Galvanized Yankees were Confederate prisoners of war who took an oath of allegiance and enlisted in the U.S. Army, garrisoning western forts and protecting overland trails from 1864 to 1866. During the Civil War, Native American grievances erupted in increased attacks upon emigrants traveling up the Missouri River and along the overland trails. Unable to fill depleting Union lines in the East and the West, President Abraham Lincoln quietly authorized enlistment of repentant Confederate prisoners of war into service in December 1863. The First U.S. Volunteers enlisted from January through June 1864 at Point Lookout, Maryland, where their peers dubbed them "galvanized Yankees." Gen. Ulysses Grant ordered the regiment to garrison forts along the Minnesota-Dakota frontier. Enduring bitter cold and debilitating diseases, the First U.S. Volunteers built Fort Rice on the upper Missouri. They fought the Sioux, thwarted illegal Indian trade, aided overland emigrants, and gathered intelligence.
Five other regiments entered federal service in 1865 from prison pens in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Maryland. The Fourth U.S. Volunteers replaced the First Regiment on the upper Missouri, while the other 4,000 "galvanized Yankees" marched west from Fort Leavenworth to occupy forts and stations and protect travelers along the Oregon, Santa Fe, and stage trails. Overcoming great physical hardship, these U.S. Volunteers fought Indian raiders, repaired telegraph lines, and convoyed supply trains and stagecoaches that crossed the Plains between Montana and New Mexico through November 1866.
Michèle T. Butts Austin Peay State University
Brown, Dee. The Galvanized Yankees. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986.
Butts, Michèle T. "Galvanized Yankees on the Upper Missouri." Ph.D. diss., University of New Mexico, 1992.