Tuesday, May 01, 2007


It is amazing that terms used in speaking change from year to year, let alone from a century and a half ago. The following terms were used by soldiers, and to some of us today, will seem quite funny. Terms are taken from The Encyclopedia of Civil War Usage, by Webb Garrison and Cheryl Garrison. The following are terms used by Union and Confederate soldiers:

Acknowledge the corn—confess to a hoax.

Action—same as battle.

Advertise—to make something public.

Advice—information that was gathered by scouts, spies, or cavalry reconnaissance.

Affair—a small engagement, such as a skirmish.

Aggregate—to gather scattered units into a formation, usually done in the heat of battle.

Ague—an illness marked by chills and fever.

Ambulance—a two or four wheeled wagon used to transport the wounded to the field hospital.

Amnesty—pardon for soldiers who were either deserters or otherwise convicted of a military offense. Offered to Confederates who took the Oath of Allegiance to the Union.

Amuse—tactic of keeping an enemy occupied without bringing on a general engagement.

Annoy—to harass the enemy.

Appreciate—to understand.

Ardent—an enthusiastic person.

Argee—bad liquor.

Army Grayback—lice.

Artificer—a skilled mechanic.

Avalanche—a derisive term for a two wheeled ambulance.

Awkward squad—new troops yet to see battle.

Baby walker—the first shot before an artillery bombardment. Usually referred to a ranging round.

Bait—feed a horse.

Bailed Hay—referred to a block of dried and compressed mixed vegetables issued to soldiers to liven up the diet.

Band Box Regiments—Union regiments that did a lot of drill, but didn’t see battle until late in the war. Its usual reference was to the “Heavy Artillery” regiments that were formed from the units that were stationed at the forts surrounding Washington. Most of them did not keep that reference for long.

Baptism of fire—the first time a soldier sees battle.

Bark Juice—hard liquor.

Barrack Hack—one who avoided drilling. Also referred to a prostitute.

Barrel Drill—punishment which consisted of standing on an open barrel holding a plaque announcing his offense.

Barrel Jacket of Shirt—punishment in which the soldier wore a barrel.

BC—stood for Brigade Commissary. Usually stamped on crates of hardtack.

Beat--a sentry’s post. Also referred to a shirker.

Beat up—to dislodge an enemy from a position.

Bee Gun—a hat with a conical top.

Beehive—a knapsack.


Belly Robber—an army cook.

Bermuda Bacon—this was meat purchased in the North, sent to Bermuda, then transferred to a Confederate blockade runner, and then on to a Confederate port.

Big ticket—a soldier’s honorable discharge.

Bird-cage—a gambling game where players bet on the result of a roll of three dice.

Birdie—a prisoner of war.

Bite the bullet—to do a distasteful task.

Blackberry Picker—a straggler.

Blackjack—a club weighted at one end. Also a drink made by mixing molasses and rum.

Blenker—to forage.

Blizzard—heavy musket fire.

Blueback—Confederate currency.

Bluebelly—a Union soldier.

Blue Mass—this was a poisonous mixture of mercury, chalk, licorice, and honey used by Civil War surgeons.

Bog-trotter—a soldier of Irish background.

Boiled Rye—a Confederate coffee substitute.

Bone Butter—a butter substitute commonly used in prisoner of war camps.

Bone Yard—the prison cemetery.

Borrowed—referred to theft, foraging, or pillaging.

Bought the Farm—died in battle.

Bowlegs—a cavalryman.

Boys of the sod—Irish immigrants.

Bread Bag—a rubberized haversack.

Brevet Horse—an Army mule.

Buck—punishment in which the offender was bent over a log and whipped.

Buck and Gag—punishment in which the offender was sat down with his knees to his chin. Then the hands were tied around his shins. Finally a gag was tied to his mouth.

Bullpen—an enclosed part of a stockade where prisoners were kept.

Bully—a term of affirmation.

Bully Soup—hot cereal made from corn meal and crushed hardtack.


Bummer—a forager. Made popular during Sherman’s March to the Sea.

Bummers Roost—any place safe from the heat of battle.

Busby—an elaborate bearskin headpiece.

Bushwhacker—Confederate guerillas.

Busthead—homemade (or campmade) liquor.

Butcher’s Bill—the causality list.

Buzzard—a straggler who was also a thief.

Cabbaging—to steal.

Camp Canard—gossip.

Camp Fever—Typhoid Fever.

Camp Followers—non-military personnel following an army in the field.

Canaan—Heaven, the Hereafter.

Candlestick—a bayonet.

Cap-a-pie—informal dress.

Cards—small loaves of cornbread that were the size of playing cards.

Carpet soldier—militia units that managed to avoid front line service.

Carte-de-visite—a small card with a picture.

Cashier—a dishonorable discharge.

Cattle—what Southern soldiers called their Northern counterparts.

Change one’s breath—to drink hard liquor.

Cheese Knife—an officer’s sword.

Chicken Guts—braiding on an officer’s uniform.

Chicken Heart Disease—battle fatigue.


Chit—paper currency issued within the army or even a separate unit.

Chuck-a-luck—a gambling game using dice.

Coffee Boiler—a straggler.

Company Bean Boiler—the cook.

Confederate Beef—mule meat.

Coosh—hardtack fried in bacon grease.

Corked in a bottle—a situation where movement was impossible.


Corn dodgers—cornbread shaped into patties.

Cracker outfits—sutlers.

Crooked Shoe—Federal Army footwear fitted to a person’s feet. Due to the need to mass produce shoes for the Union, footwear was not shaped to a person’s right or left foot.

Cross on Confederate pontoons—to wade across a stream.

Cush—a dish made of fried cornmeal with stewed beef.

Dance—the battle.

Dandyfunk—stew made of hardtack, molasses, and salt pork.

Dead Cart-an ambulance.

Dead-head—a coward.

Deadwood—a coward.

Death Bells—hardtack.

Desecrated Vegetables— what the block of dried and compressed mixed vegetables issued to soldiers to liven up the diet were called.

Desiccated Vegetables— the block of dried and compressed mixed vegetables


Doodle—what some Southerners called Union soldiers.

Doughboy—what cavalrymen called infantrymen.

Down the line—an area of a town where the brothels were.

Doxy—a mistress.

Draw over the left---to steal.

Drum out—a dishonorable discharge.

Duff—a dish of flour and molasses.

Eat the dishrag—eating the piece of bread that was used to clean the gravy off a plate.

Elephant—combat. A soldier who experienced combat for the first was said to have “seen the elephant.”
Embalmed beef—canned beef.

Essence of coffee—perhaps the first instant coffee.

Faith paper—paper currency.

Faro-a card game.

Fast little trick—prostitute.

Feather-bed fighter—a soldier who managed to get the cushy jobs and avoided combat.

Ferryboat—term for a pair of shoes that could be worn on either foot.

Fire and Fall Back—vomit.

Forage—horse food.

Forage, to—to gather food from the countryside.

Forty Dead Men—a soldiers basic load of 40 cartridges.

Forty-rod—very bad whisky. Said to be lethal at forty rods.

French Leave—unauthorized leave in which the soldier returns.

Fresh Fish—new recruits or newcomers to a prisoner of war camp.

Frumenty—a dish of wheat bran, milk, and sugar.

Furlough—legal leave of absence.


Galoot--a replacement soldier

Galvanized Confederate—a Union soldier who defects to the Confederacy.

Galvanized Yankees—a Confederate soldier who defects to the Union.

Give the vermin parole—to get rid of body lice without killing them.

Go in search of his rights—a soldier who flees the battlefield.

Going down the line—going to a brothel.

Gold Brick—a slovenly soldier.

Goober Grabber—a soldier of North Carolina or Georgia.

Government livery—a uniform.

Grayback—a Confederate soldier.

Green Apple Quickstep—Diarrhea.

Greenback—Federal currency.

Green Troops—new soldiers with little or no training.

Gump—a fool.

Hardtack—a basic army ration made of flour and water and baked into three inch squares.

Hireling—a Southern term for Union soldiers.

Hish and Hash—a dish made of what food was available.

Hog and hominy—a term for Southern food.

Hog drivers—Tennesseans.

Holy Joe—a chaplain.

Hooker—a prostitute. Not attributed to Union Major General Joseph Hooker, but to the red light district of New York City.

Hop, Skip, and Jump—a two wheeled ambulance.

Horizontal Refreshment—sex.

How come you so—a alcoholic beverage.

Hunt gold—to be in combat for the first time.

Iron Doughnut—iron rails heated and twisted, rendering them unusable.

Jeff Davis’ Neckties-- iron rails heated and twisted, rendering them unusable.

Josh—a Confederate soldier from Arkansas.

Junk—Beef preserved by heavy amounts of salt. Practically inedible.

Katydid—inexperienced soldiers.

Lay-outs—Southerners who hid out to escape conscription.

Lead mine—a dead or wounded soldier with multiple wounds.

Leg case—desertion.

Let her go, Gallagher!!—fire with everything you got.

Lincoln coffee—Northern coffee (the real stuff).

Lincoln hirelings—Southern term for Union soldiers.

Lincoln pie—hardtack.

Lobscouse—a dish made of hardtack, vegetables, and meat.

Lobster Backs—US Marines.

Long Home—grave.

Loose Bowels—surgeon.


McClellan pie—hardtack.

Meet the Elephant—to go into battle for the first time.


Mossyback—draft dodger.

Mud Heads—Mississippians.


Mud Sills—Confederate term for Union soldiers.

Mustered out-to be formally discharged, usually when a unit was too small to be combat effective and was disbanded. Also occurred when a soldier’s term of enlistment expired.
Nationals—Union soldiers.


Oh-be-joyful—an alcoholic beverage.

Old Bull—salted horse meat.

Oldest—term for veterans in a unit.

Old Regular—a soldier who was in the Regular Army prior to the Civil War.

Open the Ball—start the battle.

Oysters—nothing to do with seafood. This was made with cornmeal, eggs, and butter.

Paper Collar Soldiers—soldiers on garrison duty in safe areas.

Peas on a trencher—call for breakfast.

Penny Packet—small quantities.

Pigeon Roost—sentry box on a wall or fence.

Police—to clean a camp area.

Pop-skull—illegal whiskey.

Possum Beer—homebrewed beverage made from persimmons.

Pumpkin Rind—Union Lieutenant.

Quick step—a fast march or diarrhea.

Rack—punishment in which an offender is tied to a wagon wheel.

Rag out—formal dress.

Ramrod Bread—bread made by plastering cornmeal on a ramrod and holding it over a fire.


Razorback—a prisoner of war who was an informer.

Reb—Confederate soldier or civilian.

Rebel Conch—costal Floridian.

Rebel Rag—Confederate Flag.

Red-eye—bad whiskey.

Rodomontade—vain talk.

Robbers Row—where the sutlers set up their shops.

Rotgut—bad whiskey.

Sacred Dust—a corpse.

Salt—government rations.

Salt Horse—beef or port preserved by salting.

Salt Fish—veterans.

Sandlapper—South Carolinian.

Sauerkraut—German immigrant.


Scratch—test of character.

Scrip—money issued by sutlers for use at the issuers store.


Sea pie—has no seafood. It’s a mixture of meat and vegetables in a crust.

Secesh—Northern term for Southern soldiers and civilians.

Secession bread—bread made from rice flour.

See the elephant--to go into battle for the first time.

See the tiger-- to go into battle for the first time.

See Tick Coffee—a Confederate coffee substitute.

Shavetail—a Second Lieutenant.

Shebang—temporary hut of shelter.

Sheep Dip—bad whiskey.

Sheet Iron Crackers—hardtack.

Shellback—a veteran.

Shinplaster—paper currency.

Short-timer—a soldier whose term of enlistment was about to expire.

Sin away the day of grace—referred to Southerners in Federal occupied territory who still expressed loyalty to the Confederacy.


Skedaddler—soldier who flees the battlefield.

Skillygalee—a dish made by soaking hardtack in water and then frying it in bacon grease.

Skulker—soldier who made it a point to avoid combat every time.

Slow Bears—Union term for pigs.

Smell powder—to see action.

Snipe—to distract a person so that his food can be stolen.


Somebody’s darling—an unidentified corpse.

Spitfire—musket or rifle.

Spondulics—a quantity of money.

Spotted papers—playing cards.

Squirrel Hunters—term for volunteers from rural Ohio.

Stoten-bottle—a soldier who refuses to reenlist.

Stove rat—a prisoner of war who hogged the stove for heat during winter.

Straggler—a soldier who purposely wanders off from his unit in order to avoid combat.
Sutler—a civilian licensed to sell goods to troops in camp.

Swallow the yellow dog—when a Confederate takes the Federal oath of Allegiance.

Taking a twist of the tiger—playing a game of chance.

Tangle foot—an alcoholic beverage.

Tap-the stump of an amputated leg.

Tar Heel—North Carolinian.

Tennessee high step—diarrhea.

Thumb Hanging—punishment in which the offender is hung by his thumbs.

Ticket to Dixie—someone who was drafted into service.


Toad Sticker—bayonet.



Turkey driver—Federal Provost Marshall

Turnspit—useless person.


Used up—a unit that was depleted by combat, sickness, or desertion.

Veal—a soldier that has not seen battle.

Wagon Dog—a soldier who fakes illness in order to avoid combat.

War Horse—a veteran.

Web-foot—a soldier without shoes.

Web-footed cavalry—what the cavalry called infantry.

Wet goods—whisky.

White glove boys—what Eastern Federal soldiers were called by Western soldiers.

Wolfhounds—Confederate soldiers.


Yaller Dog—a coward.

Yankee—a Northern soldier or civilian. Also a Southern term for lying.

Yankee’s devils—Union artillery.

Yankee well—an escape tunnel.

Yellowback—novels sold be sutlers.

Yellow Belly—coward.

Yellow Hammer—Alabamian.

Yunnk—an unpopular individual.

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