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Submitted by Nancy Werking Poling; Vetted and edited by Cheri Todd Molter

On May 19, 1862, eighteen-year-old John Henry Smith of Catawba County was mustered into the Confederate army. John Henry served in Company B of the 54th North Carolina Infantry.

On Nov. 7, 1863, the young soldier was captured by Union forces at Rappahannock Station, Virginia. He was confined at Point Lookout, Maryland, in an overcrowded prison where there was a shortage of adequate shelter and food. Many of the prisoners there slept in tents. Probably because of the harsh conditions, on January 29, 1864, John Henry switched sides and took the Oath of Allegiance to the United States. Instead of a gray uniform, he donned a blue one, as was required of the members of the 1st Regiment, US Volunteer Infantry. He served in Company B of that volunteer regiment.

Men who agreed to switch sides were sometimes called “galvanized Yankees.” The term “galvanized Yankee” referred to a captured Confederate soldier who, rather than endure the horrors of the overcrowded, under-supplied prisoner-of-war camps, took the Oath of Allegiance and enlisted to serve in the Union army.

John Henry and the rest of the 1st Regiment, US Volunteer Infantry was ordered to go to West to colonize the Dakota Territory. After they traveled 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, the soldiers walked north alongside the river, arriving at Fort Rice in the Dakota Territory in mid-October. Men of the 1st Regiment were assigned to construct the post. Before the year ended, they had built six large buildings: one magazine, stables for stock, and corrals for cattle. In January 1865, they were working on constructing the officers’ quarters when John Henry took sick. On January 7th, John Henry died of chronic diarrhea at the post hospital. Unfortunately, the young man died far from home in a cold, cold place, four months before the Civil War ended.

According to Veterans Administration records, his body was later moved from the cemetery at Ft. Rice to the Custer Battlefield in Montana. 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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