What were the Galvanised Yankees?


Galvanized Yankees was a term from the American Civil War denoting former Confederate prisoners of war who swore allegiance to the United States and joined the Union Army. Approximately 5,600 former Confederate soldiers enlisted in the “United States Volunteers”, organised into six regiments of infantry between January 1864 and November 1866. Of those, more than 250 had begun their service as Union soldiers, were captured in battle, then enlisted in prison to join a regiment of the Confederate States Army. They surrendered to Union forces in December 1864 and were held by the United States as deserters, but were saved from prosecution by being enlisted in the 5th and 6th US Volunteers. An additional 800 former Confederates served in volunteer regiments raised by the states, forming ten companies. Four of those companies saw combat in the Western Theatre against the Confederate Army, two served on the western frontier, and one became an independent company of US Volunteers, serving in Minnesota.

The term “galvanised” has also been applied to former Union soldiers enlisting in the Confederate Army, including the use of “galvanised Yankees” to designate them. At least 1,600 former Union prisoners of war enlisted in Confederate service in late 1864 and early 1865, most of them recent German or Irish immigrants who had been drafted into Union regiments. The practice of recruiting from prisoners of war began in 1862 at Camp Douglas at Chicago, Illinois, with attempts to enlist Confederate prisoners who expressed reluctance to exchange following their capture at Fort Donelson. Some 228 prisoners of mostly Irish extraction were enlisted by Colonel James A. Mulligan before the War Department banned further recruitment 15 March. The ban continued until 1863, except for a few enlistments of foreign-born Confederates into largely ethnic regiments.

Three factors led to a resurrection of the concept: an outbreak of the American Indian Wars by tribes in Minnesota and on the Great Plains; the disinclination of paroled but not exchanged Federal troops to be used to fight them; and protests of the Confederate government that any use of paroled troops in Indian warfare was a violation of the Dix-Hill prisoner of war cartel. General Gilman Marston, commandant of the huge prisoner of war camp at Point Lookout, Maryland, recommended that Confederate prisoners be enlisted in the US Navy, which Secretary of War Edwin Stanton approved 21 December. General Benjamin Butler’s jurisdiction included Point Lookout, and he advised Stanton that more prisoners could be recruited for the Army than the Navy. The matter was then referred to President Lincoln, who gave verbal authorisation on 02 January 1864, and formal authorisation on 05 March to raise the 1st United States Volunteer Infantry for three years’ service without restrictions as to use.

In January 1863, following issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, the United States began to actively recruit black soldiers. The following May, the Confederate Congress passed a joint resolution suspending exchange of black Union soldiers and their white officers, and ordering that they instead be put on trial and punished. On 30 July 1863, President Abraham Lincoln ordered suspension of exchanges of Confederate prisoners until the Confederacy agreed to treat black prisoners the same as white prisoners. On 01 September, Lincoln approved 1,750 more Confederate recruits in order to bolster his election chances in Pennsylvania, enough to form two more regiments, to be sent to the frontier to fight American Indians. Due to doubts about their ultimate loyalty, galvanised Yankees in federal service were generally assigned to garrison forts far from the Civil War battlefields or in action against Indians in the west. However, desertion rates among the units of galvanised Yankees were little different from those of state volunteer units in Federal service. The final two regiments of US Volunteers were recruited in the spring of 1865 to replace the 2nd and 3rd U.S.V.I., which had been enlisted as one-year regiments. Galvanised troops of the US Volunteers on the frontier served as far west as Camp Douglas, Utah; as far south as Fort Union, New Mexico; and as far north as Fort Benton, Montana.

Origin of the Term

The National Park Service describes the origin of the expression “Galvanised Yankee” in a bulletin published in 1992 for visitors to the Gateway Arch National Park, which was then known as the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial:

The term “galvanized” is most commonly associated with metal when it is coated with zinc to protect it from corrosion. In the process the surface color of the metal is altered, but underneath the coating the steel is unchanged. During the Civil War, in both Northern and Southern prison camps, soldiers sometimes decided to “galvanize,” or change sides, to save themselves from the horrors of prison life. Like the metal, these galvanized soldiers in many cases were still “Good old Rebels,” or “Billy Yanks,” underneath their adopted uniforms.

The expression “galvanised Yankees” sprang up as a term of deprecation among Confederate prisoners for those who chose to enlist. At the same time, the use of “white-washed Rebels” as a reference came into being among Federal state regiments stationed on the frontier at the time when the 1st U.S.V.I. arrived. Dee Brown cites documentation from March and April 1865 indicating that the term was first used to characterize captured Federals who turned Confederate. The general use of “galvanised Yankees” originated in a story in the Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts) on 25 May 1865, by Samuel Bowles, who wrote:

Among the present limited number of troops on the Plain are two regiments of infantry, all from the rebel army. They have cheerfully re-enlisted into the federal service. They are known in the army as “white-washed rebs,” or as they call themselves, “galvanised Yankees.”

Federal Regiments Composed of “Galvanised Yankees”

United States Volunteers

Concise histories of all units of US Volunteer Infantry are at Frederick H. Dyer’s Compendium of the War of the Rebellion: Regimental Histories, p.1717.

1st US Volunteer Infantry

The 1st U.S.V.I. was recruited at Point Lookout prison camp between January 21 and April 22, 1864, as a three-year regiment. Assigned to the District of Eastern Virginia, Department of Virginia and North Carolina, it moved to Norfolk, Virginia, where on orders of General Grant it was relegated to provost duty there, Portsmouth, Virginia, and Elizabeth City, North Carolina. In August 1864, Grant ordered it to the Department of the Northwest in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The 1st U.S.V.I. travelled by ship to New York City, and by train to Chicago, where it received further orders splitting the regiment. Four companies continued to Milwaukee, while six companies (B, C, D, E, H, and K) were sent to St. Louis, Missouri, arriving there 22 August. They moved by the steamboat Effie Deans and by forced march to Fort Rice, Dakota Territory, arriving there 17 October for garrison duty. Conditions were hard over the winter, and fully 11% of the command died of illness, primarily scurvy. Between 10 May and 31 August 1865, Company K garrisoned Fort Berthold and Company B the trading post known as Fort Union at the mouth of the Yellowstone, obliged to travel by steamboat through hostile territory. Four companies were present at Fort Rice, along with two companies of the 4th U.S.V.I., when a large force of Lakota and Cheyenne led by Sitting Bull attacked for three hours on 28 July 1865, making away with the entire horse herd and killing two soldiers. In October 1865, the battalion returned to St. Louis to muster out 27 November.

The four companies continuing on to Wisconsin in August 1864 were ordered to the District of Minnesota. Their muster out in July 1865 was cancelled and in October, they were ordered to build and garrison Fort Fletcher, Kansas, and man two outposts at Monument Station and Ponds Creek Station, also in Kansas, to protect the new Butterfield Overland Despatch stagecoach route. Companies A, F, G, and I of the 1st U.S.V.I. mustered out at Fort Leavenworth on 22 May 1866, after 25 months of active service, the longest service of any of the “galvanised Yankees.”

2nd US Volunteer Infantry

Authorized in October 1864 at the Rock Island prisoner camp in Illinois as a one-year regiment, the 2nd U.S.V.I. was not organized until February 1865. It was ordered to the Department of the Missouri and sent by rail to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where it was assigned to duty in the District of Upper Arkansas along the Santa Fe Trail from the Little Arkansas River to Fort Dodge, Kansas, and along the Cimarron Crossing to Fort Lyon, Colorado. From Fort Leavenworth the unit marched to Fort Riley, and stationed companies there and at Salem, Fort Ellsworth, Fort Larned, Fort Zarah and Fort Scott, Kansas. Companies F and G were involved in the establishment of Fort Dodge in the summer of 1865. Their duties involved scouting, wagon train escort and operating against Indians. Members of the regiment were present as guards at the signing of the Little Arkansas Treaty. The regiment mustered out at Fort Leavenworth 07 November 1865.

3rd US Volunteer Infantry

The 3rd U.S.V.I. was authorised at the Rock Island prisoner camp in October 1864 as a one-year regiment but not organised until February 1865. It was ordered to the Department of the Missouri, arriving at Fort Kearny, Nebraska, 09 April 1865, where it was assigned to duty in the Districts of Nebraska and Colorado. Companies A and B were stationed at Fort Kearney; C and D at Cottonwood, Colorado; E and F at Fort Rankin; and G and H at Julesburg, Colorado, protecting overland mail routes from Indian attacks. Companies I and K were sent to Fort Laramie, and on 15 May 1865, were parcelled out in small detachments along 300 miles of the Pacific Telegraph Company line from Laramie to South Pass, Territory of Idaho (now Wyoming). Company I was involved in numerous skirmishes, including combat at the Battle of the Platte Bridge Station, and suffered higher casualties than any other company of the 3rd U.S.V.I. The regiment mustered out 29 November 1865, having served with distinction, including a low desertion rate.

4th US Volunteer Infantry

The 4th U.S.V.I. was organised as a three-year regiment at Point Lookout on 31 October 1864, although only six companies could be induced to enlist. The quality of recruit was not as high as that of the earlier 1st U.S.V.I. The regiment waited at Portsmouth, Virginia, in hopes that more troops could be raised, but calls for men from the west led to its transfer to the frontier at the end of April 1865. 10% deserted before the regiment reached Sioux City, Iowa, in Department of the Northwest, on 28 May. Many were arrested and held in confinement before returning to the ranks. Two companies were stationed at Fort Rice, then at Fort Sully; one at Fort Berthold; and three at Fort Randall until June 1866, when the six companies were recalled to Leavenworth, mustering out as they arrived between 18 June and 02 July.

5th US Volunteer Infantry

The 5th U.S.V.I. was enlisted at the Alton and Camp Douglas prisoner camps in Illinois in March and April 1865 as a three-year regiment, then ordered to Fort Leavenworth on 28 April 1865, at the urging of Major General Grenville Dodge, commanding general of the Department of the Missouri. From there it moved to Fort Riley between 18 and 28 May to relieve units of the 2nd U.S.V.I. in guarding the Santa Fe Trail. In August three companies were sent to Fort Halleck, Idaho Territory (now Wyoming); two companies to Camp Wardwell, Colorado; two companies to Fort Lyon, and Company B to Denver for quartermaster duty. Companies saw periodic duty at Fort McPherson, Nebraska; Fort Collins, Colorado; and Fort John Buford, Wyoming. Companies C and D, consisting mostly of former Union soldiers who had been captured after enlisting in the Confederate 10th Tennessee, escorted the Sawyers expedition to build a road to Montana and garrisoned Fort Reno for nearly a year. Companies A through G reassembled at Fort Kearny in August 1866 and mustered out on 11 October. Companies H, I, and K garrisoned Fort Lyon until October 1866, when General William T. Sherman closed the post for deplorable living conditions. They marched to Fort Leavenworth, where they mustered out on 13 November, the last of the “galvanised Yankees”.

6th US Volunteer Infantry

The 6th U.S.V.I. was recruited from prisoner camps at Camp Chase, Ohio (two companies); Camp Morton, Indiana (two companies); and Camp Douglas, Illinois (six companies), as a three-year regiment, and assembled on 02 April 1865, at Camp Fry near Chicago for outfitting and drill. It travelled by rail to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, on 10-11 May 1865, the only regiment of “galvanized Yankees” to arrive on the frontier intact and at full strength, 976 officers and men. Between 14 and 31 May, they marched to Fort Kearny, Nebraska, where it dispersed to replace the various companies of the 3rd U.S.V.I. guarding the telegraph line and the Oregon Trail. In August Gen. Patrick E. Connor ordered regimental headquarters and three companies to garrison Camp Douglas, Utah; and two companies west from Fort Rankin, Colorado, to replace the cavalry along the telegraph line west of Fort Laramie. 35 of the 275 men ordered to Utah deserted before their arrival 09 October. The companies in Utah were relieved by regulars in April 1866 and marched to Fort Bridger. The other seven companies frequently changed stations, posted at some point to Camp Wardwell, Julesburg, and Fort Sedgwick, Colorado; Post Alkali, Fort Cottonwood, Mud Springs, Plum Creek, and Columbus, Nebraska; Fort Wallace, Kansas; and Fort Laramie, Fort Halleck, Fort Caspar, and Sweetwater Station, Territory of Idaho. In October 1866 all companies except Company B at Fort Wallace were relieved by regulars and assembled at Fort Kearny, where they mustered out between 10 and 15 October. Company B marched across Kansas to Fort Leavenworth and mustered out on 03 November.

1st Independent Company, US Volunteers

Refer to “1st Connecticut Cavalry” below.

State Volunteer Units in Federal Service

1st Connecticut Cavalry

The 1st Regiment Cavalry, Connecticut Volunteers was originally raised in November 1861 as the 1st Battalion Connecticut Cavalry, and campaigned in West Virginia, the Shenandoah Valley, and the Second Battle of Bull Run. In September 1863, authorised to expand to a regiment, the 1st Connecticut Cavalry while on Provost Guard at Camp Chesebrough in Baltimore, recruited 82 replacements from among Confederate prisoners kept at Fort Delaware, placing most in Company G (organised 05 October 1863) and spreading the rest throughout the regiment. In the spring of 1864 General Grant directed that all units containing former Confederates would be employed on the western frontier. All of the former Confederates in the 1st Connecticut Cavalry were placed into Company G and on 26 April 1864, sent to Fort Snelling, Minnesota, also serving at Forts Ridgely and Ripley. On 06 April 1865, the remaining 40 former Confederates of the company transferred to the US Volunteers and were designated the 1st Independent Company, U.S.V. The 1st Independent Company remained on duty in the District of Minnesota until mustered out on 16 November 1865.

3rd Maryland Cavalry

The service of the 3rd Regiment Cavalry, Maryland Volunteers began on 08 August 1864, with the raising of three companies at Baltimore. In September and October, Companies D, E, F, and G were recruited from Confederate prisoners at Fort Delaware, most of whom had been captured at the Battle of Gettysburg, numbering approximately 450 in all. The regiment remained in garrison at Camp Schenck in Baltimore, seeking to raise more troops, assigned to the Cavalry Reserve of the Eighth Corps until officially organised on January 9, 1864. Sent by steamship to New Orleans and Madisonville, Louisiana, the 3rd Maryland Cavalry took part in the Red River Campaign, in the Atchafalaya Expedition in the first week of June 1864, and in August was dismounted to participate in the siege of Fort Morgan. Disease seriously depleted the ranks of the regiment, and in December 1864, the 3rd Maryland Cavalry consolidated into a six-company battalion. Company D became part of Company E, and Company G part of Company F, participating in the campaign to capture Mobile, Alabama in March and April 1865. The 3rd Maryland Cavalry was the only unit of “galvanised Yankees” in Federal service to actively campaign against Confederate forces. At the end of hostilities it was assigned to the Department of Mississippi and garrisoned Natchez, Mississippi, through the summer of 1865. The battalion mustered out at Vicksburg on 07 September 1865.

3rd Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery

Battery M, 3rd Regiment Heavy Artillery, Pennsylvania Volunteers was raised in Philadelphia, then recruited prisoners at Fort Delaware in July and August 1863 to fill out its ranks. It was apparently over-recruited in numbers. The battery moved to Fortress Monroe to train, where some members were induced to join the newly created 188th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.

4th Delaware Infantry

Company C of the 4th Regiment Infantry, Delaware Volunteers is claimed to have been recruited in 1862 or 1863 from prisoners at Fort Delaware, but claims have not been substantiated through checks of muster rolls.

11th Ohio Cavalry

The 11th Regiment Cavalry, Ohio Volunteers was originally raised as four companies of the 7th Ohio Cavalry in October 1861. It was sent west for duty on the Indian frontier in February 1862 to resolve a political dispute after its commander refused to consolidate with the 6th Ohio Cavalry. Permanently detached and given the designation 1st Independent Battalion Ohio Cavalry, it arrived at Fort Laramie on 30 May 1862. Four additional companies were recruited between 26 June and 31 July 1863, including approximately 40 Confederate prisoners from Camp Chase who became members of Company E. Originally called to service to repel John Hunt Morgan’s raid through Ohio, the companies were also sent west to combine with the 1st Independent Battalion into the new 11th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry. They left Camp Dennison 01 August for Fort Leavenworth, reporting for duty 13 August. While awaiting supplies, the battalion joined in pursuit of Quantrill’s Raiders following the Lawrence Massacre. After marching 150 miles, they were recalled and marched to Fort Laramie between 02 September and 10 October. En route, four of Company E’s recruits plotted to involve all Confederates in the company in a mutiny when it reached Julesburg, but were disarmed and arrested before the attempt could be made. In July and August 1864, Capt. Henry E. Palmer was assigned to deliver a detachment of 60 recruits, all former members of Morgan’s cavalry force, from Camp Chase to Fort Kearny, where they became Company K of the 11th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry. In August and September 1865 “galvanised” Companies E and K accompanied Connor’s Powder River Expedition. Both companies returned to Fort Laramie, where they continued guard duties along the stage and telegraph lines until mustering out on 14 July 1866.

Ahl’s Battery

Ahl’s Independent Company, Heavy Artillery (officially known as the 1st Delaware Heavy Artillery) was a heavy artillery battery that served in the Union army in the American Civil War. The company was mainly composed of former Confederate prisoners of war who had sworn allegiance to the Union (over 200 so-called “galvanised Yankees”).

The company (Delaware’s only heavy artillery company during the war) was organized at Fort Delaware on 27 July 1863, not long after the Battle of Gettysburg. The company was assigned to garrison and guard duty at Fort Delaware during their entire period of service. Its commander was Captain George W. Ahl, and nearly all the officers had come to the fort with Independent Battery G, Pittsburgh Heavy Artillery. The company mustered out on 25 July 1865.

Confederate Forces Composed of “Galvanised Yankees”

Confederate recruitment of Union prisoners of war was authorised by Confederate Secretary of War James A. Seddon on 30 September 1864, after inquires from General Braxton Bragg to recruit foreign-born prisoners. Seddon had as early as March 1863 granted discretionary permission to commanders including General John Pemberton to recruit prisoners, but few if any, were actually enlisted. A concerted recruiting effort began on 12 October and continued to the end of the war. At least four Confederate units were recruited, including three units of Regulars in the Provisional Army of the Confederate States.

Confederate Regulars

Brooks’ Battalion, Confederate Regular Infantry

Recruited from prisoners held at the stockade in Florence, South Carolina, the unit was organised 10 October 1864, as “Brooks’ Battalion of Foreigners,” saw brief front-line service in McLaws Division until 18 December 1864, then was returned to Florence because of desertions and mutiny.

Tucker’s Confederate Regiment

Recruited from prisons at Florence, South Carolina; Salisbury, North Carolina; and Richmond, Virginia, the unit organized 16 October 1864, as the “1st Foreign Battalion,” was later increased to regimental size and renamed “1st Foreign Legion,” then was re-designated 28 February 1865, as Tucker’s Confederate Regiment. It had 72 men serving as pioneer troops at the surrender 26 April 1865.

8th Confederate Battalion

Recruited at Florence, South Carolina, the unit organised 26 December 1864, as the “2nd Foreign Battalion,” later known as “2nd Foreign Legion”, and was re-designated 13 February 1865, as 8th Confederate Battalion.

State Volunteer Regiments in Confederate Service

10th Tennessee

In October 1864, John G. O’Neill, colonel of the 10th Tennessee Regiment (Irish Volunteers), was authorised to recruit Union prisoners at Andersonville and Millen, Georgia, to replenish the depleted ranks of the regiment. O’Neill, recovering from wounds received at the Battle of Resaca, appears to have delegated part of the task to a newly appointed lieutenant colonel, Michael Burke. In October and November 1864 O’Neill and Burke enlisted more than 250 soldiers of a number of Union regiments. Efforts were made at first to recruit Irish immigrants in compliance with Seddon’s original instructions, but when few complied, native-born Union soldiers were enlisted. The recruits were required to take an oath of allegiance to the Confederacy, and were not issued arms or ammunition until the night before their first engagement.

Held under strict camp guard, they were sent to Mobile, Alabama while the 10th Tennessee itself advanced to the Battle of Franklin. Organised as Burke’s Battalion, 10th Tennessee, they were made part of an ad hoc defense force assembled by Lieutenant Colonel William W. Wier and sent by train towards Tupelo, Mississippi, to repel a raid along the Mobile and Ohio Railroad by two brigades of Union cavalry under the command of Brigadier General Benjamin Grierson. The Union cavalry force had already captured a substantial number of Brig. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest’s dismounted cavalry encamped at Verona on Christmas Day. Burke’s Battalion and the 17th Arkansas were sent with a battery of artillery aboard the first train to block the tracks at Egypt Station, a mile west of Aberdeen, Mississippi.

On the evening of 27 December 1864, six members of Burke’s Battalion deserted and made their way into the Union lines, where they reported the presence of the former prisoners and the likelihood that they would not resist any Union attack. The next morning Grierson’s 1st Brigade advanced and came under fire from Confederate skirmishers, including Burke’s Battalion, which was ensconced in a stockade east of the rail line. After suffering a number of casualties, the 2nd New Jersey Cavalry responded with a charge in which it took severe casualties, including 22 dead, and lost 80 horses but captured more than 500 prisoners, among whom were Burke and 254 former Union soldiers from Burke’s Battalion of the 10th Tennessee.

Grierson’s prisoners were shipped by steamer to the Union prison camp at Alton, Illinois, where the claims of the “galvanised Yankees” that they desired restoration to their original units were investigated. Major General Dodge recommended on 05 March 1865, that all the former Union soldiers as well as a number of Confederate troops be enlisted in the US Volunteers for service in the West. The recommendation for clemency was resisted by the Judge Advocate General’s Office in Washington, D.C., which advocated that the former Union soldiers be tried for desertion, citing testimony from Union officers at Egypt Station that they resisted at the battle until their ammunition was exhausted. Dodge’s recommendation was accepted, however, and the prisoners were permitted to enlist in the 5th and 6th US Volunteers.

O’Neill returned to Andersonville and recruited 150 more prisoners for the 10th Tennessee in January 1865, and approximately 165 more in March.


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