The summers of 1863 through 1865 were times of significant change on the plains of Northern Dakota Territory. The Sibley/Sully Campaigns of 1863 pushed the Indians westward across the Missouri River, and the subsequent campaigns of 1864 and 1865, led by General Alfred Sully, basically cemented control of the area for the advancement of the frontier.
Fort Rice was established during the summer campaign of 1864. By October of that year, most of the forces under Sully had returned east and only a small garrison was left to man the post. The 30th Wisconsin Infantry was ordered south and their place was to be filled with the “Galvanized Yankees.” The “Galvanized Yankees” were Confederate soldiers who had been captured and, rather than rot in prison for the duration of the war, they swore allegiance to the United States and came west where they would not be required to fight against their former comrades. They were the 1st US Volunteers and they were mustered into service on June 4, 1864.
On this date, in 1864, six companies of the 1st US Volunteers met up with General Sully at Fort Sully, near present day Pierre, South Dakota, and were sent to garrison Fort Rice. Here they would spend the next twelve difficult months.
Company I of the 30th Wisconsin Volunteers, which had been stationed originally at Fort Union and later sent down to Fort Rice, had begun publishing a newspaper titled the “Frontier Scout.” The “Scout” was a newsy publication filled with satire, wit, river news, poetry and the emotions of soldiers very far from home on an isolated and harsh frontier. Ironically, the first issue of the “Scout” published by the “Galvanized Yankees” on June 15, 1865 contained a number of tributes mourning the death of President Abraham Lincoln.
The former Confederate soldiers played a significant role in pacifying the plains and their presence at Fort Rice was a hazardous one with Indian attacks, scurvy, blizzards and boredom. After approximately a year at the post, the transfer orders came in for the 1st US Volunteers.
The “Frontier Scout” of October 12, 1865 seems to sum up the feelings of their time spent in Dakota Territory: “Our sojourn in the wilderness is nearly over. We are as happy as the Ancient Jews when they crossed into the Promised Land.”
An interesting footnote is that many of the “Galvanized Yankees” could never go home again as their families and friends in the South branded them as traitors, and so they joined countless others in the westward migration.
Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis
Minnesota in the Civil and Indian Wars, Pioneer Press Publishing 1891.
Frontier Scout, June 14, 1865.