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DEFINITIONS
(OF WORDS BEGINNING WITH)
LETTERS O THRU Z

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Revised August 23, 2012







   

O


 

Oblique - Crossing the battlefield in a diagonal line.

 

Ordnance Rifle (3-Inch)

According to the U.S. Army, the Three-Inch Ordnance Rifle:

    * Fires 10-lb. projectiles (conical bolt, case, shell, canister).
    * Has a bore diameter of 3 inches.
    * Has a tube weight of 820 pounds, and is made of wrought iron.
    * Has a range of 1,830 yards at 5 degrees elevation.
    * Has a muzzle velocity of 1,215 feet per second.
    * Was used for Infantry support in open areas, and as a counterbattery.



 

Outflank - To get around the flank (side) of an opposing force.

 

Overtaker - See Jerusalem Overtaker, above.



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P


 

Parapet - A protective wall of logs, sandbags, or gabions, four or five feet high having a shallow ditch behind it and dirt packed against the front of it.

 

Parole - An effort to compensate for the mass number of prisoners taken by both sides during the war. The prisoners would be returned after they took an oath not to fight for a specific amount of time. Late in the Civil War it was discontinued by U.S. Grant in order to deny the South a source of soldiers.

 

Partisan Rangers - In April, 1862, the Confederate Congress authorized the formation of Partisan Rangers. These were to be units of the Confederate Army, which would wear the Confederate army uniform and be paid in a manner similar to Privateers. The Partisan Rangers' assignment was to infiltrate and raid behind Union lines. In 1864, the Confederate Congress repealed the authorization, but allowed the continuation of any units specified by the Secretary of War. Secretary of War James Seddon retained only two units, one commanded by John S. Mosby and other commanded by J. H. Neill.

 

Parrott Rifle - A type of rifled cannon with a reinforced powder chamber allowing a heavier powder charge and greater range.

According to the U.S. Army, the Parrot Field Rifle, 10-pounder:

    * Fires 10-lb. projectiles (conical bolt, case, shell, canister).
    * Has a bore diameter of 3 inches.
    * Has a tube weight of 890 pounds, and is made of iron.
    * Has a range of 2,000 yards at 5 degrees elevation.
    * Has a muzzle velocity of 1,300 feet per second.
    * Was used for infantry support in open areas, and as a counterbattery.



 

Picket - A person placed on guard duty at the front lines.

 

Pioneers - A specialized unit in the Army performing engineering functions such as constructing roads, repairing bridges, and destroying enemy fortifications and railroads.

 

Plank Road - Highways, about 15 feet wide, surfaced with wooden planks (mostly pine). They made wagon travel easier.

 

Point - To aim. In an apparent effort to make the times seem more simple than they were, some interpreters emphasize that the Civil War soldier only "pointed" his weapon, he did not "aim" it. However, the dictionary describes "to aim" and "to point" as interchangeable. So when the Civil War soldier "pointed" his weapon, he was, indeed, "aiming" it.

 

Point d'appui - A secured point that anchored a battle line.

 

Pontoon Bridge - A bridge whose deck is supported by flat bottomed boats.

 

Privateer - A privately-owned vessel whose mission was to prey upon the warships and merchant vessels of the enemy. The Privateer crew was compensated from the "spoils" taken from any captured ship. A private vessel's status as a privateer was authorized by "Letters of Marque", and the right to issue these letters was granted by the U.S. Constitution and also was recognized internationally. Thus, when the Confederacy issued Letters of Marque in 1861, the U.S. government could not protest the action too strenuously. Nevertheless, Lincoln announced that upon the capture of any such vessel, the crew would be hanged as pirates. Davis countered with a like fate for any Northern crew. The Confederate privateers did more damage than those of the Union.


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Q


 

Quaker Guns - Dummy cannons constructed from a length of log painted black. Designed to deceive an enemy from a great distance.

 

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


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R


 

Raid - A fast moving strike against the enemy designed to destroy his operations and confiscate any useful items. It was not designed to take and hold a position, rather, after a raid, the unit retired back to its lines, or, in the case of the Partisan Rangers, its hideouts.

 

Rampart - A broad embankment of earth surrounding a fortification. The rampart was considered to be the entire top of the fortification.

 

Reconnaissance - A preliminary survey of an area; esp: an exploratory military survey of enemy territory.

 

Redan - A small field fortification with two walls set at a salient angle facing the enemy. The rear was usually open. It was used to cover the front of a battle line, roads, bridges, etc.

 

Redoubt - An earthwork, enclosed on all sides, outside of a fort, trench, or other works, which supported cannon and infantry. It was designed to restrict the enemy's ability to directly attack the fort, trench, or other works being supported.

 

Refuse the Line - to maneuver a regiment or larger to cause the front to change direction by 90 degrees.

 

Regiment - A military unit composed of 10 companies (each company having 50-100 men) and led by a colonel.

 

Rifle Pit - A small, shallow pit, that sheltered a soldier against attack. "The Civil War soldier's foxhole."

 

Rifled Cannon - An artillery piece which uses spiral grooves on the inside of the barrel to impart a spin on the projectile and improve accuracy.

 

Rifled Musket - A term adopted in 1855 to designate those shoulder arms that retained the outside dimensions of the old muskets but had rifled barrels.

 

Rout - A disorderly retreat. A disastrous defeat.


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S


 

Salient - A distortion in a battle line in which the line extends out and around an area, before continuing across the battle front. Salients invite attack because they are exposed on two or three sides. When planned, the salient was a defensive line protruding out in order to protect ground not addressable from the main line. The "Mule Shoe," at Spotsylvania is an example of a salient.

 

Sap - A zig-zag trench or tunnel dug to a point within an enemy position; to undermine the foundation of a fortification.

 

Sap roller - A 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.

 

Sarcophagus - Limestone used for coffins; a large stone coffin

 

Shell - A hollow cannon projectile, containing fused explosives, which was to be exploded over enemy troops.

 

Shoddy - An inferior wool cloth issued in the form of uniforms during the war. It fell apart after a few days of use. It now means inferior or imitation material or something that is poorly made.

 

Shrapnel - Shell fragments from an exploding shell.

 

Siege - The military blockade of a town, or fortified place, to force its surrender by cutting communications and supply lines.

 

Siege Guns - Large, 12, 18, and 24 pounder cannon, along with other artillery, used to attack a fortification. If they were used to defend a fortification, they were called "garrison" guns.

 

Skedaddler - A derogatory name, used by both sides in the Civil War, given to a soldier who fled the battlefield.

 

Skirmish - Light contact that involved relatively few men. A minor encounter.

 

Skirmish line - Lines of troops deployed in advance and/or on the flanks of an army on the move. They drew the enemy's first fire, providing a warning to the main army of an imminent clash.

 

Smoothbore - A cannon or gun having no rifling; having a smooth tube.

 

Solid Shot - An artillery projectile made of solid iron usually used to batter fortifications or against naval vessels.

 

Spencer Rifle - A seven-shot, 52-caliber breechloading repeating rifle weighing ten pounds and firing 14 rounds per minute. Repeating rifles were not adopted by the Federal army until 1863.

 

Spike a Cannon - To disable a cannon by driving a nail or spike through the vent hole, then using the rammer end of the cannon's spong-rammer tool (See Below) to bend the nail or spike inside the cannon barrel.

 

Sponge-Rammer - A wooden staff, with a sponge on one end and a rammer on the other, used in preparing a cannon for firing. The sponge end was dampened and pushed down the barrel in order to put out any fire or embers inside the cannon barrel, left there after a previous firing. This would prevent a premature detonation when the next powder charge was placed in the cannon. The rammer end was then used to push the next cannon ball, with its black powder bag, down the cannon barrel placing the powder bag directly under the vent hole in the barrel. After the powder bag had been penetrated via a vent pick, or wire, pushed down the vent hole, a flame sent down the vent hole would explode the powder and fire the shell.

 

Stacked Arms - A free-standing pyramid of muskets or carbines. Usually this was done at the end of the day, however, it could be used to indicate surrender or refusal to fight.

 

Stars and Bars - The first national flag of the Confederacy. It consisted of two red bars separated by a white bar, and seven white stars in a circle with a blue background. It's similarity to the Union flag caused a deadly mix-up at the battle of First Manassas,

 

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.

 

Straggler - A soldier who falls back or wanders away from his company usually during a march; sometimes due to exhaustion or illiness; sometimes to avoid battle.

 

Strategy - The science or art of military command as applied to the overall planning and conducting of large-scale operations.

 

Sutler - A private businessman who followed the army and sold goods to the soldiers.


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T


 

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.

 

Theater - A large area where military campaigns take place.

 

Those People - Robert E. Lee's usual designation for the Northern army or Northern citizens.

 

Torpedo - A land mine or a marine mine.


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U


 

Ultimo - of or occurring in the month preceding the present.

 

Union - A designation of the North during the Civil War.

 

Unlimber - To detach a cannon from the limber.

 

Unreconstructed - A term given to former Confederate veterans who refused to accept defeat.


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V


 

Vent - A small hole, or touch hole, in the breech of a cannon or gun through which a spark is transferred to ignite the powder.

 

Vedette (also, Vidette) - A Picket on horseback.


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W


 

War Horse - A veteran. Made famous by Lee's designation of General James Longstreet as his "old war horse".

 

Wheel To - To pivot a line of soldiers.

 

Wing - Either flank of a battle line; sometimes used to designate a command.


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X



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Y


 

Yankee - A Northerner, a New Englander.


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Z


 

Zouave - Originally, natives of North Africa who, wearing bright and colorful clothes, distinguished themselves in the Crimean War. Zouave companies were formed during the Civil War on both sides to indicate exceptionally good fighters.


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