Civil War Glossary

Civil War Glossary & SlangTerms Borrowed from Antietam National Battlefield Park
ACTIVITY: Students are to write a letter, containing at least three paragraphs of five to seven sentences per paragraph imaging themselves to be a Civil War soldier who is at Appomattox Court House on April 9th, 1865. They are writing a letter home describing what their life is like using at least five of the terms defined below.
Abolitionist: Someone who believed that slavery should be abolished.
Artillery: Division of the army that handled cannon and other large weapons.
Bombproof: An underground shelter.
Bread Basket: Stomach.
Bummer: A loafer, forager, or someone safely in the rear during a battle.
Bummer’s Cap: Regulation fatigue or forage cap.
Casualty: A soldier injured, killed, captured, or missing in action.
Cavalry: Soldiers trained to fight on horseback.Confederate: The government established by the southern states after they seceded from the Union in 1860 and 1861, called the Confederate States of America.
Dragoons: Heavily armed subdivision of the cavalry.
Duds: Clothing.
Federal: Having to do with the northern United States and those loyal to the Union during the Civil War; also a member of the Union army.
Fit as a Fiddle: In good shape; healthy, feeling good.
Fresh Fish: New recruits.
Front: The area where the armies are fighting.Goobers: Peanuts.
Grab a Root: Have dinner with a potato.
Graybacks: Southern soldiers.
Hayfoot/Strawfoot: Command used to teach new soldiers the difference between left (hayfoot) and right (strawfoot).
Here’s Your Mule: A term the infantry used to insult cavalry.
Hornets: Bullets.
Hospital Rat: Person who fakes illness.
Housewife: Sewing kit.
Infantry: Soldiers trained to fight on foot.
Jawings: Talking.
Opening the Ball: Beginning of a battle.
Picket Line: The line between Union and Confederate soldiers on the battlefield.
Picket: A guard or a soldier on guard duty.
Possum: Buddy, friend.
Sawbones: Surgeon.
Siege Fighting: Long battles where troops are in trenches or fortifications, for several days to several months, fighting only sporadically.
Snug as a Bug: Very comfortable or cozy.
Sutler: Army camp follower who sold provisions to the soldiers.
Top Rail: First class, the best.Union: The United States of America, especially the northern states during the American Civil War.
Vittles: Food or rations.
Web Feet: A term the cavalry had for the infantry.
Wig-Wag: A letter-number code represented by certain positions and movements of a signal flag.
Signal Flag: Flag used to communicate on the battlefield.
Zouave: An Algerian word for soldiers known for their fierce fighting style, flashy uniforms, and incredible bravery. Units devoted to the Zouave style fought in the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War.
Zuzu: Slang term for Zouaves.

Last updated: June 7, 2022

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