Turning Rebel: Recruiting Galvanized Yanks in the winter of 1864-1865

Orderly Sergeant Horatio B. Turrill served in Co. K of the 72nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry and had only been serving as orderly for about two months when he was captured June 12, 1864, near Ripley, Mississippi during the disastrous retreat from the Battle of Brice’s Crossroads. He remained in a series of Confederate prisoner of war camps until he was paroled on April 1, 1865, near Vicksburg.

In the winter of 1864, Sergeant Turrill reported how the Confederate prison authorities tried to recruit soldiers from amongst the prisoners. “The Confederate authorities believed they could succeed in obtaining accessions to their forces from the foreign-born portion of the prisoners and issued orders to have a list of the foreigners made out but did not state the object they had in view,” Turrill wrote. “The rumor soon circulated in Camp Lawton (Millen) that the natives were to be kept while all the foreign born were to be paroled at once and sent home. Of course, everybody turned foreigner immediately and when the list was handed over to the Confederate officer, it showed that nine-tenths of the prisoners were foreign mercenaries.

“So far all was lovely for the Confederates,” remembered Turrill “but when they called these “foreign mercenaries” out by themselves and made the base proposal to them to turn Rebels, they were astonished at the love for their adopted country which animated the men. There were only three men ready to abjure their allegiance and these were probably “decoy ducks” put in by the Rebels to start the movement. All the rest refused the offer of large pay, good rations, clothing, and a land warrant from the Confederacy and went back as ragged, hungry, and patriotic as ever.”

After the war, Sergeant Turrill became the first presiding officer of the Andersonville Survivors Association. While acting in that capacity, he wrote a series of articles to the Ohio Soldier describing his prisoner of war experiences and contributing the following article he entitled “The Galvanized Yanks” to the newspaper’s February 25, 1888, edition. Sergeant Turrill died January 29, 1895, at the age of 59 and is buried at Pleasant Ridge Presbyterian Cemetery in Pleasant Ridge, Hamilton Co., Ohio.

 

Horatio B. Turrill of Co. K of the 72nd Ohio survived nine month's imprisonment at camps such as Millen and Andersonville. The Hamilton County resident had been captured during the regiment's retreat from Brice's Crossroads and wrote extensively of his experiences as a POW in later years. Co. K was formed in Hamilton County near Cincinnati and was originally intended to form part of the 52nd O.V.I. in early 1862, but as that regiment was far short of its numbers, the company was attached to the 72nd Ohio which consisted mostly of northwestern Ohioans. 

Very few, except prisoners of war, ever heard of the “galvanized Yanks.” It was a pet name applied by the Confederates to those inmates of the wretched military prisons who forsook their allegiance to the United States and enlisted in the Southern army. In plain English, they were deserters and deserve no better name.

The recruiting among prisoners commenced at Millen, Georgia in November 1864. The Confederate authorities believed they could succeed in obtaining accessions to their forces from the foreign-born portion of the prisoners and issued orders to have a list of the foreigners made out but did not state the object they had in view. The rumor soon circulated in Camp Lawton (Millen) that the natives were to be kept while all the foreign born were to be paroled at once and sent home. Of course, everybody turned foreigner immediately and when the list was handed over to the Confederate officer, it showed that nine-tenths of the prisoners were foreign mercenaries and the natives of the United States either were not in the army or had so far almost entirely avoided capture. So far all was lovely for the Confederates but when they called these “foreign mercenaries” out by themselves and made the base proposal to them to turn Rebels, they were astonished at the love for their adopted country which animated the men. There were only three men ready to abjure their allegiance and these were probably “decoy ducks” put in by the Rebels to start the movement. All the rest refused the offer of large pay, good rations, clothing, and a land warrant from the Confederacy and went back as ragged, hungry, and patriotic as ever.

No more wholesale recruiting for the Rebel army was attempted at Millen, but instead a stealthy appeal was made to individuals while to aid such efforts, the camp was put upon shorter rations and great suffering followed. The intention was to gradually force the men by their physical wants to adopt the means of relief offered or induce them to listen more readily to the tempter. Ultimately 188 galvanized Yanks were secured at Millen. But the approach of Sherman’s army as it moved resistlessly through Georgia caused the transfer of these prisoners elsewhere; Florence, South Carolina and Salisbury, North Carolina received the largest part of the survivors in early winter. Several thousand, however, by an indirect were transferred for the second time to Andersonville, Georgia after Sherman’s army had passed by and taken Savannah. They were kept there all winter.

The squalid and overcrowded conditions of Andersonville are evident in this image taken during the summer of 1864. Turrill noted that the fact that the "United States seemed to have altogether forgotten its soldiers in captivity" made the stay at Andersonville all the more bitter. 


During the winter of 1864-65, the prisoners at Andersonville were not more than 8,000 even after the men taken at Franklin and other points in Tennessee arrived. Though this number was not so great as the summer previous, the suffering from want of sufficient and proper food, shelter, and medicine was not abated. Indeed, the winter brought ills of its own as clothing became worn out, blankets scarce, and wood rarely issued, and the men were growing feebler and more liable to disease, especially the scurvy. Added to all and in one sense more bitter than all else, the United States seemed to have altogether forgotten its soldiers in captivity. No general exchange had been made for nearly two years and the old Chickamauga prisoners, those who survived, still remained in Rebel hands. No message came from our own government recognizing their heroic endurance or seeking to mitigate their suffering. The only news came from new prisoners to whom the first question put was ‘Is there any hope of exchange?’ The second usually was ‘Is Richmond taken yet?’

Invitations from Confederate sources were not wanting to induce the prisoners to foreswear their allegiance and enlist in the southern army. Colonel O’Neil of Memphis, Tennessee and afterwards engaged in the Fenian movement, was desirous of raising a brigade. He finally did obtain a regiment or two of these deserters, but they were not efficient troops. It was said they operated with Hood’s army. Plenty of rations, good pay, and proper treatment were offered to all that would enlist. The poor, ragged, starving men, though conscious that death in some form would soon overtake them if no exchange occurred and felling that their continued imprisonment was to some extent the fault of their own government still turned a dear ear to the great temptation and sturdily refused to become deserters and Rebels.

But soon after Christmas 1864, a squad of Confederates came into Andersonville prison, and spent a day in personal conversation and attempts to win recruits among the men. They used every possible argument and promised every inducement. When they retired, they took out one man with them. In a few days, this same man was sent in as a recruiting officer, clothed in a fair suit of gray, looking, and acting like a real Rebel soldier. The Confederates called him a “galvanized Yank” and this term stuck to him and his class ever after. Upon his tempting to urge others to follow his example, a score of men attacked him and he had hard running to reach the south gate and obtain the protection of his friends, the Rebel guards.

A week elapsed before any more attempts at recruiting for the Rebel army were made in Andersonville. But it was only postponed, not stopped. The Confederates claimed that they would not accept any native Americans, but the truth was it was quite as hard to induce a foreign-born soldier to be untrue to his colors as a native, and then anyone who pleased could pretend to be a foreigner. Colonel O’Neil wanted only Irishmen, but anybody was good enough Irishman for him if willing to join his troop.

In the meantime, the poor prisoners were treated worse than ever as if purposely to undermine their strength and resolution. Rations were less, of poorer quality, frequently stopped on some pretense, and the men cold and hungry, shivered and starved, watching the inevitable approach of death. But all did not covet a martyr’s crown or prefer death before dishonor. Patriotism had to be made of stern stuff to stand such powerful pressure. Gradually as the recruiting squad came in and after the burst of indignation passed away as rations were cut off and despondency settled upon the camp, some recruits were found and almost every day one, or sometimes several, galvanized Yankees were obtained. The idea began to be whispered among the prisoners that to join the Southern army would be a good way to escape from Andersonville. Once outside, there would be no stockade between them and liberty, and desertion from their new allegiance would be the next step.

This was a practical view and proved the strongest element in the enlistments that afterwards occurred. Hundreds began to waver and then accepted the Confederate terms with this idea of escape in their minds, and with no intention of serving against their country. Each man reasoned thus: ‘If I stay here, I will die. If I join the Rebs, I shall get food, clothes, and medicine at once, a chance to breathe free air, and recover strength. I will not be sent to the front to fight at first, or if so, so much the better. I will then have less traveling to reach the United States forces. At any rate, as soon as I get well-clad, and am strong enough, I will make a break for the Union lines.’

These views, plausible enough, enabled many to stifle the voice of conscience and the laws of honor. Recruiting became brisker, though everyone who left the prison with this avowed intention went out amid a volley of taunts and curses from those whose patriotism no sufferings, not even the approach of death, could shake.

Another view of Camp Sumter showing the camp sinks running along the creek which one observer noted became a "cesspool of disease and human waste." It is easy to understand how Union soldiers could be tempted to enlist with the Confederate army when faced with such horrid living conditions. 

William D. Hammack of the 55th Georgia, the Confederate gate sergeant, will be remembered by the prisoners as an ardent advocate of this plan of recruiting. Hammack was known to us by the nickname of “Chuffy.” This name pertained to his personal appearance which was on the Falstaffian order. “Chuffy” was as strong in the Southern faith as he was full in figure, but he was good-humored and frequently did some real acts of kindness for sick prisoners. He never wavered in his belief of the success of the Southern Confederacy, and in all the defeats which its army met with he foresaw only a change of base, and the speedy and overwhelming for secession. “Chuffy” always closed his arguments on the conduct of the war with this graphic remark: ‘We’ll fight yo’ as long as we can see yo’ and then lick the ground where we last seed yo’!’ Alas, poor Chuffy. In a few months, his fine visions faded and the Confederacy found its last ditch. The writer met him in August 1865 at Washington City where both were witnesses at the celebrated trial of Captain Henry Wirz before a military commission. He acknowledged that he had been greatly deceived by his Southern friends and had almost lost faith in humankind, and confidentially added that the old flag was good enough for him and he should never try to break up any more governments. In fact, he was licked.

However, his efforts in Andersonville and those of other Confederates resulted in a total of 583 enlistments of prisoners in the Rebel army that winter. But very few did any good to their new allegiance, and many of them had to be constantly watched to prevent their escape. Salisbury, North Carolina and Florence, South Carolina were the best recruiting stations. These two prisons were horrible in the extreme and their barbarities to inmates in the winter of 1864-65 were a degree worse than even Andersonville. The men were mostly those who had survived the summer horrors of Andersonville.

A battalion of these galvanized Yanks from Salisbury, with other Rebel troops, were engaged in a fight with General Foster’s army at Pocatalico. At a preconcerted signal, the Yanks attempted to desert in a body to the Union side during the engagement but it was only partially successful. Some escaped, but many were shot down by the Rebels as they ran. Ten of them were afterwards executed at Savannah for the offense of deserting in action.

The Confederacy began to dissolve. The crippled skeletons who stood firm against temptation and survived the indescribable torments of various prison pens were sent to Union lines at Jacksonville, Florida, Richmond, Virginia, Charleston, South Carolina, and Vicksburg, Mississippi. Many died before reaching the shelter of the old flag and many more, after arriving at our lines, did not live to greet the loved ones at home. But they were of that large and heroic company who died that the nation might live.

A man in the same condition as "one of the skeletons" that accompanied Sergeant Turrill out from the horrors of Andersonville. Private Philip Hattle of Co. I of the 51st Pennsylvania had spent months in the prisoner of war camps before returning to Federal hands on June 6th 1865 in this famished condition. He died three weeks later. 


The first day of April 1865, several hundred prisoners from Andersonville were brought to a point near Vicksburg for exchange. They were stopped at the site of the railroad bridge at the Big Black River, for the completion of transfer to the Union lines. While waiting, the Confederate guards brought in about 50 of these galvanized Yanks for exchange. They were recognized by some of the faithful prisoners who, disgusted at the idea of being put on a par with them, told the exchange officers what they were. The Union exchange officers refused to receive them. The Confederate exchange officers claimed that these were Northern men, had been in the Northern army, and they wanted their own men for them. They were told that these were their own men now, whatever they had been once, and they must keep them. “But they desert from us and will not fight for the South,” one said. “No matter for that, they have deserted from us, too. They are Southern soldiers, and if they desert from you, you can shoot or hang them if you wish.”

That was the day the prisoners, faithful to their country, rejoiced in their own constancy, however much it cost them. They were triumphant. The last we saw of these galvanized Yanks for that time, they were being guarded back into the interior of Mississippi, both themselves and their guards in a high state of indignation. But among them there were no skeletons and cripples as the ranks of the faithful prisoners afforded. Their scurvy had all been cured and they were not clothed in rags as we were. We crossed the Jordan of the Black River and went into what had long fondly called God’s country.

They still awhile longer with their Confederate associates but while at Camp Chase preparing to be mustered out, the war being over, we caught our final glimpse of the galvanized Yanks. The South had let them go, and numbers of them came straggling in, though some never reported. There was much ill-feeling between them and the continuous prisoners who had never bowed the knew to the Confederate Baal, but it was confined to jokes, insinuations, and taunts. No one thought of reporting them to the government, though many would not recognize them as comrades. They were paid and mustered out as the rest, and with them disappeared the galvanized Yanks into merited obscurity.

          The official figures of Federal prisoners enlisted into Confederate service are:

Salisbury, N.C.       2,334

Andersonville, Ga. 583

Millen, Ga.             118

Florence, S.C. (est) 400

Other prisons        129

Total:                    3,564

 

Source:

“The Galvanized Yanks,” Orderly Sergeant Horatio Bassett Turrill, Co. K, 72nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Ohio Soldier (Ohio), February 25, 1888, pgs. 433-435


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