Civil War Vocabulary



artillery -- cannon and other large weapons

bayonet -- knife-like weapon attached to the front end of a musket or rifle

bedroll -- blankets rolled and carried by soldiers, containing personal belongings

blue coats -- Union soldiers

bummer -- soldier who would take needed items from farmers and townspeople

bushwhackers -- bands of runaway soldiers from both sides of the war who robbed citizens and looted small towns

Camp Nelson -- Union military camp near Nicholasville that became a large refugee center for the families of newly freed African-American Union soldiers

canteen -- tin or wood container on a strap, used to carry liquid

cap -- a small device used to explode powder in a musket barrel

cap box -- a small leather box attached to the belt to hold caps used to fire muskets

cartridge -- paper tube which held a bullet and gunpowder

cartridge box -- box made of leather used to hold cartridges

cavalry -- group of men fighting from horseback

Confederacy -- the group of 11 Southern states that separated themselves from the United States

corps badge -- An army was divided into several units called corps. Each Union soldier wore a badge to show which corps he belonged to.

emancipation -- the act of setting someone free. When Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, slaves in the Confederate states became legally free.

foraging -- roving the countryside in search of food, which was sometimes taken from farmers

gray coats -- Confederate soldiers. Many soldiers could not afford the military-issued gray uniforms and made their own uniforms using natural dyes. Their uniforms were more of a brownish-yellow or "butternut" color.

guerrillas -- small units of Confederate soldiers who went behind the Union lines and destroyed railroads, supply depots, and county courthouses

hardtack -- a biscuit made of flour, salt, and water that was very hard

haversack -- a small canvas sack used by soldiers to carry their food

Home Guard -- a military police force formed by local citizens to protect themselves during the war. The Home Guard was loyal to the Union.

housewife -- a small sewing kit

infantry -- group of men fighting on foot

jacket -- four-button woolen or cotton coat worn by Civil War soldiers

kepi -- a cap or hat, part of the uniform of the Civil War soldier

knapsack -- a canvas container strapped to a soldier's back, carrying his personal belongings

Missionary Society -- a church-sponsored organization that provided aid at the refugee camps where families of African-American soldiers stayed

neutrality -- Not taking a side on an issue. Kentucky voted to stay neutral during the Civil War.

oath of allegiance -- a promise to be loyal to the United States that captured Confederate soldiers and Confederate sympathizers were forced to take to avoid being put in prison

pickets -- guards who stood on the outskirts of a military camp

plantation -- a large farm on which cotton, tobacco, or sugarcane is grown

Rebels -- Confederate soldiers and sympathizers

rebellion -- when a group refuses to submit to the authority of the larger group and starts a fight

rifled-musket -- a muzzle-loading gun, fired with cartridge and cap

secession -- when a group refuses to be a part of the larger group and instead forms its own group. Right before the Civil War, many Southern states seceded from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America.

Secesh -- Confederate soldiers and sympathizers

shoes -- made of leather; a necessity that was often scarce in the South

slave trade -- the business of buying and selling slaves. Selling slaves to the Southern states was a profitable business for many Kentuckians.

slavery -- the system of one person "owning" another

slouch hat -- wide-brimmed hat, sometimes worn instead of a kepi

suspenders -- strips of cloth or leather used to hold up pants

tin cup -- a cup used to hold water and cook with

Union – The United States; the Northern states during the American Civil War

CDV-- carte-de-visite a form of photographic calling card, invented by French painter and photographer Adolphe Disdéri in 1854

Ambrotype-- was nothing more than a glass negative backed with black material, which enabled it to appear as a positive image. Patented in 1854.




chief cook and bottle washer -- person capable of doing many things

sheet-iron crackers -- hardtack

sardine box -- cap box

bread basket -- stomach

greenbacks -- money

graybacks -- Southern soldiers; lice

Arkansas toothpick -- large knife

pepperbox -- pistol

Zu-Zu -- Zuoave soldier

fit to be tied -- angry

has horse sense -- is smart or on the ball

top rail #1 -- first class

hunkey dorey -- great!

greenhorn, bugger, skunk -- officer

snug as a bug -- comfortable, cozy

sawbones -- surgeon

skedaddle -- run, scatter

hornets -- bullets

bully -- hurrah! yeah!

possum -- a buddy or pal

blowhard -- big shot

fit as a fiddle -- in good shape, healthy

uppity -- conceited

scarce as hen's teeth -- rare

grab a root -- have dinner; eat a potato

tight, wallpapered -- drunk

bark juice, tar water -- liquor

nokum stiff, joy juice -- liquor

hard case -- tough person

bluff -- cheater

jailbird -- criminal

hard knocks -- beaten up

been through the mill -- done a lot

quick-step -- diarrhea

played out -- worn out

toeing the mark -- doing the job

Jonah -- bad luck

goobers -- peanuts

Sunday soldiers, kid glove boys, parlor soldiers -- insulting words for soldiers

fresh fish -- raw recruits

whipped -- beaten