A veteran paperback author debuts in hardcover with this more- than-promising first in a series on the African-American experience in the US military. Here, Willard tracks the long and eventful life of Augustus Sharps, who rose through the ranks of the Tenth Cavalry during the later half of the 19th century. Saved by black troopers from death in a Great Plains stampede and indentured servitude at the hands of a white hunter who had bought him from his erstwhile captors, the Kiowa, Augustus signs on with the Army as a teenager in 1869. He and his fellow buffalo soldiers (so called by the Cheyenne for their wiry hair) played an important role in America's drive to fulfill its ``manifest destiny.'' Assigned to remote hardship posts on the westering frontier, they protected settlers against marauding whites (known as comancheros) and Indians vainly attempting to defend themselves and their way of life from extinction. Along his upwardly mobile way, Augustus (a crack shot with the long rifle from which he took his surname) survives frequent clashes with red men on battlefields from Kansas to New Mexico, earns a sergeant major's stripes, endures the opprobrium of homesteaders not overly fond of black troops, and marries a good woman who was scalped by renegade Texas Rangers. Augustus also meets the legendary likes of Wild Bill Hickok and George Armstrong Custer. Toward the close of his career, Augustus is in the vanguard of Teddy Roosevelt's charge up San Juan Hill; then, after retirement, he tours with Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show. On the eve of the US entry into WW I, the old soldier sees one of his two sons off to OCS in possession of the battered sword with which he campaigned so honorably for nearly four decades. An ever involving, painstakingly researched narrative that, among other great themes, documents the force-of-arms efforts of one oppressed race to subjugate another.