One of the true pleasures of longtime membership in the Columbine Genealogical and Historical Society in Littleton, or a group like it, is that we learn so much from attending programs and sharing information with other members of the group. This was especially true recently during a presentation about Galvanized Yankees in the Civil War, presented by Karen Hancock. Her message for our group related to genealogy research. If we had such a person in our family tree, it might be a benefit in our search for Civil War records to find information about a Confederate solider in Union Army rosters. Since I had some difficulty understanding the larger questions, and the context of the subject, some additional research led me to some basic information.
What is a Galvanized Yankee? The term emerged when Confederate soldiers joined the Union Army for a variety of reasons, mostly relating to basic survival. Webster’s definition of “galvanlize” is to coat iron or steel with a zinc process to render it rust-resistant. The metaphor meant that although a Confederate soldier might switch from a grey to a blue uniform, the color change is a thin symbolic coating affecting outer appearance, but which does not define the heart-felt loyalties of the individual. A “white-washed reb”, or Galvanized Yankee, might change sides in exchange for release from prison, or might reenlist in Union troops if their home region was taken over by regulation or renegade troops in an effort to avoid execution or to protect property and family.
According to Wikipedia, 5,600 former Confederate soldiers enlisted in the “United States Volunteers”, organized into six regiments between January 1864 and November 1866. 1,600 Union army soldiers enlisted in the Confederate army, and were also referred to as Galvanized Yankees. Confederate Civil War records are often elusive due to their loss and destruction during the conflict. A genealogist may have better luck and find new information by checking Union Army rosters and indices.
Joyce B. Lohse