Galvanized Virginians in the Indian Wars, by Dr. Thomas Power Lowry, Idle Winter Press, Portland, Ore., 2015, $16.99
Among the seemingly infinite accounts from the American Civil War, one that has hitherto escaped public scrutiny is a story its protagonists unlikely recalled with much pride: the tale of captured Confederates who volunteered to escape the boredom and neglect of Union prison camps by wearing Yankee blue in one of six U.S. Volunteer regiments stationed on the Western frontier. Scattered among these units, they manned numerous forts and guarded land and riverine routes against Indian depredations, while U.S. Regulars served in the final battles back East.
Virginian Thomas Power Lowry has continued the research of the late Robert E. Denney into the careers of the 292 known Virginians who went West, among the more than 3,000 other known “Galvanized Yankees” who voluntarily switched uniforms. The result is certainly an impressively reference for anyone with a broad interest in American history, though a Wild West reader might also find its presentation a bit exasperating. Lowry writes primarily for an audience of Civil War buffs, going into great detail on the wartime prison system and describing the Western terrain and climate to an audience intimately familiar with Gettysburg, Pa., and utterly ignorant of the Greasy Grass in Montana Territory.
He fills many pages before cutting to the chase with what is known of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th U.S. Volunteers and the Virginians who served in their ranks. Nevertheless, those with an interest in the Indian wars should find a lot of new material here, including insights into the malnutrition and disease that constituted a greater menace than enemy fire. The author concludes with the hope his book will encourage colleagues to similarly document the activities of volunteers from the other Confederate states during an oft-overlooked transitional period in the settlement of the Wild West.