The 369th Infantry Regiment was created in 1915 as an all-African American unit, the 15th New York National Guard Regiment, first nicknamed “The Black Rattlers”. Called up to federal service in July 1917, they trained and performed guard duties in and around New York City until October when they were sent to Camp Wadsworth, SC. to prepare them for service in France. Due the local ‘Jim Crow’ laws, the regiment encountered discrimination and it was decided to send them directly overseas to be trained by the French. They were returned to New York and disembarked in late December, 1917, without ceremony or fanfare.
In March the regiment, still the 15th NY, was placed in the 185th Brigade, 93rd Division, and re-numbered as the 369th, later known as “The Harlem Hellfighters”. They were re-assigned to the French 16th Division in May and later to the French 161st Division, and were never a part of the American Expeditionary Force again. In French service they were heavily engaged, suffering over 1,500 casualties, partly because, unlike many French units, the 369th was willing to attack. At one point they spent a stretch of 191 consecutive days under fire on the Vosges Front, far more than any other American unit.
The 369th was the first New York regiment to return home, and on February 17th, 1919 a holiday was declared in the city so that the 369th could stage a triumphal parade up Fifth Avenue to 110th Street, then up Lenox Avenue to their armory, where a large celebration was held. You can read more about this here.
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