The Galvanized Yankee

nytlogoIt is unlikely that Henry Stanley knew, upon joining an Illinois artillery unit on June 4, 1862, that his action validated a central Darwinian principle — namely, that it is not necessarily the biggest and strongest that survive, but the most adaptable.

Stanley was a Confederate soldier who had been captured at the Battle of Shiloh and imprisoned at Chicago’s Camp Douglas, a cesspool of a prison where over 200 of the 8,000 prisoners died in the first week. Later he would write of camp conditions: “It was lavish and wasteful of life…a stupid and heartless age guilty of enormities that would tax the most saintly to forgive.” He took the first way out, even if it meant fighting for the other side.


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Lee’s Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies
Trading With the Enemy
Co. Aytch: Illustrated and Annotated


By switching sides Henry became one of the first of 6,000 so-called Galvanized Yankees to switch from wearing gray to blue. (Galvanized, because the process of galvanization coats the gray surface of steel with a thin layer of bluish zinc — though the underlying metal is the same.) To avoid fighting former comrades, the great majority of Galvanized Yankees were sent west to deal with unruly American Indians. But since Stanley was a recent immigrant, his Illinois unit was sent to Virginia. Along the route he suffered the effects of Camp Douglas germs and was hospitalized at Harper’s Ferry on June 22.

The article continues here at the New York Times. 


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