Since we’ve been highlighting special fighting units that served in various wars, I thought I would mention a group I’m sure many people have probably heard about (even if you’re not exactly sure who they are): the Galvanized Yankees. These men were former Confederate prisoners of war who opted to enlist in the Union Army to escape the horrors of prison life. They were referred to as “galvanized”–a term usually associated with metal after it receives a protective zinc coating (the outer surface changes but underneath the metal remains the same)–because many people believed they were still loyal Southerners underneath their adopted blue uniforms. Because of uncertainties about their allegiance, the Galvanized Yankees were not sent back to the main battlefields of the Civil War to fight against their former Confederate comrades, but instead went out West to garrison outposts and fight Indians on the frontier (far away from their Southern homes). They served with great distinction, escorting supply trains along the Oregon and Santa Fe trails, accompanying expeditions, and guarding surveying parties for the Union Pacific Railroad.
Officially, the Galvanized Yankees were recruited as United States Volunteers and organized into six regiments (1st through 6th U.S. Volunteer Infantry). Their service records are part of the large series of carded records of Union volunteer organizations during the Civil War (ARC ID 300398), and are also reproduced in microfilm publication M1017, Compiled Service Records of Former Confederate Soldiers who Served in the 1st Through 6th U.S. Volunteer Infantry Regiments, 1864-1866. If you have any Confederate ancestors who spent time in a federal military prison, it might be worthwhile to see if they opted for this unusual chance for freedom.