Chronicles of the American Civil War - Words and Images of the War

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Civil War Era Words and Their Meanings

adjutant general: the chief administrative officer to a military general. Wikipedia

aid-de-camp: a member of the personal staff of a general officer, acting as his confidential assistant. National Park Service - Presidio of San Francisco

alacrity: liveliness and eagerness; "he accepted with alacrity"; "the smartness of the pace soon exhausted him" WordNet Search - 3.0

battery: In military science, a battery is a group of artillery or cannon, so grouped in order to facilitate battlefield communication and the organization of barrages. Wikipedia

brigade: An organization of infantry regiments that was the basic fighting unit during the Civil War. It usually numbered approximately 2000 men. Early in the war, brigades existed with only two regiments. As the war dragged on and regiments shrank in size from losses due to battle or disease, the number of regiments in a brigade increased to keep the number of men about the same. Illinois in the Civil War

caisson: a two-wheeled military vehicle carrying artillery ammunition; a chest to hold ammunition WordNet Search - 3.0

celerity: a rate that is rapid  WordNet Search - 3.0

contravallation: Contravallation is a standard military tactic of siege used in ancient and modern warfare. It is the process of the attacking army building a line of fortifications around the besieged city facing away from the city (to protect themselves from attacks by allies of the city's defenders and to enhance the blockade of the city) and also the resulting fortifications (known as 'lines of contravallation'). Wikipedia

corps: large military unit composed of three divisions led by a lieutenant general (Confederacy) or a major general (Union) 43rd Pennsylvania

division: A division is a large military unit or formation usually consisting of around ten to fifteen thousand soldiers. In most armies a division is composed of several regiments or brigades, and in turn several divisions make up a corps. Wikipedia

dragoon: Col. Albert Gallatin Brackett, writing during the Civil War, defined a dragoon in American practice as a sort of hybrid soldier trained to fight both on horseback and on foot. Until 1846 all Regular Army mounted regiments were termed dragoons, there being the 1st and 2d Dragoon Regiments. Congress then created a "Regiment of Mounted Riflemen," and in 1854 added the 1st and 2d Cavalry Regiments. In August 1861 Congress redesignated all five regiments as cavalry National Park Service - Presidio of San Francisco

eclat: acclaim:

  • enthusiastic approval; "the book met with modest acclaim"; "he acknowledged the plaudits of the crowd"; "they gave him more eclat than he really deserved";
  • pomp: ceremonial elegance and splendor; "entered with much eclat in a coach drawn by eight white horses";
  • brilliant or conspicuous success or effect; "the eclat of a great achievement" WordNet Search - 3.0

enfilade: gunfire directed along the length rather than the breadth of a formation; rake or be in a position to rake with gunfire in a lengthwise direction WordNet Search - 3.0

exigency: emergency: a sudden unforeseen crisis (usually involving danger) that requires immediate action. WordNet Search - 3.0

fatuity: absurdity: a ludicrous folly; "the crowd laughed at the absurdity of the clown's behavior" WordNet Search - 3.0; Used here in the older sense meaning imbecility, dementia. Archaic and Obsolete Terms

flank: the side of military or naval formation; "they attacked the enemy's right flank" WordNet Search - 3.0

garrison: a fortified military post where troops are stationed; the troops who maintain and guard a fortified place; [verb] station (troops) in a fort or garrison WordNet Search - 3.0

instant: in or of the present month; "your letter of the 10th inst" WordNet Search - 3.0

lunette: A 2 or 3 sided field fort, its rear open to interior lines, was called a lunette. Lunettes were often named in honor of battery commanders or commanding brigadier generals.

picket: An advance outpost or guard for a large force was called a picket. Ordered to form a scattered line far in advance of the main army's encampment, but within supporting distance, a picket guard was made up of a lieutenant, 2 sergeants, 4 corporals, and 40 privates from each regiment. Picket duty constituted the most hazardous work of infantrymen in the field. Being the first to feel any major enemy movement, they were also the first liable to be killed, wounded, or captured. And he most likely targets of snipers. Picket duty, by regulation, was rotated regularly in a regiment. Definitions of Civil War Terms

prostration: extreme exhaustion. eHistory at Ohio State University

qui vive - condition of heightened watchfulness or preparation for action. WordNet Search - 3.0

redoubt: an outlying fortification or a small temporary fort that might have been a detached post or a strong position within a larger fort. It might have had the characteristics of a fort, parapet, ditch, etc. Often hastily constructed. National Park Service - Presidio of San Francisco

retrograde: moving or directed or tending in a backward direction or contrary to a previous direction ( as in retrograde movement) WordNet Search - 3.0

sanguine: confidently optimistic and cheerful; a blood-red color; inclined to a healthy reddish color often associated with outdoor life WordNet Search - 3.0

sagacity: the mental ability to understand and discriminate between relations; judiciousness: the trait of forming opinions by distinguishing and evaluating. WordNet Search - 3.0

skedaddle: run away, as if in a panic; a hasty flight WordNet Search - 3.0

taw: a large marble used for shooting in the game of marbles, WordNet Search - 3.0  (I have come across the term long taw a number of times in various 19th century sources and in the military context used, along with the marbles definition, appears to mean long shot or long range.  There is a form of marbles game called Long Taw which involves shooting marbles at distances of several feet [reference: Every boy's book: a complete encyclopędia of sports and amusements, ed. by E. Routledge, pub. 1881]

ultimo: in or of the month preceding the present one; "your letter received on the 29th ult" WordNet Search - 3.0

vedette, vidette: 1. forward scout - a mounted soldier posted forward of a larger force to serve as a scout 2. small fast scouting boat - a small fast boat posted forward of a larger seaborne force to serve as a scout  from Encarta Dictionary: English (North American)


While this section of the site is primarily intended for Civil War related terminology, many of the flowery writings of the time use words that are in  common used today and I will be including some of those words in this work.  Definitions are added as I come across words in the material I am currently working with.

Newest Material

July 17, 2007 -  Added A Federal Railroad Adventure - "Andrews Raiders"
May 10 - Added new page Civil War Era Definitions with definitions to be added as I come across them
May 9 - Added article: Our Captured Correspndent
May 9 - Added page for Prisons and Prisoners and a page for Libby Prison
May 8 - Loss of Sultana, article and biographical sketches
May  - Images of Sultana
May 7, 2007 - Steamboat Sultana pages created