A Galvanized Yankee went west

by | Mar 2, 2016 | Catawba, Confederate

A Galvanized Yankee On May 19, 1862, John Henry Smith of Catawba County was mustered into the Confederate army. He was only eighteen years old. Little is known about his experiences as a soldier, only that he was a member of Hoke’s Brigade of the 54th North Carolina Regiment. In the fall of 1863 he was among the Confederate troops captured by units of the army commanded by George S. Meade. He was sent to Point Lookout, MD, an overcrowded prison where there was a shortage of food and prisoners slept in tents. No doubt because of the harsh conditions, John Henry agreed to change sides in the war. Instead of a gray uniform, as a member of the Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Volunteers he now wore a blue one. Men who agreed to do this were called Galvanized Yankees; that is, they were Rebs on the inside but Yankees on the outside. The First Regiment was ordered to go to the West to protect U.S. citizens from Indians. After the journey to St. Louis, the regiment went by boat up the Missouri River as far as possible, then to the mouth of the White River. For three weeks they walked north along the river, arriving at Fort Rice in the Dakota Territory in mid-October. Men of the First Regiment were set to work constructing the post. By January, 1865, they had built six large buildings, one magazine, stables for stock, and corrals for cattle. They were working on officers’ quarters when John Henry took sick. In the post hospital he and five other soldiers died of chronic diarrhea. Another soldier died of consumption. According to Veterans Administration records, his body was eventually moved from the cemetery at Ft. Rice to the Custer Battlefield in Montana to lie with soldiers who lost their lives fighting Indians. John Henry Smith died far from home in a cold, cold place, four months before President Johnson declared the end of the war. John Henry Smith was the uncle of my mother-in-law, Virginia Smith Poling, who did extensive genealogical work. This information was originally compiled by my father-in-law, Newton L. Poling.

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