During our recent trip to Wyoming’s Fort Laramie, our tour guide told us that when Union troops left Indian Territory forts to serve in the Civil War, the Union sent more than 6,000 Confederate captives to man the forts. Is that correct?
Fountain Hills, Arizona
Yep, they were called “Galvanized Yankees” and were recruited at prisoner of war camps during the winter of 1864-1866. The assignment: to fill in behind the cavalry and guard the travel routes during the campaign against the Plains Indians under Gens. John Pope and Grenville Dodge.
These Galvanized Yankees joined another regiment, the 1st U.S. Volunteers, recruited from prison camps in Virginia the previous summer. Ultimately, six regiments of Galvanized Yankees performed credible work policing the Plains during the last days of the Civil War.
Most volunteered for duty in the West to escape the horrors of prison camp life. Although they became “Billy Yanks” in their adopted uniforms, they remained “Johnny Rebs” in their hearts. Even Union troops switched to Confederate gray for the same reasons.
Dee Brown wrote a book about these volunteers, The Galvanized Yankees.
Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian. His latest book is Wyatt Earp: Showdown at Tombstone. If you have a question, write: Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org