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"ex-Confederate soldiers enlisting in post-bellum U S Army?" Topic

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4DJones29 Jul 2022 10:49 a.m. PST

I've been re-watching John Ford's cavalry trilogy, and there are recurring incidences of ex-Confederate soldiers serving in the ranks of the Frontier Army: one, a US sergeant, is an ex-Confederate Major (or captain?); another private is an ex brigadier general?

I can imagine this kind of enlistment happening, but how frequent was it? I'm also reading Utley's 'Frontier Regulars' and there's no mention of this occurrence at all.

I'd be grateful of any Hive imput.

Many thanks.

wpilon29 Jul 2022 11:01 a.m. PST

I don't think its ever been quantified other than to say it was fairly common through the 1870s.

For a good discussion of the matter see Don Ricky's Forty Miles a Day on Beans and Hay. There was one explicit quote describing exactly that phenomenon:

"this private … was a Major of Artillery in the Confederate Army, and born and raised a few miles from my native town, Petersburg, VA. Of course her was under an assumed name in the U.S. Army"

- Brigadier General F.W. Benteen to Theodore Goldin, MS, Feb 17, 1896, Benteen-Goldin Letters

Forty Miles a Day on Beans and Hay, page 19.

DisasterWargamer Supporting Member of TMP29 Jul 2022 11:35 a.m. PST

One of the more interesting ones was "Fighting Joe" Wheeler


Went to West Point
Served in US Army
Resigned from US Army and Entered Confederate Service and Served as a General
Became a US Representative
Served in US Army as a General for Spanish American War and Philippine American War

Not aware of any totals who shifted after the war –

However during the war – "Galvanized" referred to those, usually POWs who switched sides – according to this wikipedia piece link

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP29 Jul 2022 12:11 p.m. PST

I doubt there are numbers to be had. The army was short-handed, many Confederates had nothing to go home to, and enlistments would have been under assumed names. It would be sort of like asking how many Luxembourgers enlisted in the post-1945 French Foreign Legion might be Germans some Allied government might have an official interest in--not a question anyone really wanted to bring up, let alone get an honest answer to. (I knew much more recent soldiers whose citizenship and immigration status was not enquired into very carefully.)

But I'd pay careful attention to John Ford on this one. He's following James Warner Bellah closely here, and Bellah was both a careful student of the period and the son of a "Frontier Army" officer. Bellah himself could not have known first hand, but he'd have known and talked to people who did.

Personal logo Mserafin Supporting Member of TMP29 Jul 2022 12:57 p.m. PST

Wasn't Joe Wheeler known for constantly referring to the enemy in the Spanish-American War as "Damned Yankees?"

Frederick Supporting Member of TMP29 Jul 2022 1:19 p.m. PST

Agree with Robert – the US Army was not exactly the most popular employer post war and a lot of Rebs had a lack of work

Personal logo Old Contemptible Supporting Member of TMP29 Jul 2022 1:39 p.m. PST

I always considered the ex-Confederates in those movies as a nod to Southern audiences and to increase ticket sales, in the South especially. It also represents the country coming back together. I doubt these movies would be made now. If they were they would be way different. I still like those movies even though the uniform accuracy is highly questionable.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP29 Jul 2022 3:00 p.m. PST

OC, movies are always different, and always reflect what the money people hope is popular taste. If you have any doubt--well, there are two versions of Persuasion available on DVD, and one right now on Netflix. Take a look some time.

In this case, Ford is taking virtually every character and backstory from Bellah's short stories, published in the Saturday Evening Post between 1946 and 1948. (You may, of course, argue that the Saturday Evening Post was leaning on authors to include ex-Confederates. Evidence would be helpful.) And the same stable--Bellah and Ford--would produce Sergeant Rutledge in 1961, which is a little harder to work into the thesis.

Interestingly, some of Bellah's work is starting to come out on kindle, and all the cavalry-related stories seem to take place in the same universe. The hero of Rear Guard remembers serving with Nathan Brittles ("She wore a Yellow Ribbon") and was present at the Thursday Massacre ("Fort Apache")--though presumably up on the bluff with Captain Kirby York, and not down in the valley with Thursday.

When I want uniform guides, I buy books. When I watch John Ford westerns, I have bigger fish to fry.

42flanker29 Jul 2022 3:17 p.m. PST

"though the uniform accuracy is highly questionable."

Well, if it's good enough for the 1st Cavalry Div….


Bunkermeister Supporting Member of TMP29 Jul 2022 3:28 p.m. PST

Confederate soldiers were fighting for their states and their homes. After the war fighting Indians they could be fighting for their states and their homes particularly in places like Arizona and Texas. After WWI and WWII many Germans enlisted in the US Army and the French Army, so enlisting to fight alongside a former enemy is not without a lot of precedent.

Mike Bunkermeister Creek
Bunker Talk blog

Personal logo Old Contemptible Supporting Member of TMP29 Jul 2022 6:27 p.m. PST

Well, if it's good enough for the 1st Cavalry Div….

But the 1st Cav. doesn't wear the historically correct uniform either. Those black hats are correct (they didn't wear those in the movie). In the movies the cavalry wore yellow neckerchiefs (which the 1st Cav. doesn't wear in the posted image.) The yellow neckerchiefs were added by John Ford because he liked the look. When I was a kid watching these movies I thought they were army issued.

Instead of the correct trousers, the 1st Cav. honor unit wears blue jeans. I knew some reenactors in the 1st Cav. that tried to get that changed. They took it to the Division Commander and were shown the door.

42flanker29 Jul 2022 10:35 p.m. PST

"But the 1st Cav. doesn't wear the historically correct uniform either."

That was kinda my point. And you didn't mention the yellow braces. In other more recent photographs the troop can be seen wearing yellow cravats with, moreover, the ye1low 1st Cavalry divisional flash imprinted. Embaras de bling

The hats are the right colour for the 1876 campaign hat but are modern 'Stetsons'- or at least that's how they are referred to, and look strangely un-military when combined with modern uniform, especially worn over camouflage combat pyjamas.
The uniforms designs in Fords'trilogy were based on Frederic Remington's studies of U.S. Cavalry in the field circa 1885-90, so at least were authentic if anachronistic. As you say, the 'look' of Ford's troopers with battered, sun-bleached hats, in shirt sleeves with canvas galluses worn over, and bandannas around the neck, soon came to be presented, smartened up, as a formal military uniform not unlike that of the Boy Scouts.

Overall, what started as a bit of helicopter pilots' bragadocio in 1965, has become a celebration of Hollywood costuming- As much 'F troop' as John Ford. It's as if the Royal Regiment of Scotland had a colour party robed in dung coloured filibegs with matted hair and their faces painted blue.

Mollinary30 Jul 2022 1:52 a.m. PST

Surely Mr Flanker, you cannot be suggesting that Braveheart contained historical inexactitudes? Shame on you, Sir!

42flanker30 Jul 2022 6:16 a.m. PST

I thought I might….

rmaker30 Jul 2022 7:53 a.m. PST

Interestingly, some of Bellah's work is starting to come out on kindle, and all the cavalry-related stories seem to take place in the same universe

A good place to find the Bellah stories is Bill Pronzini's Reel West series (4 volumes, I thin) which collect the stories various Western movies were based on.

donlowry30 Jul 2022 9:24 a.m. PST

John Ford's movies were based, IIRC, on stories by James Warner Bellah (sp?) serialized in the Saturday Evening Post, so I imagine it was he who included former Confederates in the stories.

(Sgt., former Confederate Captain, Tyree was played by Ben Johnson, one of Ford's favorite actors.)

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP30 Jul 2022 6:05 p.m. PST

Thank you, rmaker! Three volumes--all I can find--on order. Together with "Spanish Man's Grave" reprinted in a Jerry Pournelle anthology, that will give me four or possibly five of the dozen Bellah short stories in "Massacre" That one's been out of print 60 years, so it's slow going.

(And thank you, Disney, for the Mickey Mouse Copyright Act.)

donlowry31 Jul 2022 8:46 a.m. PST

Oops, just noticed that Robert P. had already mentioned the Bellah stories; guess I should read with both eyes open. Sorry 'bout that.

I have an old novel about the early days of the ACW by Bellah called "The Valiant Virginians," so I'm guessing that he had a Southern perspective/bias without any urging from the SE Post.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP31 Jul 2022 9:45 a.m. PST

If anyone finds a good biographical piece on Bellah, please let me know. Nothing I can find--old New England family, born in New York City, degrees from Columbia and Georgetown, working for the old New York Post and script-writing in Hollywood--says "southerner" to me. (He says in an introduction that his father was an army officer, but he would not have been the first fiction writer to somewhat improve his own biography--purely to make it more interesting to the reader, you understand.)
He's certainly an interesting character--WWI as a pilot with the RCAF, WWII in the CBI theater, rising from lieutenant to colonel, and his tombstone says Korea as well. (His autobiographical piece, "Irregular Gentleman" was published in 1948, so it's no help at all on the Korea bit.)

But this wanders far from those ex-Confederate cavalrymen. And I still don't know how to get beyond anecdotal evidence on that one. "Frequent enough to be unremarkable at the time" would be my guess.

4DJones03 Aug 2022 12:16 p.m. PST

According to Utley Major Forsyth's scouts ( Of Beecher island fame) were made up of 'veterans of the Union and Confederate army'.

Ammianus04 Aug 2022 10:47 a.m. PST

Galvanized Yankees by Dee Brown may be of interest..
probably a bit dated by now.

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