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NONFICTION : THE GALVANIZED YANKEES by Dee Brown (The University of Nebraska: $7.95, paperback; 243 pp., illustrated).

August 09, 1987|Bryce Nelson

All those interested in the West are indebted to the University of Nebraska Press, which, in its paperback Bison Books, has reprinted hundreds of Western works in the last quarter century. Among recent Bison Books is "The Galvanized Yankees," an account of Confederate prisoners who donned the hated blue uniform of the Union Army in 1864 to fight Indians on the Western Plains in exchange for their freedom from the hunger of wretched Union camps. This is one of Dee Brown's early efforts, written before his best seller, "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee."

President Lincoln approved the use of about 6,000 Confederates in six Western regiments under Union officers. These "United States Volunteers" fought Sitting Bull and the Sioux and often died bravely; they deserted no more than regular soldiers. Although they had no real impact on the Civil War, they did help settle the West. Henry M. Stanley, who later greeted David Livingston in Africa with "Dr. Livingston, I presume," became their most famous veteran. Except for Brown's intriguing book, little attention has been paid to their unusual military service. Brown notes, "No Southern state would claim them; the Grand Army of the Republic forgot them. They were a lost legion, unhonored, unsung."

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