"Even if this were true, it would not justify their conduct..." 

"The fight was a severe one."


"The deadly precision of their fire shows that they intended to repel our forces..."


"they... should be held and tried as deserters."

When Yankees Fought Yankees

Galvanized Troops in Battle During the War Between the States

by Brian Chastain

Part 3

Galvanized Both Ways

Col. John W. Noble was the Union officer in charge of transporting the prisoners from Vicksburg to Memphis.  From that point they were transferred January 13, 1865, on the steamer E. H. Fairchild, to Cairo, Illinois.  Noble informed the officer in charge of the prisoners on the steamer of the peculiar nature of his prisoners.  He said the prisoners "have, as they claim, been formerly in the service of the United States in the various regiments designated opposite their names on the [attached] roll."  The galvanized men told Noble that "they were prisoners of war at Andersonville, Ga., when they enlisted in the Confederate service; that at the time they were in great want..." and that "they now wish to be sent to their old regiments to fight for the Unoin."  Noble gave his opinion that "I believe that most of them are worthy of clemency, a few of special favor, but many at the same time are not to be trusted."69

The men of O'Neill's Regiment were received at the military prison at Alton, Illinois on January 17, 1865.  The commander of the post reported them as having been prisoners of war at Andersonville, Georgia, having there "enlisted in the Tenth Tennessee (rebel) Regiment, and were captured by Grierson's forces at Egypt Station, Mississippi.70

Maj. Gen. G. M. Dodge, commanding the Department of the Missouri, told superiors on March 25, 1865 that "there are some 250 men in confinement at Alton, Ill., known as the 'galvanized Yankees,' ie., men who were taken prisoners by the enemy during the last year, and who, to avoid starvation and death, enlisted in Burke's battalion, of the Confederate Army, and who in the recent raid deserted on the approach of our forces..."71  Dodge, who was not present at Egypt, claimed that the galvanized men had deserted the CS army as soon as Union troops appeared.  He was repeating what the prisoners had said, but the claim was simply not true.  Union officers who were present, as well as the federal judge-advocate who investigated the matter, described it differently.  "The fight was a severe one,"72 which went on for 3 hours.  In any case, Dodge added his recommendation that as many of them as possible be formed into a regiment and sent west.  "I have over 3,000 miles of overland mail and telegraph route to guard, and every regiment of infantry that I can put along it will relieve that number of cavalry to use in offensive operations against the Indians."73  Dodge's use of the term "galvanized Yankees" is notably opposite of the definition typically circulated.

A. A. Hosmer, Major and Judge-Advocate, investigated the case, reporting some interesting and alarming findings to the Secretary of War on May 13, 1865.  His findings:

"Corpl. M. J. Adams, Sixty-third Pennsylvania Volunteers and 253 others, belonging to various regiments, were captured by the First Brigade of General Grierson's cavalry, at Egypt Station, Miss., December 28, 1864.  They were at the time serving in the Tenth Tennessee rebel regiment.  Lieutenant-Colonel Yorke, Second New Jersey Cavalry, reports that the greater part of these men were on the rebel skirmish line, and when our forces came within range they opened a heavy fire, killing 3 officers and 20 men and wounding 74 others; that he then made a charge, when they threw down their arms and surrendered.  Immediately after their capture they alleged that they had been prisoners of war at Andersonville and joined the rebel service to escape death from starvation and disease.  They generally claim to have done so with the intention of making their way to our lines as soon as possible, and state that they had been kept under strict guard and were not furnished arms and ammunition until the night before the engagement, and that they surrendered as soon as an opportunity occurred.  Even if this were true, it would not justify their conduct, and it is believed that the Government cannot consistently recognize the propriety of prisoners escaping from the enemy by such means, and cannot place confidence in men who, even for the purpose of escaping the horrors of Southern prisons, were willing to enter the ranks of the rebel army.  But the circumstances of the action in which they were captured do not justify the belief that any considerable portion of these men had any desire or intention to rejoin our forces.  Being placed upon the skirmish line, they could readily have made an opportunity to pass over without suspicion on the part of the enemy; and, if prevented from doing so by their position in the line, could have fired so as to do no damage to our troops.  The deadly precision of their fire shows that they intended to repel our forces, if possible.  The opinion of General Hoffman is cuncurred in, that they are not entitled to any clemancy.  As to their present status, it may be remarked that they should no longer be regarded as prisoners of war, but should be held and tried as deserters.  It appears by the remarks upon the rolls that six of these men cam into our lines during the night preceding the engagement and gave valuable information.  It is submitted whether or not they may not properly be restored to their regiments, with forfeiture of all pay due at the time of their capture, in consideration of the valuable services rendered."74

This information is invaluable to the history of the War for several reasons.  It forces upon us the fact that it was a complicated war.  It proves that these former federal soldiers enlisted in the Confederate army, and fought for 3 hours against Union troops, intentionally inflicting significant casualties.  Short of the six men who deserted the night before, they surrendered only after being compelled to do so, being attacked from two sides and having run out of ammunition.  His stinging report, in agreement with Brig. Gen. William Hoffman, Commissary General of Prisons, recommended that they be tried as deserters.  The US Army eventually chose the recommendation of Dodge over desertion, enlisting many of the men into the 5th US Volunteers.


Burke's Battalion

Some Union correspondence related to O'Neill's Regiment and the battle at Egypt MS refer to the galvanized troops as Burke's Battalion.  This was simply because Lt. Col. Burke was in command at Egypt Station in Col. John G. O'Neill's absence.  Confederate records generally refer to the unit (misspelled) as O'Neal's Regiment.  Lt. Col. Martin Burke had previously served as captain and major in the 1st Missouri Infantry.  Born in Galway, Ireland, Burke was a merchant in St. Louis before the war.  He enrolled in the 1st Missouri at Memphis June 30, 1861, fighting at Shiloh, Corinth, and Baker's Creek, and serving through August 1, 1864.  At that time he was ordered on an inspection tour of the department by Gen. John B. Hood.  He was then assigned to duty with O'Neill's Regiment of Yankee recruits by order of Gen. G. T. Beauregard, commanding the Military Division of the West.  Burke was appointed lieutenant colonel September 23, 1864 (to rank from May 30 with his old regiment), and was in camp with O'Neill's recruits in October.75


The Men of O'Neill's Regiment Confederate Infantry

Service records of the men who made up O'Neill's Regiment were not filed by the National Archives as O'Neill's Regiment under Confederate Troops as would be expected.  The individual Confederate service records for these men are filed under the 10th Tennessee Infantry.  The following two examples of their service records provide valuable insight into the men who enlisted in this unique unit.

Milton J. Adams of Vernago County, Pennsylvania, has one of the most varied records of the war, and is a good example of the men of O'Neill's Regiment.  He has service records in 3 regiments and on both sides of the war.  He started the war in Company G, 63rd Regiment Pennsylvania Infantry.  History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-1865 includes a roster of the unit.  Cpl. Milton J. Adams was mustered into service March 22, 1864 for 3 years.  He was wounded at Spotsylvania C. H. May 12, 1864, captured at Petersburg, Virginia on June 22, 1864,76 and confined at Camp Sumter, Andersonville, Georgia.  The roster states that he was transferred to Company G, 105th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, but no Adams is listed in that unit.77

Adams changed sides when Col. John G. O'Neill recruited him into Confederate service.  He has a service record as Pvt. M. J. Adams, Company A, 10th Tennessee Infantry, C.S.A. (Company A, O'Neill's Regiment).  Adams was surrendered with Burke's command at Egypt, Mississippi December 28, 1864.  He appears on a roll of prisoners of war at Alton, Illinois Military Prison dated January 23, 1865, with the remark, "The men whose names are on this roll are held as prisoners of war belonging to the Tenth Tennessee Reg't, captured at Egypt Station, Miss., and so reported.  These men enlisted into the Rebel army while held by the Confederate authorities as prisoners of war at Andersonville, Ga."  Adams was listed as having smallpox while at Alton, on February 18, 1865.78  He changed sides again when he enlisted in Company A, 5th US Volunteers at Alton Military Prison.  The enlistment date is given as March 19 and again as April 14, 1865.  The muster and descriptive roll lists him as age 22, born in Vernago County PA, and by occupation a brick maker.  Between March 22 and April 30 he was on daily duty as company commissary.  Adams ended his colorful military career by deserting May 23, 1865 at Easton (also listed as Osankee), Kansas.79

Jesse Ammon has a similar record.  He originally served in the 2nd West Virginia Infantry.  After being captured at Pocahontas County, (West) Virginia December 22, 1863, he was confined at Camp Sumter, Andersonville, Georgia.  There he enlisted in O'Neill's Regiment Confederate infantry.  He has a Confederate service record as Pvt. Jesse Ammon, Company D, 10th Tennessee Infantry, C.S.A (Company D, O'Neill's Regiment).  He also appeared on a roll of prisoners of war at Alton, Illinois Military Prison dated January 23, 1865, with the same remark, that the men were enlisted into Confederate service while prisoners of war at Andersonville, now belonging to the 10th Tennessee Infantry (CSA), and were captured at Egypt, Mississippi December 28, 1864.80  As a prisoner of war at Alton, Ammon enlisted in Company A, 5th US Volunteers on March 17, 1865.  The company muster and descriptive roll listed him as age 22, born in Monongahela, Pennsylvania, by occupation a clerk.  He, like Milton J. Adams, deserted May 23, 1865 at Osankee, Kansas.81

Service records of the men of O'Neill's Regiment, along with the statement of Union Col. John W. Noble from what the prisoners had told him, that "foreigners were first solicited, but many others finally taken," show that the regiment was not composed of foreign born yankees, but in significant numbers, of northern born yankees.82  The service records of the 254 galvanized men captured with Burke, whose names also appear on the roster of the 5th US Volunteers, will provide a wealth of information on the prisons from which O'Neill recruited, the prior Union units represented among his galvanized troops, their places of birth, and whether or not they deserted the 5th US Volunteers.  These latter records will not account for all of those who served under O'Neill (see the correspondence of Col. George Wm. Brent above, giving their number as 500), just those surrendered at Egypt who later joined the 5th US Volunteers. 

Galvanized Confederate troops were used in battle, and this occurred on more than one occasion.  Even Union accounts give testimony to their effective fighting.  As Union Maj. Hosmer put it, they could have deserted or at least fired so as to do no damage to Union troops, but on the field of battle these men chose in overwhelming numbers to stand with their new flag rather than desert it.