The Galvanized Yankee

Henry Stanley’s fascinating biography and his astonishing Civil War connections. Totally worth the counts-against-article-quota NY Times click.

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.

This was not the first time Stanley had demonstrated his adaptability. In 1859 he arrived in New Orleans as 18-year-old John Rowlands; he quickly abandoned his Liverpool-assigned cabin boy job and disappeared into the city. He didn’t have much to leave behind; John’s mother was a Welsh prostitute, his father’s identity is unknown. He was raised by his maternal grandfather, until the man died five years later. From then on, like someone straight from Dickens Productions central casting, he lived mostly in a “workhouse,” a home for able-bodied indigents who performed generally difficult contract work to earn their keep.Somehow young John managed to get some education along the way.

Thanks to his literacy and knowledge of arithmetic, once in New Orleans he was promptly hired by a local merchant. Gradually the elderly and childless shopkeeper took a special interest in John. He advised the boy of the favorable commercial prospects for opening a store on one of the up-river Mississippi tributaries. And so, about a year later, John moved to a site near present-day Pine Bluff, Ark. to work for a local shopkeeper. But first he changed his name to a variation of a much-admired New Orleans cotton-trader: John Rowlands became Henry Morton Stanley.

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