Commemorating the First World War Centennial in Kansas

The African American Soldier: William D. Bly

Earlier posts referred to the Officers Training School for African American soldiers at Fort Des Moines, Iowa.  We listed the names of those from Kansas that attended the school.

One of those was First Lieutenant William D. Bly of Leavenworth, who was later promoted to captain.  Bly had been in the regular army for at least eighteen years, although tracking this is a bit sketchy.  There is a reference indicating his service started on June 20, 1896 (another source says 1899), and that he was in the Spanish-American War.  Perhaps someone can add information in a comment.  What does make sense, however is that those invited to the school either had a college education or had been a non-commissioned officer.  We might assume that Bly was just that in his long service, as the 1940 census says he completed his second year of high school.  He was clearly a career man, leaving the service on September 15, 1925.

In any case, he was commissioned a first lieutenant, and was sent overseas with the 365th Infantry, 92nd Division.

In a letter to his wife dated December 7, 1918, he was catching up with the news of his service.  On September 26th of that year he was involved in the drive in the Argonne, and wound up with his men holding a position facing Metz until November 10th, when they attacked and captured the city.

During the attack he was gassed slightly, but was alright.  He wrote:  “We have had a time over here.  I’ve seen heaven and hell both at the same second.  You don’t know what a God’s sent blessing it was for the war to end before winter.”

Bly was born in Alabama on November 2, 1881.  He passed away at Leavenworth on December 14, 1957, and was buried in the Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery.  In his post-military career, he worked as a shipping clerk.

Clearly he had a prominent place in the Leavenworth community.  His home is now a part of the Richard Allen Cultural Center in that city.

Blair Tarr is the Museum Curator of the Kansas State Historical Society. He oversees the three-dimensional collections of the Society, but has special interests in the Civil War, Wichita-made Valentine diners, and Leavenworth's Abernathy Furniture. In the last few years he has also done a lot of cramming on The Great War. He is a past president of the Kansas Museums Association and the Civil War Round Tables of both Kansas City and Eastern Kansas. He is currently a board member of the Heritage League of Greater Kansas City.

1 Comment

  1. D Stevens

    Captain Bly was my great grandfather. His son was was Capt. David Reuben Bly and I was named orginally David Reuben Bly Jr. He donated several houses for the Richard Allen Museum Cultural Center his other son, Albert, became the President of Buffalo Soldiers Association.

    A man who devoted his life to preserving the memory of Kansas’ Buffalo Soldiers and other all-black military units died almost two weeks ago in Kansas City. The 9th and 10th Cavalry and the 24th and 25th Infantry Regiments of the US Army were known as the Buffalo Soldiers in the years after the Civil War. They served in conflicts throughout the region between whites and Native Americans.

    Albert Bly was born in Chicago in 1918 and moved to Leavenworth as a child. He followed in the footsteps of his father, a World War I veteran, and enlisted in the 10th Cavalry at the age of 18. Seven years later, Bly became one of the first black soldiers to attend Officer Candidate Cavalry School at Fort Riley. After an honorable discharge, Bly went on to work for 21 years with the US Postal Service. He spent his free time studying and archiving the history of the segregated units of the army.

    His close friend and colleague Jimmie Johnson, who studies black military history, remembers long conversations with Lieutenant Bly.

    I changed my name to D Stevens and became a journalist and film maker. As a photojournalist for Newsweek and TIME included, and a photographer in motion picture industry contributed to many historical movies and books and magazines for example: Boyz N The Hood, Love and Basketball, Menace 2 Society, etc. (

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