Chaplain George W. Prioleau

image002In 1895, Chaplain George W. Prioleau became one of a handful of African American “Buffalo Soldiers” commissioned as officers within the U.S. Army. He was given the rank of Captain.  These new officers served in segregated units, just as their Civil War predecessors–the U.S.C.T.—did, where white men typically held officer positions, but they made a difference despite the world of racism that they worked in.

George Prioleau was born around 1856 to slave parents, L.S. and Susan A Prioleau, in Charleston, South Carolina.  As a teenager he became active in the A.M.E. church and later attended Wilberforce University, graduating with a Bachelors in Divinity in 1884. He then served as pastor in several Ohio A.M.E. churches, got married, and taught in the Theology Department at Wilberforce University. On April 25, 1895, President Grover Cleveland appointed him as Chaplain of the U.S. Army’s 9th Cavalry at the rank of Captain and that year Payne Theological Seminary conferred upon him the Doctor of Divinity.

He replaced the Army’s first African American chaplain, Henry V. Plummer, at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, during the Sioux Wars and served his unit largely in the American West before and after the Spanish American War.  During the Spanish American War and in 1907-1909 he was stationed at various camps in the Philippines which included Nueva Caceres, Santa Mesa,  and Manila.  He crossed the Pacific Ocean six times–four times with his regiment and twice on detached service—and served with the 9th Cavalry for nearly 21 years. In November 1915, he was transferred to the 10thCavalry, then to the 25th Cavalry, where he was promoted to Major.  He retired in 1920.

In retirement, he helped found the Bethel A.M.E. Church in Los Angeles and during his long career as Army chaplain, he generously helped support several churches.  In 1927 he fell from a ladder while painting the church and died.  He was buried in the cemetery of the Pacific Branch, National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (VHA origins), known today as Los Angeles National Cemetery.



1898_1st Commissioned Officers_102525324

Historian, Veterans Health Administration

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs


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