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Galvanized Yankees


By 1863, as Civil War casualties mounted, the Union faced a seemingly endless struggle to find new recruits. Caught between draft riots in the North and an increasing demand for more troops, President Abraham Lincoln approved a plan in early 1864 to seek volunteers from among Confederate prisoners of war. By summer, nearly 1,800 Confederate prisoners had taken an oath of allegiance to the United States and enlisted in Federal military service. For renouncing their Confederate allegiance, their peers derogatorily referred to them as “Galvanized Yankees”.

Equally unimpressed with the Galvanized Yankees was General Ulysses S. Grant. Opposed to enlisting prisoners for military service, Grant doubted the reliability of these former Confederates. So when Major General John Pope pleaded for more troops on the Western frontier to protect steamboat travelers and traders from increasing Native American hostilities, General Grant sent the only soldiers he was willing to spare: the six new “galvanized” regiments of U.S. Volunteers.

In late summer of 1864, 600 men of the First U.S. Volunteer Infantry Regiment boarded a steamboat in St. Louis headed for their new home at Fort Rice in Dakota Territory. The Missouri River was low that year, requiring the regiment to march the final 270 miles. Lacking tents and wagons, the men dodged rain and hail carrying the meager supplies they had been issued. Marching on only salt pork, hardtack and coffee, four men died of chronic diarrhea before reaching their new post. The regiment finally arrived at Fort Rice on this day, October 17, 1864.

The Dakota post was a difficult assignment. One soldier compared it to Siberian exile. Winter temperatures hovered around 30 degrees below zero. Malnutrition and scurvy were often fatal companions. Eleven percent of the command did not survive the winter.

The charge to establish peace on the upper Missouri was also a tall order for the 23-year-old commander, Colonel Charles Dimon. Although he did make some allies, attacks by Lakota, Cheyenne and Yanktonai parties cost the regiment another 15 men.

Fortunately the soldiers found a few distractions. Among the fort’s supplies, the Quartermaster discovered a small printing press from Fort Union. Two enterprising soldiers secured permission to publish a newspaper. The Frontier Scout contained articles ranging from serious military matters to light-hearted stories, including one about a bear nicknamed Grizzly who nearly begged the post out of sugar.

The long-awaited orders to leave the rough and tumble Fort Rice finally arrived on October 6, 1865. Three days later, the Galvanized Yankees of the First US Volunteers boarded their steamboat and happily said goodbye to their temporary Dakota home.

In the final Frontier Scout editorial, Captain Enoch Adams wrote to his men, “We are the first fruits of a re-united people. We are a link between the North and the South— let us prove that it is a golden link, and of no baser metal.”

Written by Christina Sunwall


Brown, D. Alexander. The Galvanized Yankees. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1963.

Butts, Michèle T. "Trading Gray for Blue: Ex-Confederates Hold the Upper Missouri for the Union." Prologue 37, no. 4 (Winter 2005). http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2005/winter/galvanized.html