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Civil War Terminology

Abatis One of the oldest forms of defense. Usually, fell trees, sharpened at one end and facing towards the enemies front.
Adjutant A staff officer who transmits orders, details, and mounts guards, etc. The Adjutant-General is the principal staff officer of the army; he supervises the camp, and is the organ of the general commanding.
Aide-de-Camp Attendant of a general officer who receives and bears orders, etc.
Artillary Large guns such as mortars and cannons; the word "artillery" is also the name of the units armed with these guns.
Assembly Signal to form by company.
Barbette A raised wooden platform, normally found in permanent fortifications, that allowed an artillery piece to be fired over a wall without exposing its gun crew. Mound or earthen dirt often took its place.
Barricade To block up, obstruct.
Bastion A work at one of the angles of a fortification, consisting of two faces and two flanks.
Battalion Operational unit composed of two or more companies or (in the case of of an artillery battalion) batteries.
Battery The basic unit of organization in the artillery, typically consisting of four or six guns and the accompanying personnel and materiel.
Bayonet A knife fixed to the front of a musket or rifle.
Berm A narrow space between parapet and ditch.
Bivouac A temporary encampment without the shelter of tents.
Blockade The closing of an area to keep people and/or supplies from going in and out.
Bounties A monetary sum of money, sometimes $500 for short term enlistment and $1500 for a three year enlistment to augment the armies of both the North and South.
Breastworks Chest-high fortifications made of dirt and wood.
Brevet rank Brevet Rank was different from a commission, officers were often awarded a higher rank due to meritorious service in combat or to allow them to serve on staff positions. The rank also allowed volunteers to be promoted.
Brigade In the Civil War, an operational unit consisting of two or more regiments. Union brigades average about 2,000 men and Confederate brigades averaged about 1,850 men.
Cadence Uniform time and step in marching.
Caisson The ammunition wagon accompanying a cannon.
Calibre Diameter of the bore of a piece.
Canister shot A type of artillery shell designed to explode upon firing, spraying out the lead or iron shot that was packed within the canister. It was a cruelly effective antipersonnel weapon, generally used at close range.
Cantonments Soldier's quarters in towns and villages.
Capitulate To surrender on conditions.
Cascabel The large round knob found near the breech of a cannon.
Cavalry Sword-carrying troops who rode horses into battle.
Colors The flag of a country or of a military unit.
Color-bearer The soldier assigned to carry a unit's flag.
Company The basic operational unit in the Civil War-era army. In the Union army it consisted of 30 to 60 officers and men, including one captain, one first lieutenant, one second lieutenant, four sargents, eight corporals, two musicians, and one wagoner. The remaining men were privates.
Convoy A detached guard to accompany supplies.
Corps In the Civil War, an operational unit consisting of two or more divisions and commanded by a major general.
Deploy To spread troops out to form a battle line.
Division In the Civil War, an operational unit consisting of two or more brigades and consisting of, on average, 6,200 officers and men, in the Union army, and 8,700 officers and men in the Confederate army.
Draft To draw forth an army from the population of people where you live.
Dragoons Cavalry who sometimes serve on foot.
Echelon An arrangement of troops, by which front and flanks are alike protected.
Emancipate To free from bondage or involuntary servitude.
Embrasure An opening in a wall or defense, through which to fire guns.
Engagement Term used to employ combat of different scales: a full scale battle or limited action in advance of a full scale battle. In descending order: battle, engagement, skirmish, action and affairs.
Enlist To sign up for service.
Escalade An asault with scaling ladders.
Field Officers Colonel, Lieutenant-Colonel, and Major
File A line of men one behind the other.
Flanks The left or right side of an army's line; a "flankattack" is a side attack; "to flank" an enemy is to get around or in back of that enemy.
Forage Oats, hay, and straw for the horses.
Foraging Civil war term meaning to "live off the land."
Fuse The means by which a shell is exploded.
Furlough Any leave granted to a soldier by his superior. A soldier on furlough left his arms and accoutrements behind. He carried furlough papers detailing his leave dates, assignment and return to duty date.
General Officers All above the rank of Colonel.
Grape/grapeshot Cast-iron pellets packed together for cannon shot.
Grenade A shell thrown from the hand.
Guidons Small cavalry and light artillery flags.
Gunpowder Composition of 76 parts saltpeter, 14 charcoal, and 10 sulphur.
Hartack A hard biscuit made of flour, salt, and water.
Haversack A cotton or linen bag for a soldier's rations.
Holsters Pistol cases on cavalry saddles.
Howitzer A relatively shorter-barreled cannon with a chamber at the base of the bore, designed to take a smaller charge. Its range is shorter than that of a gun, and the trajectory of the projectile shows more arc.
Infantry Soldiers who fought on foot, equipped with small arms.
Interval Distance between platoons, companies, regiments, etc.
Knapsack Foot soldier's traveling bag, strapped onto his back to carry his clothing and necessities.
Light infantry Infantry scattered as skirmishers.
Limber A two-wheeled cart, bearing an ammunition chest, used for drawing a gun carriage, caisson, wagon, or forge
Line officers Military field commanders who execute the orders of the overall commander in charge.
Links Thongs of leather to enchain cavalry horse
Magazine Chamber for arms, ammunitions, provision, etc.
Mine A passage dug under military works and stocked with powder to blow them up.
Minie ball A cone-shaped lead bullet designed for use in the rifle-barreled musket.
Mortar A short chambered gun with a large bore for throwing shells, etc. into fortifications.
Muster Parade of troops for inspection
Noncombatants The Civil War term for sugeons, nurses, chaplains, sutlers and citizens travelling with the armies.
Orderly A soldier who carried orders for officers.
Ordnance Weapons and related supplies; ordnance is also the name of the branch of the army responsible for weapons and related supplies.
Outpost A body of troops posted beyond the regular.
Outworks Works outside the regular fortifications.
Paixhan A large howitzer.
Parapet A barrier of earth to intercept the fire of an enemy.
Park A number of cannon in close order.
Parley A conference
Parole Early in the war, both sides of the conflict could not effectively handle the massive number of prisoners. They agreed to let the prisoners take an oath not to fight anymore and were released to their prospective commands.
Patrol Small guard under a non-commissioned officer, whose duty it is to preserve order in the encampment.
Picket During the Civil War, a synonym for a guard or sentry.
Pontoons Small boats to aid in the formation of bridges.
Provost-Marshall Army-sheriff
Quartermaster Officer providing quarters and clothing.
Rank A line of men side by side. (Rank and file includes privates and non-commissioned officers)
Ration A soldiers daily allowance of food.
Reconnoiter To survey or examine.
Redoubt Works outside of the main protected area which supported cannon and infantry; a small fortification.
Regiment In the Civil War, infantry regiments were units consisiting of ten companies, and cavalry (as well as heavy atillery regiments retrained as infantry) had 12 companies.
Reserve Select body of troops retained in the rear.
Reveille A morning bugle or drum call that let soldiers know it was time to wake up.
Ricochet Rebounding of shot from the ground at a very obtuse angle.
Rifle Any firearm with a curved groove in the barrel.
Rifle pit A semi-shallow pit, built from earth which sheltered the common soldier against attack.
Roster List of officers and men, by which to regulate their duties.
Round A general discharge of cannon and musketry.
Sharpshooter An especially skilled rifleman.
Shells Hollow balls filled with explosive material which are fired by a fuse.
Shot Solid iron balls shot from a cannon.
Siege To surround a city or enemy army, cutting off supplies, in order to force surrender.
Skirmish A loose, desultory kind of engagement between small detachments.
Squadron Two troops of cavalry
Staff Officers attached to headquarters.
Supply line The route along which supplies and reinforcements come to the army, usually a road or a railroad.
Surgeon Army doctor
Sutler A peddler who followed the armies to sell food and supplies to the soldiers.
Tactics Knowledge of the order, disposition, and formation of troops.
Wings Right and left divisions of an army.
Zouaves Civil war units known for their colorful uniforms and bravery, first organized in Chicago by Elmer E. Ellsworth.


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