Although I don’t consider Gone with the Wind a romance (no happy ending) but indeed a love story, it’s still been a great influence in my literary life. After I read GWTW for the first time when I was fifteen, the book opened the door to a life-long interest in the most deadly conflict in U.S. history.
I’ve learned that the War Between the States, aka the War of Northern Aggression, had a great impact not only on the North and the South but also on the Western regions where we filliess set our historicals. My home state of California, but a youngster then, struggled with secession issues. Rebels fought Yankees in the territories of Arizona, New Mexico and Oklahoma.
In addition, a little-recognized group of rebel soldiers called “galvanized Yankees” protected the vital lifelines into the west during the closing months of the war. During and after the war, some became Indian hunters.
The term “galvanized Yanks” comes from metal when coated with zinc to protect it from corrosion. The surface color of the metal is altered, but underneath the coating, the steel is unchanged. The metaphor referred to prisoners of war of both sides who took advantage of personnel shortages to escape the horror of prison life by joining the opposite army. Deep down, however, the new recruits usually remained loyal to their own side and would often desert at the first opportunity. Many of the transplanted Reb soldiers proudly remained “Billy Yanks or “good old rebels” underneath their adopted blue uniforms.
Prison camps of both sides –the most infamous being the Confederate prison camp at Andersonville, Georgia, and the Union camp at Alton, Illinois, were horrific places of filth, starvation and disease. For many of those captured, enlistment in enemy forces was the only escape.
As a result, loyalties often came into question. In December 1864, in Egypt Station Mississippi, a Confederate regiment of 250 “galvanized” soldiers threw down their arms and surrendered as Union troops charged them. The former Yanks were sent to the Union prison in Alton as deserters. Fortunately, General Grenville Dodge recruited them into the 5th and 6th U.S.
Volunteers before they could come to trial for treason.
The U.S. War Department continually revised this practice of exchanging prisoners and enlisting them for the other side. When Colonel James Mulligan in 1862 realized that many Confederate prisoners actually wished to join the Union Army with honor not deceit, he enlisted these former Confederates to be used on the front lines, an unethical practice soon to become illegal.
In 1862, an uprising by captive Sioux on their forced encampment on a Minnesota reservation led to 1,500 settlers being killed. In a knee-jerk response to protect the western frontier hundreds of miles away, Colonel John Chivington and his 700 volunteers attacked the peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho living at San Creek Colorado. The “take-no- prisoners” order led to the death of many innocent men, women and children and caused deep resentment among the tribes. They retaliated by terrorizing the Oregon trail and U.S. mail routes.
This prompted General Ulysses S. Grant to order a contingent of Galvanized soldiers to the frontier to protect the trails, telegraph lines, and mail routes. Called “U.S. Volunteers,” the regiment was commanded by Northern officers. Doubts about the loyalty and reliability of these ex-Confederates were alleviated, since the frontier duty of “Indian fighting” would prevent them from fighting old comrades at arms.
Seems I learn something new every day!