The graves of “Galvanized Yankees” at Custer National Cemetery

Posted on March 31, 2010 by


A cousin of mine, David F. Aleshire, formerly of Co. C, 10th Virginia Infantry; captured at Spotsylvania Court House, 5/12/1864; sent to Pt. Lookout, Md. as a POW; enlisted in Co. H, 1st United States Volunteers ("Galvanized Yankees"). Died of scurvy at Ft. Rice, Dakota Territory, 4/4/1864.

Not too long ago, I took on the small task of looking into the stories behind the Galvanized Yankees who were buried (actually, removed from their original burial locations at Fort Rice and reburied in the Custer Battlefield Cemetery/Custer National Cemetery/Little Big Horn National Cemetery around the beginning of the 20th century). As most probably know, Galvanized Yankees were Confederates who, at different points after being put in POW camps, not only took the oath of allegiance, but also opted to enlist in the U.S. Army. At the very least, it seemed to offer a better alternative to life in a POW camp. That said, however, the reasons for switching coats may not have been that simple in all cases. I’ve got a number of theories about these men. Sure, some took what appeared to be the better alternative to POW camp life, but I also think that some may have been Unionists, and, some may have been on the fence (and or “leave aloners”) just enough to make “swallowing the dog” not so difficult to do. Anyway, After spending some time in the service records of these men ( made that possible), I developed this list of Galvanized Yankees buried in Custer National Cemetery. Most of them served in the 1st United States Volunteers (most of them enlisted while in Point Lookout POW Camp in Maryland) and the majority died as a result of disease, though a couple died in combat fighting Native Americans in the Dakota Territory (one was actually listed as having died as a result of an “arrow through the lungs”). It’s a diverse group of men from a variety of Southern states, but the majority of them are Tarheels. I can’t explain quite why the Tarheel graves outnumber the graves of the rest of the Galvanized Yankees there. Perhaps they got the worst part of the situation and just had more men die out there, or, just maybe, it might be an indication that North Carolinians (33 out of the 70)*, more times than the rest, opted to join the USV than those Confederate soldiers from other states… because… well, fill in the blank if you want, but I think it might reflect that these men weren’t so dedicated to the ideas behind the Confederacy. A fairly large number of these Tarheels were from the western part of the state. There’s a lot more investigation worthy of time when it comes to these men, and, being fascinated by their stories, I don’t doubt that I will revisit them in my research… yet another iron in the fire for me. 🙂 Enjoy the virtual walk among the graves of these men…

*33 from N.C., 12 from Va., 6 from Tennessee, 3 from Ga., 3 from Ky., 2 from S.C., 1 from Ark., 1 from Ga., and then there were those a little more difficult to figure out… 2 from Ireland (but Confederate units unknown); 1 born in Ga., but served in an Alabama unit; 1 from Ireland, but served in a Alabama unit; 1 from New Jersey (but Confederate unit unknown); 1 from Ohio, but served in a Louisiana unit; 1 from France (but Confederate unit unknown); 1 from Germany (but Confederate unit unknown); 2 for whom I could find no birthplace or unit information.