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Austin Winfree

of the

9th U.S. Volunteer Infantry, Company I

(1878 - 1903)
By Chris Varela
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Austin Winfree served with the 9th U.S. Volunteer Infantry in Cuba.

The Biography:

Pension records seem to indicate that Austin Winfree was born in 1878 probably in Harrisburg, Texas, a small town about ten miles southeast of Houston, Texas. As war escalated between the United States and Spain in the summer of 1898 into ground warfare, Congress approved the creation of ten new volunteer regiments composed of African-American troops from the nation’s deep South. At the age of 20, Austin Winfree joined one of these regiments. Traveling to New Orleans, Louisiana, Winfree enlisted into Company I of the 9th U.S. Volunteer Infantry in late June1898. this particular company was  raised in Houston, Texas. Its nickname of the "Ferguson Rifles,"named in honor of note African-American Henry C. Ferguson. Ferguson was a public figure in the Houston area and may have had an influence in raising the company. Quickly rising to rank of corporal, Winfree disembarked with the 9th from New Orleans to perform garrison duty with two other black volunteer regiments in Santiago, Cuba as one of the first buffalo soldiers to serve abroad.

 What was an all too familiar case with Spanish American War veterans, corporal Winfree’s arrival in Cuba promptly exposed him to poor conditions and a hostile environment of malaria and tuberculosis. Several of Winfree’s men in Company I would die in Cuba from disease.

On March 20, 1899, Winfree's company departed Songo, Cuba and were sent to the area of Mayari to serve as a police force protecting the population fromt insurgencies and bandits. While in Mayari, Winfree's Company I captured a gang of prominent bandits, and gained the nickname of "The Bandit Chasers."

 Much of Austin Winfree’s tour in Cuba consisted of medical confinements battling severe fevers and respiratory problems. When not confined to a medical bed, Winfree likely confronted prejudice and segregation from native Cubans and among his fellow white service men. Corporal Winfree would survive his tour in Cuba and would return to the states where he mustered out of the Army on May 25, 1899 at Camp Meade in Middletown, Pennsylvania. However, he brought back with him the fatal symptoms of tuberculosis.

 Likely hailed as a hero by his peers in his hometown, Winfree returned to Harrisburg, Texas to resume civilian life. On March 24, 1901, the Spanish American War veteran had a son, Osborne Winfree, from Addie Sanders, daughter of George W. Sanders, a prominent figure in Harrisburg’s black community. Later that year, on October 7, Austin Winfree filed his marriage to Addie Sanders with the records of Harris County, Texas.

 By January 1903, though, the young Spanish American War veteran’s troubles with tuberculosis reached a serious level. He was sent to Galveston, Texas where he was treated in that city’s John Sealy hospital. Winfree would survive a few more months but would finally succumb to his ailments on June 11, 1903, leaving his young wife a widow and his son fatherless. Corporal Winfree was buried in the Harrisburg-Jackson cemetery in an area that subsequently was incorporated into Houston, Texas by 1926.

Grave of Austin Winfree, 9th U.S. Volunteer Infantry


Austin Winfree’s pension records, file number XC-959965

Coston, William Hilary, The Spanish-American War Volunteer. 2nd Edition, Books for Libraries Press, 1971. p. 54, 71.

Powell, Anthony, “Black Participation in the Spanish American War,” Spanish American War Centennial Website,

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