Friday, August 9, 2013

My "Galvanized Yankee" Ancestor

Back on July 1, I posted on my ancestral first-day Gettysburg connection, Hardy Estep, who served in the 26th North Carolina Infantry. Hardy was killed in battle that first day of fighting in Pennsylvania. It is not known for sure, but his younger brother Doctor, who was in the same regiment and company likely saw his sibling killed that day. What impression did Hardy's death make on the 23 year old Doctor? That, we do not know either. 

Doctor was drafted along with Hardy into the 26th North Carolina. They were enlisted at Camp Mangum in Raleigh on September 21, 1862. Conscription had been passed by the Confederate congress in April 1862, which in turn brought a flurry of initial enlistments as recruits signed up to avoid the stigma of being drafted. In western North Carolina though, as in some other places, conscription turned many citizens against the Confederacy.

Doctor and Hardy's politics are not known, but by not enlisting immediately after conscription was instituted, and only when it was enforced, leads one to suspect that they were reluctant Confederates. However, as mentioned in the post on Hardy, the brothers could have attempted to evade conscription by hiding out in the western North Carolina mountains as many did; they instead went to war.

Doctor's Confederate service records show that he was captured at Falling Waters, Maryland, on the Potomac River, during the Confederate army's retreat back to Virginia. His capture occurred on July 14, 1863, two weeks after his brother's death at Gettysburg. Doctor was first sent to Baltimore, and from there to Point Lookout, Maryland, a military prison on a peninsula of the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay. Between 1863 and 1865, almost 4,000 Confederate prisoners died at Point Lookout, which was the largest Union-run prisoner of war camp.

Sometime in the fall of 1863 or winter of 1864, Doctor took the oath of allegiance. Did he do so willingly? Did he have some reservations? Did he feel that by taking the oath he could improve his present condition? Regardless, on February 10, 1864, he went a step beyond "swallowing the dog" - as some called taking the oath - and enlisted in the 1st Regiment U.S. Volunteer Infantry for three years. He was 24 years old at the time.

Those Confederates that took the oath and enlisted in the Union service were labeled "galvanized Yankees," by their former comrades. The term of deprecation came from the process of galvanizing metal, where a coat of zinc was added to the top layer to prevent corrosion. 

These men were most often shuttled to the far West to garrison frontier forts and prevent Native American raids. So was the case with the 1st U.S. Volunteer Infantry. After initial provost duty in southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina, the 1st was ordered to Wisconsin. On the trip west six companies (including Doctor's company) were rerouted to St. Louis and then by steamboat and foot to Dakota Territory. Apparently Doctor garrisoned Fort Rice, near present day Bismarck, North Dakota. 

Doctor Estep's Union service proved shorter than his enlisted three year commitment. On November 27, 1865, his company was mustered out at St. Louis.

How was Doctor received back in the mountains of western North Carolina? Did his family and neighbors care that he had switched sides. And even though he never fought against his former comrades in battle, did the stigma of transferring allegiance bother his conscious? 

Doctor is buried in the same Brushy Mountain graveyard that contains his brother Hardy's memorial. Doctor died in 1872; he was only two months shy of his 33rd birthday. Interestingly, those that have chosen to mark his grave have selected a new Confederate headstone as opposed to honoring his last service as a Union soldier.   


  1. There is a new book out about the Galvanized Yankees, in particular, those from several Georgia counties in the Athens, Ga. area. It is written by Prof. Al Hester, formerly of the U. of Ga. One of the men from that area who was in the Third US Volunteers was Pvt. John M. Whitmire, Company D. He was my gg grandfather. The book is called Putting on Blue, available on

  2. I had a great grandfather that was captured in Resaca,GA. He was sent to a prison camp in Alton, Illinois. He later volunteered to be in the "Galvanized Yankees."

  3. I was told years ago by my high school Industrial Arts teacher that the term "Galvanized Yankee" came from the fact that steel coated with lead, zinc, or a combination of lead & zinc was commonly called Terne Plate, or Terne Coat. So, Confederate soldiers who switched sides and joined the Union Army, which traditionally might have resulted in them being called Turn Coats, became known as "Galvanized Yankees."

  4. My ggrandfather, John Edmonds, was captured at Culp's Hill and was a POW at Ft. Delaware. He took the oath and went to Ft Rice also. His tombstone in Fayette, Alabama has a Union shield with Ahl's H. A.(heavy artillery) on it. Family story is that he would get his Union pension check at the post office and wave it at his neighbors on the way home.