Members of the 369th Infantry Regiment (Harlem Hellfighters), 1919
“Harlem Hellfighters” was the nickname given to the 369th Infantry Regiment, a segregated Black U.S. Army unit during World War I.
The 369th Infantry Regiment was originally constituted in 1913 as the 15th New York Infantry Regiment of the National Guard but wasn’t organized until 1916. The 15th was made up of Black enlisted men, with both Black and White officers, under commanding officer Colonel William Hayward.
World War I Service
After America’s entrance into World War I, the 15th shipped out to France in December 1917, and upon arrival the men were assigned to do manual labor. Then in March 1918, the 15th was redesignated the 369th Infantry Regiment and attached to the French army to serve as reinforcements.
Under the French, the 369th spent 191 days in combat, more than any other American unit, and were dubbed the “Hellfighters.” The regiment fought in major offensives of the war, including the Champagne-Marne and Meuse-Argonne offensives.
Two of the most lauded members of the 369th were privates Henry Johnson and Needham Roberts, who defeated a German patrol in May 1918 though substantially outnumbered. They were awarded the French Croix de Guerre, making them the first Americans of the war to receive that honor. (In 2015, Henry Johnson was also posthumously awarded the U.S. Medal of Honor.)
The 369th Infantry Regiment was also renowned for its band, led by famous musician and bandleader James Reese Europe. The band played to huge crowds in France and is credited with introducing jazz to the French.
After the War
The Harlem Hellfighters returned to the United States in February 1919 and were thrown a parade in New York City on the 17th. The regiment was then demobilized on February 28, 1919.
The 369th Infantry Regiment was highly decorated by the French, receiving a unit citation as well as 170 individual Croix de Guerre awards. The American military ignored their contributions until long after the war, but in 2021 the regiment was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
Learn more about the Harlem Hellfighters through historical newspapers from our archives. Explore newspaper articles, headlines, images, and other primary sources below.
Articles and Clippings about the Harlem Hellfighters
William Hayward is assigned to be commanding officer of the 15th New York Infantry Regiment 04 Aug 1916, Fri The Lincoln Star (Lincoln, Nebraska) Newspapers.comNewspaper article stating 15th New York Infantry is the "pioneer regiment of its kind in the state" 20 Oct 1916, Fri The Omaha Evening Bee (Omaha, Nebraska) Newspapers.com15th NY Infantry is inspected & will be mustered into federal service; currently has 1,216 men 12 Apr 1917, Thu The New York Age (New York, New York) Newspapers.com35 spots at officer training camp to be reserved for members of the 15th New York Infantry 27 May 1917, Sun The Washington Herald (Washington, District of Columbia) Newspapers.comDescription & history of 15th New York Infantry up through June 1917, including list of officers 17 Jun 1917, Sun The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) Newspapers.comImage of "Supply Company of the 15th New York Infantry," published July 1917 05 Jul 1917, Thu The New York Age (New York, New York) Newspapers.comSoldiers of the 15th New York Infantry confront racism at Camp Dix 05 Oct 1917, Fri The Central New Jersey Home News (New Brunswick, New Jersey) Newspapers.com15th New York Infantry leaves Camp Mills following attacks by Alabama soldiers 01 Nov 1917, Thu Quad-City Times (Davenport, Iowa) Newspapers.comJames Reese Europe's regimental band plays to big crowd in Lyons, France, during World War I 30 Mar 1918, Sat The Kansas City Sun (Kansas City, Missouri) Newspapers.comDescription of Henry Johnson & Needham Roberts' actions that earned them the Croix de Guerre 27 May 1918, Mon Pottsville Republican (Pottsville, Pennsylvania) Newspapers.comVarious newspapers react to Henry Johnson & Needham Roberts being awarded French Croix de Guerre 01 Jun 1918, Sat The New York Age (New York, New York) Newspapers.comArticle reports 14 more soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment were awarded Croix de Guerre 05 Oct 1918, Sat The New York Age (New York, New York) Newspapers.comNewspaper reports 369th Infantry Regiment was in Alsace, France, at end of World War I 23 Nov 1918, Sat The New York Age (New York, New York) Newspapers.com369th Infantry Regiment receives Croix de Guerre unit citation at end World War I 29 Nov 1918, Fri The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts) Newspapers.comNewspaper publishes letter from Lt. Leon J. Cadore of the 369th Infantry Regiment 19 Dec 1918, Thu The Standard Union (Brooklyn, New York) Newspapers.comCommander of the 369th, William Hayward, gives firsthand account of battle in Champagne Offensive 26 Jan 1919, Sun The Lincoln Star (Lincoln, Nebraska) Newspapers.comReturning members of the 369th Infantry Regiment share firsthand accounts of fighting in France 08 Feb 1919, Sat The New York Age (New York, New York) Newspapers.comNewspaper celebrates the imminent return of the 369th Infantry (formerly the 15th NY Infantry) 08 Feb 1919, Sat The Evening World (New York, New York) Newspapers.com369th Infantry Regiment returns home to United States in February 1919 10 Feb 1919, Mon Pittsburgh Daily Post (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) Newspapers.comPhoto of Henry Johnson of the 369th Infantry Regiment, recipient of the Croix de Guerre 14 Feb 1919, Fri The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts) Newspapers.comNewspaper front page highlights return of 369th in February 1919 after end of World War I 15 Feb 1919, Sat The New York Age (New York, New York) Newspapers.comEditorial praising the 369th Infantry Regiment, written after its return to the United States 15 Feb 1919, Sat The New York Age (New York, New York) Newspapers.comPhotograph of members of "Hayward's Hell Fighters" of the 369th Infantry Regiment 16 Feb 1919, Sun The Bristol Herald Courier (Bristol, Tennessee) Newspapers.comArticle lists "Harlem's Own" and "The Hell Fighters" as nicknames for 369th Infantry in Feb. 1919 17 Feb 1919, Mon The Omaha Daily News (Omaha, Nebraska) Newspapers.comHarlem Hellfighters are cheered during New York City parade in February 1919 17 Feb 1919, Mon The Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio) Newspapers.comPhoto showing 369th Infantry "Hell Fighters" parade in New York City on February 17, 1919 18 Feb 1919, Tue The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts) Newspapers.comPicture of 8 members of the 369th Infantry Regiment (formerly the 15th New York) 22 Feb 1919, Sat The New York Age (New York, New York) Newspapers.comEditorial that Hellfighters' WWI service will affect public opinion on "full citizenship rights" 22 Feb 1919, Sat The New York Age (New York, New York) Newspapers.comPvt. Henry Johnson of the Harlem Hellfighters is posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in 2015 03 Jun 2015, Wed Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota) Newspapers.comLegislation passed in 2021 to award Harlem Hellfighters with Congressional Gold Medal 21 Aug 2021, Sat Honolulu Star-Advertiser (Honolulu, Hawaii) Newspapers.com
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