Educator's Guide: Miscellaneous: Civil War Terms


abatis: trees felled with their tops facing in the direction of the enemy and the tips of the branches sharpened into spikes

abolitionist: person opposed to slavery and in favor of ending it

advance: to move forward

agriculture: act of cultivating the soil, fanning

ambulance: wagon or boxcar used to transport wounded or ill soldiers from the field

amenorrhea: abnorrnal suppression or absence of menstruation

ammunition: bullets, gunpowder, shot and shell used in firing weapons of war

amputation: surgical operation used to remove an arm, leg or other extremity

anesthesia: compound used to make patients unconscious before surgery

Army of the Tennessee: principle Federal force in the Western Theater of operations

Army of Trans-Mississippi: principle Confederate force in the Western Theater of operations

artifact: man-made object from a past time

artillery: cannon and mortars used in the Civil War to support the infantry and defend fixed positions


battery: number of similar items grouped as a unit; such as a battery of cannon

Battery DeGoyler: Union battery position of the 1 2th Michigan, named for the commanding officer who died in the siege of Vicksburg;

battle: an encounter of two armies

battlefield: place where a battle is fought; area of conflict

black powder: an explosive consisting of a compound of potassium nitrate, sulfur and charcoal.

blockade: practice of positioning naval ships in front of an enemy's harbors and river openings to prevent vessels loaded with commerce from entering and departing

bondage: slavery; a state of being bound by law

border states: the slave states located between the North and the South that stayed in the Union during the Civil War

brigade: an organized military unit that was generally composed of five regiments and led by a brigadier general


caisson: a large box used to hold ammunition; a horse-drawn vehicle, usually two wheeled, formerly used to carry two ammunition boxes

caliber: the diameter of the inside of a tube; the diameter of the bore of a gun; the diameter of a bullet or shell

camp: ground on which an army pitches its tents

campaign: connected series of military operations forming phase of a war

canister: a type of Civil War artillery ammunition that resembled a coffee can containing small, round, iron balls packed in sawdust and used for defending against infantry attack

cannon: artillery piece; big gun

casualty: military person lost through death, wounds, injury, sickness, capture, or missing in action

cavalry: army component mounted on horseback used mostly for scouting, raids and protecting the flanks of the army

chevaux de frise a fence of stakes or sharpened sticks forming a defense barrier or fortification

comrade: fellow soldier

Confederacy: the union of the Southern states that had seceded

Confederate: an adherent of the Confederate States of America or its cause; Southerner; also called a rebel or Johnny Reb

Confederate Flag: the Confederate flag had 3 versions, the first flag was the "Stars and Bar", second, "Stainless Banner and the third "National Flag", however many people assume "Beauregard's Battle Flag" was the national flag

Confederate States of America: the country formed by the states that seceded from the United States of America

Congressional Medal of Honor: highest award for acts of bravery given by the United States

conscription: law which order men to military service; today called the draft

constitution: written plan of government

contraband: black slave who, during the Civil War, escaped to or was brought within the Union line

convalescent: recovering injured or ill person

Copperhead: Northern Democrat who opposed the Union's war policy and favored a negotiated peace

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

court martial: to subject to a military trial with a court consisting of a board of commissioned officers

counterattack: attack made to counter (off-set) an attack by the enemy

countermine: tunnel for intercepting an enemy mine

crater: large hole, natural or man made. Natural causes include volcano or meteorite, man-made causes include artillery shells or explosives

Crater, Battle of the: 20 hour battle which occurred at Third Louisiana Redan on June 25th. The Union exploded black powder beneath the Confederate line of defense at the Third Louisiana Redan

cross fire: firing from two or more points so that the lines of fire cross

culture: the way of life of a group of people, including their customs, traditions, and values


Davis, Jefferson: president of the Confederate States of America

defensive war: a war in which an army fights to defend its land or territory

depot: a place to store military supplies

desertion: the act of a soldier leaving military service without the legal authority to do so

detonate: to set off an explosion

digitalis: a drug prepared from the seeds and dried leaves of the genus Digitalis, which includes foxgloves, used as a cardiac stimulant

division: military unit composed of three or four brigades led by a major general

domino: rectangular block whose face is divided into two equal parts that are black or blank marked with one to six dots and used in a game

dysentery: an infection of the lower intestinal tract producing pain, fever, and severe diarrhea, often with the passage of blood and mucus; the number one killer in the Civil War


earthworks: earthworks with wooden frameworks and dirt in front; breastworks

Emancipation Proclamation: proclamation that was signed and issued by President Lincoln on September 22, 1862, which freed the slaves in the Confederacy effective January 1, 1863

embalm: to protect a corpse from decay

engineer corps: military organization involved in skillfully laying out or constructing a military operation

enlistment: the state of being enrolled in the military


Federal: supporter of the United States Government in the Civil War; soldier in the Federal (Union) army; Northerner also called Billy Yank

flank: the end of a battle line

folk song: a song of the common people of a country or region that reflects their life style

forceps: medical instrument used in delicate operations for grasping, holding firmly, or exerting traction

fort: strong or fortified place for protection against the enemy. Fort Hill, Fort Garrott and South Fort at Vicksburg

fortification: works erected to defend a place

foundry: place where iron and steel are made into usable items

free state: a state that did not allow slavery

frontal assault: a direct attack on the enemy's front

fugitive slave: slave who runs away from his master

Fugitive Slave Act: a strong fugitive slave law authorizing the return of a fugitive slave to his master and five years imprisonment to anyone who helped a suspected fugitive

furlough: to grant a leave of absence


gabion: cylindrical basket open at both ends and filled with dirt used to stabilize earthworks

Grant, Ulysses S.: general in command of the Army of the Tennessee during the Vicksburg Campaign, later commander of all the armies of the United States

grapeshot: a cluster consisting of nine or more small balls put together by means of cast-iron circular plates at top and bottom with two rings and a central connecting rod; used in a cannon to disrupt troop movement

Gunner's Quadrant: instrument used to measure the angle of elevation of long heavy guns and mortars

gunboat: a small armed vessel


Habeas Corpus: the right of a citizen to obtain a writ of habeas corpus as a protection against illegal imprisonment

hardtack: hard square cracker made of flour, water and salt; one of the major staples for both Northern and Southern soldiers

headquarters: place from which a military commander issues orders and performs the duties of command

housewife: a small sewing kit, usually handmade, carried by soldiers and sailors during the Civil War


infantry: foot soldiers; basic unit of a Civil War army

inquiry: investigation

ironclad: a 19th century warship having sides armored with metal plates

invader: one that enters in a hostile manner


kept: a military cap having a close-fitting band, a round top sloping toward the front, and a visor


lanyard: a strong cord with a hook at one end used to fire a cannon

leukorrhea: A vaginal discharge containing mucus and pus cells

limber: a large ammunition box; formerly a two wheeled horse drawn vehicle that tow a cannon a contained one ammunition box

Lincoln, Abraham: 16th President of the United States assassinated April 14, 1865, shortly into his second term

litter: stretcher used to carry a sick or injured person

lyrics: words to a tune


magazine: a place to store ammunition

manpower: strength expressed in terms of available persons to perform a task

Mason and Dixon Line: line used to determine the boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland; traditionally, seen as the boundary line between North and South

medicinal: for medical purposes

mess: a group of men, usually in the military who regularly eat meals together

mine: during the Civil War it generally referred to a system of tunneling under the enemy earthworks and detonating explosives to create a crater or opening where troops could charge the enemy; encased explosive designed to destroy the enemy and/or enemy property

minie ball: large, elongated bullet made of soft lead that was fired from Civil War

Montgomery: capital city of the state of Alabama; first capital of the Confederate States of America

morphine: very powerful painkilling drug

mortally wounded: wounded to extent that death follows

mortar: muzzle-loading cannon used to fire projectiles at high angles


North, the: those states which opposed the Confederate State of America during the Civil War; the Union; Federal troops; Northerners

offensive: making the attack


parapet: an earthen or stone embankment protecting soldiers from enemy fire

parole: the promise of a prisoner of war upon his faith and honor to fulfill stated conditions in consideration of special privileges, usually release from captivity.

pea bread: peas ground into a powder, mixed with water and salt to form a bread. Eaten by Confederate troops at Vicksburg

Pemberton, John Clifford: general in command of the Confederate forces during the Siege of Vicksburg

picket: person placed on guard duty at the front lines

plantation: large farm raising one main crop

political map: map that shows such things as national and state boundaries and the names and locations of towns and cities

pontoon bridge: bridge whose deck is supported by flat bottomed boats

prejudice: an unwarranted bias

prisoner of war: soldier captured by the enemy and placed in an enemy camp

Quartermaster: a commissioned officer of the Quartermaster Corps whose duty is to provide clothing and subsistence for a body of troops


railroad: road having a line of rails fixed to wooden ties to provide a track for cars drawn by locomotives

Railroad Redoubt: four sided earthwork used to defend the rail line into Vicksburg

ration: the food allowance of one soldier4

rebel: one who fights authority; Southerner; Confederate; Johnny Reb

rebellion: armed resistance to the authority of an established government

recruiter: person who gets new soldiers for an army by encouraging men to enlist

redan: a three-sided fortification forming a salient angle

redoubt: a four-sided fortification rectangular or square used to defend a road, rail line, hill or pass

regiment: military unit composed of 10 companies and led by a colonel

reinforce: to strengthen by adding something new

reinforcement: an additional supply of soldiers

repel: to drive back; to fight against

replica: a close reproduction of the original

rheumatism: any of several pathological conditions of the muscles, tendons, joints, bones, or nerves, characterized by discomfort and disability

Richmond: capital city of the state of Virginia; second capital of the Confederate States of America

rifled musket: term adopted in 1855 to designate those shoulder arms that retained the outside dimensions of the old muskets but had rifled barrels


salient: an outwardly projecting part of a fortification or defensive line

sanitation: the promotion of hygiene and prevention of disease achieved through the maintenance of clean conditions

sap: a trench or tunnel dug to a point within an enemy position; to undermine the foundation of a fortification

sap roller: cylindrical object of basketwork rolled ahead of men constructing a sap (trench) toward the enemy to provide cover from the enemy's small-arms fire

scalpel: small, sharp knife used by surgeons to cut through skin and other soft tissue

scorbutus (scurvy): a disease characterized by spongy gums, loosening of the teeth and a tendency to bleed into the skin and mucous membranes and caused by a dietary deficiency of ascorbic acid-vitamin C

secede: to withdraw from; pull-out

segregation: the separation of groups of people based on race

shell: a projectile or piece of ammunition having a hollow tube or depression containing explosives used to propel the projectile

shot: a round projectile or piece of ammunition

shrapnel: an artillery shell containing metal balls fused to explode in the air above the enemy troops; shell fragments from an exploding shell

siege: military blockade of a town or fortified place to force its surrender by cutting communications and supply lines; military operations in which the enemy surrounds pins down an army

signal flag: flag made of several colors to contrast with the landscape and used to send messages

slave: person who is owned by another person

slave state: a state where slavery was permitted

slavery: the state of a person who has been purchased by another: bondage

smoothbore: a cannon or gun having no rifling; having a smooth tube

soldier: someone who is engaged in military service

South, the: those states which lie south of the Mason-Dixon Line; the Confederate States of America; the Confederacy; the Southerners; Confederate troops

spiritual: a religious song that was developed primarily by blacks in the South

spoil: property taken form the enemy in war; loot

spathe: a leaflike organ that encloses or spreads from the base of the spadix of certain plants, such as jack-in-the pulpit or the calla

sponge: pad used in surgery and medicine; artillery accessory used to wet cannon tube after firing

stalemate: a standoff; a deadlock; a fight without a winner

states, rights: the political doctrine that all powers not given to the central government by the Constitution belonged to the states themselves

stockade: a line of stout posts or timbers set firmly in the earth in contact with each other to form a barrier or defense fortification

strategy: the science or art of military command as applied to the overall planning and conducting of large-scale operations

styptic: contracting the tissues or blood vessels

supply center: place which supplies needed goods to other places

surrender: to give up control of

sutler: private businessman who followed the army and sold goods to the soldiers

suture: silk thread stitch used to sew up wounds

sympathizer: someone who tends to favor a particular cause

tactics:The technique or science of securing the objectives designated by strategy; the art of deploying and directing troops, ships in an effective manner against the enemy

telegraph: a message sent electrically by wire

theater: large area where military campaigns took place

thumbstall: leather thumb covering worn by a cannoneer as a vent stop

torpedo: a small explosive consisting of a container, gunpowder and firing mechanism, denotation could be caused by contact, pressure, friction primer or electrically; mine

tow-hook: hook used to remove the cotton waste in which the rounds of artillery ammunition were packed

trench: deep ditch where troops sought protection during battle; a long narrow excavation used for military defense and often having the excavated dirt piled up in front of it as an earthwork

troops: soldiers

tunnel: horizontal passage through or under an obstruction

Typhoid fever: an acute, highly infectious disease caused by the typhoid bacillus,

Salmonella typhosatransmitted by contaminated food or water and characterized by red rashes, high fever, bronchitis and intestinal hemorrhaging


Union: those states remaining loyal to the United States of America; the North; Federal; Northern

United States Colored Troops: black soldiers who fought in the Union Army

United States Sanitary Commission: relief organization whose primary goal was to supply the material wants of the soldier


volunteer: person who offers himself for service without being forced to do so


wad: separated the powder from the shot, made of loose pieces of cordage

weapon: an instrument used for fighting

worm: an artillery accessory used to used to extract the wad and cartridge from the bore if necessary


Yankee: a soldier who fought with the Union; a Federal; Billy Yank; Blue jacket

Last updated: April 14, 2015

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