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Book Review:The Galvanized Yankees by Dee Brown
Anyone interested in Civil War history, Plaines Indians, Indian wars, or American frontier History will find this book a valuable read. Dee Alexander Brown (February 28, 1908 – December 12, 2002)) was both a historian who wrote both serious fiction and history, especially about the American Indians and the American West. This review is about his history of the Galvanized Yankees, a book that I have found useful as a reference for both short stories and history articles of my own. In addition to telling the story of the Galvanized Yankees, Brown relates many facts and stories of the Indian Wars, the Army, Civil War prisoner of war camps and conditions.
The University of Illinois Press in Urbana, Illinois in 1963 published the Galvanized Yankee. It is packed with interesting information and unfortunately it may be hard to find now, since libraries do not seem inclined to keep old books anymore. It is a good read for any student of the American frontier or the American Civil War. As Brown notes in his introduction there were about 6,000 Americans who “served as outpost guardians for the nation that at one time or another each had sought to destroy. They were former soldiers of the Confederacy who became known as “Galvanized Yankees.” “They became members of the Union Army and assigned to…the Western frontier so they would not meet their former comrades in battle,” Many were “…killed by Indians, scurvy, epidemic disease, wintry blizzards.”
They were officially “…known as the United States Volunteers…” They consisted of six regiments made up of recruits from “…prisons at Point Lookout, Rock Island, Alton, Camps Douglas, Chase, and Morton.”
According to Brown these six regiments have been largely ignored and forgotten The south did not want them and the North forgot them. “Yet the record of the six regiments in the West is one in which any American could take pride,” Brown states.
They filled a gap. Many Union soldiers were coming to the end of their enlistments. There were riots in Northern Cities due to draft calls. In other words the North could not spare men for frontier duty because they were needed in the war.
Not only were men needed for the war but there was getting to be a shortage of men on the home front. As a result the state of Pennsylvania was having to pay bounties to get substitutes for those who could stay home as substitutes. It was two politicians from Pennsylvania that presented the idea to President Lincoln to use Confederate prisoners as substitutes. Lincoln felt he needed the votes in that state in the next election and approved the idea.
Rock Island To Duty on the Plaines
In 1865 after much government delay two regiments were organized at Rock Island. Toward the end of February various companies of the 2nd regiment were sent to Fort Leavenworth. Companies from the 3rd regiment soon followed.
North of Fort Riley and Kearney they were informed that there was a real Indian war.” General Samuel R. Curtis led a few regiments on a thousand mile march up the Platt and then back to Leavenworth over the Santa Fe Trail,” the author tells on page 15. The Overland stage agreed to run coaches providing the government provide guards and escorts. This was upset when a group of cavalry engaged in what was to become known as the “Sand Creek Massacre” on November 29, 1864.This in turn led to the Cheyenne and other tribes making attacks for revenge.
Extra effort to keep lines open would need strong military support, Most of this fell to the Galvanized Yankees.
Learn to be Western
The new troops found that they would have very little problem with the Northern soldiers who were more than glad for the support. It wasn’t long before the new soldiers were speaking like northerners. They learned to spot game to shoot and fit right in. Life was too dangerous to worry about petty prejudices. “The U.S. Volunteers soon learned that in the social ranking of road drivers, the coachmen were lords of he lash. Next in order came the horse and mule teamsters, and then the lowest class—the bullwhackers, who drove oxen.” Brown (p.29) The escorts became close to the stagecoach drivers and called them by their nicknames.
The Confederate army recruited several hundred Galvanized Confederates. These sometimes got confused for Galvanized Yankees. These too were from prison camps. Although some Union prisoners did pledge loyalty to the Confederacy it did not work out as well as for the Galvanized Yankees since there was not frontier duty for these men. Some were captured on the battlefield and sent to a prison for spies.
The Galvanized Yankees were an interesting and not well-known aspect of the Civil War. As I mentioned above Dee Browns book is well worth reading for fans of the Civil War History, Plains Indians, Indian Wars, American frontier History and Americana.
Copyright 2011 Don Hoglund