The Galvanized Yankees

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Here is the fascinating and little-known story of the Galvanized Yankees, who stood watch over a nation that they had once sought to destroy. They were Confederate soldiers who were recruited from Union prison camps in the North to serve in the West. On the condition they would not be sent south to fight their former comrades, they exchanged gray for blue uniforms.

From 1864 to 1866 six regiments of Galvanized Yankees fought Indians, escorted supply trains along the Oregon and ...

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Here is the fascinating and little-known story of the Galvanized Yankees, who stood watch over a nation that they had once sought to destroy. They were Confederate soldiers who were recruited from Union prison camps in the North to serve in the West. On the condition they would not be sent south to fight their former comrades, they exchanged gray for blue uniforms.

From 1864 to 1866 six regiments of Galvanized Yankees fought Indians, escorted supply trains along the Oregon and Sante Fe trails, accompanied expeditions, guarded surveying parties for the Union Pacific Railroad, and manned lonely outposts on the frontier. Dee Brown, the author of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, tells what happened to a lost legion, unhonored and unsung.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review

"The Galvanized Yankees is an accurate, interesting, and sometimes thrilling account of an unusual group of men who rendered a valuable service to the nation in a time of great need. It is also a fresh and informative study of the Old West in transition from frontier to stable society."—Bell I. Wiley, New York Times Book Review

— Bell I. Wiley

New York Times Book Review - Bell I. Wiley

"The Galvanized Yankees is an accurate, interesting, and sometimes thrilling account of an unusual group of men who rendered a valuable service to the nation in a time of great need. It is also a fresh and informative study of the Old West in transition from frontier to stable society."—Bell I. Wiley, New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780803260757
  • Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/1986
  • Pages: 264
  • Sales rank: 1,487,000
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Read an Excerpt

The Galvanized Yankees

By Dee Brown


Copyright © 1963 Dee Brown
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4532-7417-0



From the cannon ball River in Dakota up the muddy Missouri to Montana; along the Platte, the Sweetwater, the Powder, and other watercourses of the Great Plains and the Rockies; on the Oregon Trail and the Santa Fe Trail; out through South Pass and the Wasatch Mountains to the Salt Lake country of the Mormons; in camps and cantonments and a score or more forts—Kearney, Rice, Reno, Union, Laramie, Bridger; at ranche stops of the Overland Stage; in cedar-and-adobe huts of the Pacific Telegraph Line; everywhere on the Western frontier in those last days of the Civil War and the hard months after it ended, some 6,000 Americans served as outpost guardians for the nation that at one time or another each had sought to destroy.

These were the Galvanized Yankees, former soldiers of the Confederate States of America, who had worn gray or butternut before they accepted the blue uniform of the United States Army in exchange for freedom from prison pens where many of them had endured much of the war. Sent to the Western frontier so they would not meet their former comrades in battle, they soon found a new foe, the Plains Indian.

Between September 1864 and November 1866 they soldiered across the West. Many of them died there—killed by Indians, scurvy, epidemic disease, wintry blizzards. Some of them deserted, although their rate of desertion was only slightly higher than in state volunteer regiments of the Union.*

Officially they were known as the United States Volunteers, six regiments recruited from prisons at Point Lookout, Rock Island, Alton, Camps Douglas, Chase, and Morton. Some were foreign-born, Irish and German predominating; some were native stock from the hill country of Tennessee, North Carolina, and Kentucky; a few were from the Old South plantation country, from Virginia to Louisiana. Each man had his own reasons for choosing this dubious route to freedom—desperation from dreary months of ignominious confinement, of watching comrades die by the hundreds in prison hospitals; a determination to survive by any means; disillusionment with the war; a genuine change of loyalty that was as emotional as religious conversion; a secret avowal to desert at the first opportunity; despair, optimism, perhaps cowardice. In that day there were no psychologists to interview these 6,000 Galvanized Yankees, to search their minds and record their inner fears and longings.

After a century they have been almost forgotten. At the end of service they were discharged at Forts Leavenworth and Kearney. They scattered with the winds, some choosing new names, new identities. In the Old West a man's past was his own business. It was the man who mattered, not what he had been.

One may conjecture upon their peacetime pursuits: solid citizens and gunfighters, cattlemen and rustler, miners and highwaymen. The glories of the Civil and Indian wars were kept alive by local organizations, which held annual reunions for half a century or more, recounting personal feats of bravery, recording them for posterity. If the Galvanized Yankees met in reunions, they must have gathered anonymously. Few of them indulged in reminiscences. No Southern state would claim them; the Grand Army of the Republic forgot them. They were a lost legion, unhonored, unsung.

Yet the record of the six regiments in the West is one in which any American could take pride. During the spring and summer of 1865, the 2nd and 3rd Regiments restored stage and mail service between the Missouri River and California, continually fighting off raiding Indians. They escorted supply trains along the Oregon and Santa Fe trails; they rebuilt hundreds of miles of telegraph line destroyed by Indians between Fort Kearney and Salt Lake City. They guarded the lonely dangerous stations of the telegraphers. In the autumn of 1865 and through most of 1866, the 5th and 6th Regiments assumed these same dangerous duties. Sometimes they carried the mail through themselves. Two companies of the 5th escorted Colonel James Sawyers' Wagon Road Expedition to Montana, and then served for almost a year as rearguard outposts at isolated Fort Reno. Six companies of the 6th Regiment were strung out across 500 miles of trails between Fort Kearney and Salt Lake City.

On the bitterly contested Minnesota frontier, the 1st Regiment helped keep hostile Sioux off the settlements; along the Missouri River the 1st and 4th Regiments manned five forts, were engaged in numerous skirmishes, fought gallantly in one bloody battle. In the autumn of 1865, four companies of the 1st marched out upon the Kansas plains to open a new stage route, and endured a winter of Indian attacks, starvation, and blizzard marches.

There were Galvanized Yankees in Patrick Connor's Powder River Expedition; they fought on the Little Blue, the Sweetwater, at Midway, Fort Dodge, Platte Bridge. They guarded surveying parties for the Union Pacific Railroad; they searched for white women captured by hostile Indians. They knew Jim Bridger, Wild Bill Hickok, Buffalo Bill Cody, Spotted Tail, and Red Cloud, before the outside world had scarcely heard these now celebrated names. In the course of their military duties they found time to write poetry, to publish a newspaper. And at least one Galvanized Yankee achieved legendary fame in later life—Henry M. Stanley, who found Dr. Livingstone in Africa.

They went West in a time of great urgency. Thousands of Union soldiers were nearing the ends of their three-year voluntary enlistments, and draft calls were causing riots in Northern cities. Peace groups and Copperheads were inciting sedition and sabotage. A Presidential campaign was dividing the Union's purposes. Prices were soaring and morale was falling on the home front. Danger threatened from Canada, where small bands of Confederates plotted invasion. In Mexico, European adventurers were gathering around the French emperor, Maximilian, with dreams of severing the rich Western states and territories from a weakened United States.

Aware of dwindling forces in frontier forts, hostile Indian tribes had begun raiding as early as 1862, and by 1864 a full-scale Indian war was sweeping the Plains. Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Colorado, and Minnesota were thinly populated, and many of their young men had gone East to fight for the Union. Regiments were recalled, yet local territories could not supply enough troops to staff forts necessary for security, or to guard the long lines of sustenance and communication which held East and West together.

In mid-year of 1864, Fort Kearney on the Oregon Trail could muster only 125 men; Fort Laramie 90. Thirty-nine men held Fort Larned on the Santa Fe Trail. In late summer of that year the Overland Route was completely closed for a month; not a stagecoach or a wagon rolled; no telegraph messages could be sent over broken lines. Californians were cut off from the Eastern United States, except by sea passage around the Horn or over the Isthmus. Supplies, mail, and news for Coloradans had to come by boat to San Francisco and then overland from there.

Old-timers often described 1865 as "the bloody year on the Plains," and that was the year the Galvanized Yankees fanned out from the army's staging point at Fort Leavenworth along Western trails and rivers, to do their share of what had to be done. In personal and public records of that time and place, one can find frequent references to their presence.

Captain Eugene Ware of the 7th Iowa Cavalry:

I started back to Fort Kearney, along with a captain and six lieutenants of the 3rd U.S. Volunteers. These "United States Volunteers" as they were called, were soldiers recruited from the military prison-pens at Chicago and Rock Island, and were made up of men taken from the Southern Confederacy who were willing to go West and swear allegiance to the United States on the condition that they would not be requested to go South and fight their own brethren. They wanted to get out of prison, were tired of the war, didn't want to go back into the service, did not want any more of the Southern Confederacy, did not want to be exchanged, and were willing to go into the United States service for the purpose of fighting the Indians.

William Darnell, Kansai bullwhacker: "At Fort Riley at this time [March 1865] there were some two hundred Confederate soldiers encamped a little below the fort on the Republican river. These men had been captured during the war, and had been paroled on condition they would go West and fight the Plains Indians who at this period were most troublesome. These Confederates were known in the West as 'galvanized soldiers' and at this time were waiting to be sent out to Fort Dodge."

Surgeon William Waters, 18th U.S. Infantry: "Fort Bridger upon our arrival, was garrisoned by three companies of ex-rebel soldiers who enlisted in our army, when prisoners of war, for duty on the frontier, fighting Indians. These troops are styled officially U.S. Volunteers, but are more generally known as 'Galvanized Yankees,' a term that seemed not at all offensive to them."

The Atchison (Kansas) Press, March 1, 1865: "During the week eight or ten companies of rebel prisoners, who have become dissatisfied with the rebel cause, taken the oath, and enlisted in Uncle Sam's service, passed through St. Joe on the way to Fort Kearney and other posts along the line from there to Denver, to fight the Indians who are now holding high carnival along the route."

Chaplain Thomas J. Ferril, 16th Kansas Cavalry: "Some of these recruits [with Connor's Expedition] were called 'galvanized Yankees,' that is, Confederate prisoners who were enlisted from northern prisons, willing to fight Indians on the condition that they would not be sent south against their former comrades in the Confederacy."

William Mackey, Fort Larned blacksmith: "About this time there was a company that came to the post, I don't know where from, we called the 'galvanized company.'"

At first the Galvanized Yankees were received with skepticism, suspicion, open dislike. Few commanders in the West believed that former Confederates would make good soldiers, and when some of the Southerners deserted in their first days of service, the doubting commanders condemned the entire experiment, and asked that no more "Rebel regiments" be sent to their districts.

After a few months of trial on the frontier, however, attitudes changed. General Alfred Sully thought so highly of the 1st Regiment's "well-disciplined troops" that he requested more companies be sent to his hard-pressed posts in Dakota. When they were not forthcoming he went to Chicago himself and enlisted another regiment from prisoners at Camp Douglas. He lost these men to General Grenville Dodge, who needed them on the Plains in 1865. Dodge afterwards declared that his five regiments of U.S. Volunteers "recruited from the rebel prisoners ... had to be depended upon mostly for taking care of all the country west of the Lakes—the Overland routes on the Plains, to man the posts on the Upper Missouri and Mississippi rivers, and for escorts for surveying parties." They formed more than half the forces he was given to reopen travel and communication lines which had been closed by Indians.

In the autumn of 1864 General John Pope, directing military operations on the frontier, was highly dubious of enlisted Confederate prisoners. By June of 1865, however, he was pleading with Washington not to muster these men out of service. "There are in this division the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and four companies of the 6th U.S. Volunteers.... They are stationed along the Overland routes across the plains, and at remote stations in the Indian country from St. Paul to the Rocky Mountains. I cannot now replace them." Pope was able to retain most of his Galvanized Yankees until autumn, when enlistment terms for the "2nd and 3rd Regiments expired. On October 10, he requested authorization from General Grant to re-enlist the men of the 2nd and 3rd into a consolidated regiment. The state troops, Pope explained, had enlisted only for the duration of the Civil War and were "dissatisfied and mutinous and are even now rapidly deserting." On the other hand, the 2nd and 3rd Galvanized Yankees were "good soldiers, in good discipline, and unless I can reorganize them at once I fear we shall have great difficulty on the plains."

Surgeon Stephen P. Yeomans, 7th Iowa Cavalry, who was assigned to the 1st and 4th U.S. Volunteers in August 1865, said they were a much better class of men than he had expected to find. "They have been schooled in the most thorough discipline in both armies, and are brave even to recklessness. I have met with no troops whose deportment toward officers as well as each other was more gentlemanly, none who exhibited as much neatness in their personal appearance, none who discharged their duties with greater cheerfulness and alacrity, nor any less addicted to the camp vices of drunkenness, profanity and vulgarity."

When a battalion of the 6th Regiment arrived at Camp Douglas, Utah, in October 1865, an officer of the California Volunteers saluted them in the post newspaper: "They are a splendid looking lot of men; and have the reputation of being intelligent, disciplined and thorough soldiers." Later he wrote an editorial about them: "The men who have fought bravely against the Union cause have shaken hands with the men who have fought for it, and 'the Union one and undivided' is again their joint motto. It is the policy of the truly brave to forget past differences, which the soldiers of Camp Douglas, who are now a mixed class, will endeavor to do. During the war they fought on opposite sides, but they are all members of the one family of Americans."

In June 1865, Enoch G. Adams, Captain of B Company, 1st Regiment, and commander of troops at Fort Rice, defended his Galvanized Yankees when there were still doubts as to their loyalty: "Their whole course and behavior has displayed that unadulterated patriotism was the only motive that urged them on. ... Many have laid down their lives at the beck of disease, some have been murdered by the arrow of the savage, and with but few exceptions, living or dead, have been true to their trust." Later, in October, as his men were preparing to leave Dakota Territory for mustering out, Captain Adams expressed the belief that the U.S. Volunteers were "the first fruits of a re-united people ... the link between the North and the South."

Undoubtedly one of the main reasons for the success or failure of individual companies of the Galvanized Yankees was the quality of the officers. Excepting a very few, they were Union Army men with some battlefield experience, and in general they were ambitious, energetic, and young. ("Most of them are boys," General Sully commented when the 4th Regiment's officers reported for duty in his district.) Captain Ware of the 7th Iowa Cavalry said the officers of the 3rd Regiment he met at Fort Kearney were all of "undoubted courage and ability, who had been selected from among the capable sergeants of the State regiments.... They were as intelligent and capable a lot of young men as you could hope to find; in fact, they were selected from the best, and averaged up much higher and better than the usual run of volunteer lieutenants."

Among the six colonels was one West Point graduate, Henry E. Maynadier, who had soldiered in the West before the war. He was regular army, but like most native Virginians who remained loyal he was given assignments outside the Eastern theater of war. Maynadier commanded the 5th Regiment, most of the time from Fort Laramie, which was the center of action in 1865-66. Andrew Patrick Caraher commanded the 2nd Regiment. A native of Ireland, Caraher had won citations at Fredericksburg and Gettysburg. Christopher McNally, an Englishman, commanded the 3rd Regiment; he had seen action in the early months of war in the far Southwest, was cited for gallantry at Mesilla, New Mexico. Charles Dimon of the 1st Regiment started his career as a private in a Massachusetts unit, moving rapidly up in rank as a protégé of General Benjamin Butler, who gave him the colonelcy of the 1st. Charles Thornton of the 4th Regiment had been an officer in the 12th Maine. Carroll Potter of the 6th Regiment was another New Englander, with a year and a half of training at West Point.


Excerpted from The Galvanized Yankees by Dee Brown. Copyright © 1963 Dee Brown. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


I. Introduction,
II. "Bloody Year on the Plains",
III. Oaths and Allegiances,
IV. Soldiering on the Wide Missouri,
V. "Give It Back to the Indians",
VI. From the Cimarron to the Powder,
VII. From Camp Douglas to Camp Douglas,
VIII. The Incredible Captain Shanks,
IX. Ohioans from Dixie: The Powder River Expedition,
X. Blizzard March,
XI. Last Man Out,
XII. A Note on the Galvanized Confederates,
A Biography of Dee Brown,

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