepresentation of the truth, and the most shameful perversion of what really did take place … that I have ever seen over the signature of any person. “20
The Brownsville affair, which was not mentioned at all in Nankivell’s history of the 25th Infantry, was a clear illustration of the severe deterioration of the status of black soldiers in the United States Army. African-American soldiers responded in part by strengthening their grip on one of the few remaining realms governed by rules that were blind to race: baseball. The first step was to recapture baseball supremacy in the Pacific.
To the Philippines and back, 1907-1912
In August, 1907, the regiment arrived in Mindanao Province, Philippine Islands, and immediately won a baseball tournament that included teams from the 6th Cavalry, and 18th and 23rd Infantry. As departmental champions, the team toured the islands playing ball. During this tour they were defeated by two teams, the 26th Infantry and the 5th Artillery. “These two defeats,” wrote Green, “were the only ones that the team suffered during this tour of 1907-08 and ’09.”21
Reassignment to the United States once again divided the 25th Infantry, this time within the state of Washington, Fort Lawton, and Fort George H. Wright. Green’s Fort Lawton team twice defeated their Fort Wright rivals during maneuvers in 1912, with both games “hotly contested, and … won by close scores.”22
The regimental baseball team was reunited in 1913, when the 25th Infantry was shipped to Schofield Barracks in the Hawaiian Territory. Under the leadership of Lieutenant 0. H. Saunders, “one of West Point’s brightest stars,” according to Green, the 25th formed a “Plan and Strategy Board,” which closely analyzed the team’s performance after every game. Perhaps this brain trust contributed to the great success the team enjoyed in Hawaii. They won the championship of a post league that included teams from the 1st Infantry, 4th Cavalry, and 1st Field Artillery. Then they won the championship of a city league in Honolulu, and conquered the Oahu Island League, defeating the Coast Artillery, All Chinese, and Portuguese teams.23
The 25th Infantry played many games during the winter months against touring college teams, as well as barnstorming teams of professional players. In 1913, a barnstorming team consisting of players from both major leagues and the Pacific Coast League arrived in Hawaii to play the 25th. “A holiday was declared for this great event,” Green recalled, “and a parade with both of the teams in line, led by the 25th Infantry Band, preceded the game; the whole garrison turned out to do honors to both teams.” The 25th lost a brief series, “eagerness and nervousness, and a big case of stage fright being the main reasons for the loss of these games,” according to Green.24
Yet the team quickly recovered. In 1914, the 25th won nine of 10 games in winning the Army championship of Oahu. Two years later they compiled a record of 42-2 against military, civilian and college teams. They even attracted the attention of promoters. A representative of the Spalding Company asked the Army for permission to sponsor the 25th Infantry baseball team for a tour of the west coast of the United States, but the request was denied because there was “no special end of military athletic training served thereby” (Marvin E. Fletcher, “The Black Soldier Athlete in the United States Army, 1890-1916, Canadian Journal of History of Sport and Physical Education, 3:2 December 1972, p. 19).
In 1914, Sergeant Green retired from the Army. Green had given birth to the 25th Infantry Regiment’s baseball program in Fort Missoula, Montana, in 1894, and had seen it blossom into one of the Army’s most powerful teams by the time he retired 20 years later. Yet the best was yet to come. A transition in personnel took place during the unit’s tour at Schofield Barracks that would propel the 25th to even more exalted heights.
The Rogan Years, 1914-1919
With the retirement of Dalbert Green in 1914, the 25th Regiment lost its baseball historian, so accounts of the last five years of its heyday are sketchy. John Nankivell, editor of the regimental history, wrote that after Green’s retirement the team “continued its winning streak, and defeated practically every team that it played in the Hawaiian Islands.” Unfortunately, he felt that “[i]t would be wearisome to recount here the many and hard-fought games that were played,” but he did list a number of players who distinguished themselves on the diamond. “First of all,” he wrote, “there comes to mind Rogan, whose masterful pitching carried the regimental team to victory in many a tight game …”25
A wire service later reported that, while in the Army, Wilber “Bullet” Rogan had once won 52 games in a single year, striking out 25 batters in one of those victories. A sergeant of the 25th recalled that John McGraw, upon watching Rogan in Hawaii during his world tour of 1913-1914, concluded that “if Rogan was a white man he would burn the league up.” John Holway writes that Rogan shut out the Portland, Oregon, team of the Pacific Coast League in Hawaii in 1917, allowing just three hits, striking out 13, and hitting a double for good measure.26
Sergeant Rogan, a fire-balling righthanded pitcher and power-hitting center fielder, went directly from the 25th Infantry into the Negro National League and forged what is arguably the greatest career of any player not in baseball’s Hall of Fame. Rogan’s prodigious Negro League accomplishments are all the more impressive when it is noted that he already was 30 years old by the time he began playing for the Monarchs in 1920.
Rogan spent most of his twenties playing ball for United States Army teams. He caught for the 24th Infantry in the Philippines from 1911 through 1913. After leaving the Army to play in the California Winter League in 1914, he joined the 25th Infantry as a pitcher in Hawaii in 1915, having been spirited away from 9th Cavalry’s zealous recruiters, according to one account. Ironically, Rogan’s nickname in the Army was not “Bullet.” Rather, it was “Cap,” because, in the words of one veteran of the 25th, “in the army at that time a Captain was somebody and on the ball field Cap Rogan was somebody.” By his account, khaki-dad soldiers of the 25th would chant “Touch ’em all, Cap, touch ’em all,” when the mighty Rogan strode to the plate.27
In 1918 the 25th Infantry was transferred to Camp Stephen D. Little in the Mexican border town of Nogales, Arizona, some 60 miles south of Tucson. There, the team was known as the Wreckers, and was far from a one-man team. Among Rogan’s teammates were no fewer than five future Kansas City Monarchs: Dobie Moore, Hurly McNair, Oscar (Heavy) Johnson, Lem Hawkins, and Bob Fagan.
The ballplayers of the 25th Infantry were brought to J. L. Wilkinson’s attention when he was creating the Monarchs by a tip from fellow Kansas Citian Casey Stengel, who played the 25th in Arizona during a barnstorming trip in the fall of 1919. “We were down near the Mexican border,” as he told John Holway, “and the army brought these buglers and made all the soldiers line up and march across the ball field … and pick up pebbles and rocks so we could play.”
According to Robert Creamer, Stengel recalled the star pitcher as being named “Grogan,” and praised the infantry team’s shortstop, Dobie Moore, as well. “They were as good as any major-leaguers,” he said. 28 The astute Stengel benefitted from watching Rogan’s no-windup delivery, an unusual motion that he adapted for several pitchers while managing the New York Yankees in the 1950s.
On June 29, 1920, Sergeant Rogan, Service Number AT 3 349 211, was honorably discharged from the 25th Infantry Regiment’s machine-gun company. Just three days later he shut out Rube Foster’s Chicago American Giants on one hit in Kansas City in his Negro League debut. Bullet Rogan was on his way to glory. By midseason Moore, McNair, Johnson, Hawkins, and Fagan, Rogan’s teammates with the Wreckers, had joined the Monarchs.29
Bob Fagan’s luster would soon fade, but Lem Hawkins found a niche as a slick-fielding first baseman. “Heavy” Johnson was sometimes called the Babe Ruth of the Negro Leagues in the 1920s. Hurley McNair, who had played for Rube Foster’s Chicago American Giants in 1915, before he joined the 25th, had a long, distinguished career with the Monarchs, including service as an umpire when his playing days were over. Dobie Moore, the roly-poly shortstop, was as unorthodox as he was brilliant, both at bat and in the field. The Chicago Defender once proclaimed Moore “the greatest Negro shortstop of all time,” and there’s no telling where he might have ended up in the pantheon of African-American ballplayers if his knee (and career) had not been shattered by a gunshot wound in 1926.30
The instant success of the Monarchs reveals how far the 25th’s baseball program had progressed in the 25 years of its existence. The Army and Navy Journal reported that the recreation hall proclaimed the unit’s many victories in sports: “Every bit of wall space was covered with banners won by the companies, battalions, and the regiment in athletic contests during many years past.”31
Black soldiers took pride in their baseball teams, as black citizens took pride in their soldiers. All four regiments boasted of its athletes, not only in baseball, but also in boxing, track and field, football, and basketball. Their sporting triumphs were prominently reported in the leading African-American newspapers of the era.
Ascendancy in sports occurred during a time when African-American status within the Army was in rapid decline. Gone were the days of frontier duty, when isolation not only sheltered them from Jim Crow’s early successes, but also enabled them to display their ability in comparison with white units performing similar assignments. The lesson of Brownsville was that military service, even of the highest order, did not shield African Americans from discrimination and injustice. Against this backdrop of accelerating racial animosity, black ballplayers in the Army seized upon a mission to excel in baseball, where they still held the trump cards. Legislation creating the four black regular Army regiments was one of the few Reconstruction programs to survive the nation’s later abandonment of its black citizens. With Jim Crow triumphant in the 1890s, military life offered African Americans an uncommon measure of economic well-being and even, occasionally, the thanks of a grateful nation. Once professional baseball drew the color line, the 9th and 10th Cavalry and 24th and 25th Infantry became keepers of a flickering flame of interracial play.
The Kansas City Monarchs’ signing of the team’s best players put an end to the 25th Infantry’s baseball supremacy just as, a generation later, the major leagues would kill the Negro Leagues. After “Cap” Rogan joined the Monarchs, the 25th Infantry’s regimental newspaper (ironically called “The Bullet”) reported that he had written “a long and very interesting letter.”
He had many things to say concerning himself and the other players who are making good in the Negro National League …. The former 25th Infantry star said that there is a bright future for colored players in civil life and especially army players …. [M]anagers are anxious to employ ex-soldiers.32
Military veterans such as Oscar Charleston, Spottswood Poles, Dick Redding, Rube Currie, and Dave Malarcher prospered in the Negro Leagues. The next generation of African-American servicemen helped pry open the door to the major leagues, among them Larry Doby, Monte Irvin, Willard Brown, and, of course, Jackie Robinson. The narrow stream of black baseball history initiated by Sergeant Dalbert Green eventually flowed into a meaningful tributary of desegregation in the military, baseball and the nation.
- Janet Bruce, The Kansas City Monarchs: Champions of Black Baseball, University of Kansas Press: Lawrence, Kansas, 1895, p. 21.
- Dalbert P. Green, “History of the 25th Infantry Baseball Teams, 1894-1914,” in John H. Nankivell, ed. and comp., History of the Twenty-Fifth Regiment of United States Infantry, 1869-1926, Smith-Brooks Printing Co.: Denver, Colorado, 1927; repr. Negro Universities Press: New York, 1969, p. 164.
- Green/Nankivell, pp. 163-172.
- Green/Nankivell, p. 163.
- Green/Nankivell, pp. 163, 164.
- Bernard C. Nalty, Strength For the Fight: A History of Black Americans in the Military, New York: The Free Press, 1986, p. 55.
- Nankivell, pp. 67.
- Green/Nankivell, p. 166.
- Green/Nankivell, p. 166.
- Nankivell, p. 166, 109-110.
- Green/Nankivell, p. 163, 167.
- Fletcher, Black Soldier and Officer, p. 105, 107.
- Army and Navy Journal, June 22, 1901, cited in Fletcher, p. 18.
- Green/Nankivell, p. 167.
- Green/Nankivell, p. 167.
- Green/Nankivell, p. 168.
- Green/Nankivell, p. 168.
- Green/Nankivell, p. 169.
- Jack D. Foner, Blacks and the Military in American History, Praeger: New York, 1974, p. 102.
- John D. Weaver, The Brownsville Raid, W.W. Norton: New York, 1970, pp. 221, 222.
- Green/Naukivell, p. 169.
- Green/Nankivell, p. 171.
- Green/Nankivell, p. 170, 171-172.
- Green/Nankivell, p. 172.
- Nankivell, p. 172.
- Nankivell, p. 172; unidentified newspaper clipping dated November 30, 1923, from Rogan Scrapbook; Beagle letter, Rogan File, National Baseball Hall of Fame Library; Holway, p. 172).
- Master Sergeant Bertran T. Beagle, retired, to “the Colored Base Ball Hall of Fame,” undated letter, Rogan File, National Baseball Hall of Fame Library.
- John Holway, Blackball Stars: Negro League Pioneers, Meckler Books: Westport, Connecticut, 1988, p. 169; Robert W. Creamer, Stengel: His Life and Times, Simon and Schuster: New York, New York, 1984, p. 130.
- Questionnaire completed by Rogan’s son, Wilbur S. Rogan, in Rogan File, National Baseball Hall of Fame Library; National Archives and Records Administration Statement of Service; “Rogan Stops the American Giants,” unidentified newspaper article, Bullet Rogan Scrapbook.
- Holway, p. 196.
- Army and Navy Journal, September 12, 1914, cited in Arthur R. Ashe, Jr., A Hard Road to Glory: A History of the African-American Athlete, 1619-1918, Warner Books: New York, New York, 1988, p. 87.
- Bullet Rogan Scrapbook.