USA Civil War Website

USA Civil War Website
Discover The Civil War

Site Notifications
Home » U. S. A. Civil War - Definitions (A-D)

Union Flag Carrier U. S. A. CIVIL WAR Confederate Flag Carrier






  A   B   C   D   E   F   G   H   I   J   K   L   M  
  N   O   P   Q   R   S   T   U   V   W   X   Y   Z  


(* = most recent term additions or changes)

Abatis - Cut trees, sharpened at one end and facing towards the enemy. Chevaux-de-frise is similar but constructed of rough or dressed lumber. (See abatis photograph at breastwork.)


Abolitionist - Person opposed to slavery and in favor of ending it


Accoutrements - Items of equipment, other than clothing and weapons, issued to military personnel.


Acoustic Shadow - Atmospheric conditions that form a pocket of silence around an area. During the Civil War, on some occasions, observers of a nearby battle reported hearing no battle sounds, while the battle could be heard clearly by people many miles away.


Adjutant - A staff officer in either the Confederate or Union army. Communication of orders was one of his main responsibilities. An adjutant normally issued orders in the name of his commander.


Aeronaut - A person who operates or rides in a balloon.


Affair - On the scale of combat intensity, a minor military combat encounter of less intensity than a skirmish.


Aide-de-camp - Normally a civilian or foreign observer, appointed by a general officer. His responsibilities could range from running errands, up to and including being authorized to modify the general officer's orders if the officer was absent. Usually the aide had some expertise in military tactics, and operations.


Aim - To point. "Aim" and "Point" are interchangeable.


Ambulance - A two or four wheeled horse-drawn carriage used to carry the wounded.


Army - The largest organization body in the Union and Confederate forces. As with battle names, most of the Union armies were named after rivers and the Confederate armies were named after states or regions. An army consisted of one or more corps. The number of corps per army varied considerably. An army could have only one corps or have seven or eight. Armies were normally commanded by major generals in the North and full generals in the South.


Army of the Cumberland - A Western army under the command of Generals William T. Sherman, William S. Rosecrans, and, mostly, George H. Thomas.


Army of Northern Virginia - Principle Confederate force in the Easterm Theater of operations. Robert E. Lee was its commander.


Army of the Ohio - A Western army under the command of U.S.A Maj. Gen. Don Carlos Buell


Army of the Potomac - Principle Federal force in the Eastern Theater of operations. It had numerous commanders including McClellan, Burnside, Hooker, and Meade.  

Army of Tennessee (Not to be confused with the Federal "Army of the Tennessee). - After Gen. Braxton Bragg's defeat at Perryville, Kentucky, October 8, 1862, he and his Confederate Army of the Mississippi retreated, reorganized, and were redesignated as the Army of Tennessee.


Army of the Tennessee(The Confederate army was "Army of Tennessee"...without the "the").- Principle Federal force in the Western Theater of operations.


Army of Trans-Mississippi - Principle Confederate force in the Western Theater of operations.


Army of Vicksburg - Confederate force, under Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton, which defended and surrendered Vicksburg.


Army of Virginia - A Federal force formed in 1862, under the command of Major General John Pope, which fought the Confederates at the battles of Cedar Mountain and Second Manassas while the Army of the Potomac returned from its failed peninsula campaign near Richmond.


Artillery - Cannon and mortars used in the Civil War to support the infantry and defend fixed positions.


Barbette - A raised wooden platform, usually in permanent fortifications, that allowed an artillery piece to be fired over a wall without exposing its gun crew.


Barrage - Continuous firing of artillery involving many cannon.


Battalion - (1) A command made up of two or more companies detached for special duty, such as sharpshooters. (2) Companies of infantry serving apart from the main body, and usually included a Headquarters company and artillery.


Battery - A term applied to one or more pieces of artillery. In the Union army a battery was made up of six cannon. In the Confederate army a battery was made up of four cannon. Batteries were normally under the command of a captain.


Battle above the Clouds - Referring to the battle for cloud-covered Lookout Mountain, Tennessee on November 24, 1864.


Bayonet - A removable knife which could be attached to the front of a musket or rifle. It was designed to make the musket or rifle a deadly weapon in hand-to-hand combat.


Bedroll - Rolled blankets carried by soldiers which also contained their personal belongings.


Billow - to surge; to rise or roll in like billows; to swell out, puff up, etc., as by the action of wind: flags billowing in the breeze.


Bivouac (also, camp) - A temporary encampment or shelter for a military unit.


Black Powder - An explosive consisting of a compound of potassium nitrate, sulfur and charcoal.


Blockade - The blocking of waterways, or inlets, by ships of war.


Bold Dragoon - Referring to Confederate General J. E. B. "Jeb" Stuart.
(See Dragoon.)


Bondage - Slavery; a state of being bound by law.


Border States - Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri were considered border states. They were located on the border between the U.S.A. and C.S.A. and had questionable loyalty to either side.


Bough - An unusually large or main branch of a tree.


Bounty - A sum of money paid to entice enlistment in the military. The armies of both the North and the South paid bounties of several hundred dollars per enlistee. Bounty is also used to indicate money offered to catch a criminal or deserter.


Bower - A shelter of boughs or vines.


Breach - An opening or rupture made in the wall of a fortification.


Breastwork - An entrenchment, or field trench, made of earth and wood, designed to protect the defenders against enemy fire. When possible, the front of the work was protected by a deep ditch or other obstructions such as an abatis or Chevaux-de-frise.


Brevet Rank - A commission giving a military officer higher nominal rank than that for which pay is received


Brigade - With three to six regiments (500-1,000 men per regiment), a brigade was normally led by a brigadier general. The Confederate brigade usually consisted of more regiments than the Union brigade.


Buck and Ball - A musket load having 3 buckshot bound on top of a .69 caliber, smooth bore musket ball, encased in paper. It was not used much during the war because of its inaccuracy at a distance.


Buck and Gag (Bucking) - A form of corporal punishment which had the offending soldier placed on the ground with his hands and feet bound. His knees were drawn up between his arms and a rod was inserted under his knees and over his arms. It was used for a variety of offenses.


Bummers - (1) Foraging or marauding soldiers in the Civil War. Union Bummers were especially prevalent during Sherman's march to the sea. (2) A person who was safely to the rear of the army or otherwise away from combat. (3) A forage or fatigue cap.


Butternut - One of the uniforms commonly used by the Confederate soldier was colored by a dye made with, among other things, walnut hulls. It had a yellow-brown color and was called butternut. Because of the uniform color, the Confederate soldiers were frequently called Butternuts.


Caisson - An ammunition wagon for artillery.


Caliber - The diameter of the bore of a gun; the diameter of a bullet or shell.


Camouflet - An explosive placed in front of an enemy mine by a counter mine. It would explode when struck by a pick or shovel. The Confederates tried this at Vicksburg


Camp - (also, bivouac) A temporary encampment or shelter for a military unit.


Campaign - connected series of military operations forming a phase of a war.


Canister - A type of Civil War artillery ammunition, similar to grapeshot but with more balls of a smaller size. Canister resembled a coffee can containing layers of metal balls packed in sawdust. It was highly effective at close range against attacking troops.


Cap - A small device designed to explode powder in a musket.


Cap Box - A leather box, attached to a soldier's belt, holding caps used to fire muskets.


Carpetbagger - A derogatory Southern term used to identify a corrupt Northerner who came South after the war in order to use the political process for self-enrichment.


Carronade - A short cannon, designed to throw a large projectile with small velocity for the purpose of breaking or smashing rather than piercing, was invented by the British General Robert Melville and received its name from being cast by the Carron Foundry in Scotland.

Destructive at close quarters, the Carronade fired a 32 pound shot with 2 pounds 10 ounces of powder. At one degree of elevation, it would carry for 380 yards.

Originally designed as a lightweight, low velocity piece of artillery that could keep up with the infantry rather than the heavier, bulkier 18th century cannons that were difficult to transport, it was later adapted for naval gunfire.

Although 4-9 men were used to man the Carronade, with its relatively light weight, as few as two men could man this gun. The Carronade measured 4 feet to 4 feet 10 inches long, with a 6.5 inch bore and weighed about 2,000 pounds.

It was used in the 18th and 19th centuries as a powerful, short-range anti-ship and anti-crew weapon. While considered very successful early-on, Carronades eventually disappeared as long-range naval artillery led to fewer and fewer close-range engagements.


Carte de viste (CDV) - A 2 1/4 by 3 3/4 inch photographic card.


Cartridge - A tube, mainly paper, holding a bullet and gun powder.


Cartridge Box - A leather box holding cartridges.


Cascabel - The Knob at the breech end of a cannon.


Case Shot - Similar to a regular cannon shell but with thinner walls. Inside the shell, in the center of the cavity, black powder was placed in a thin tin or iron container. The cavity around the container was filled with lead or iron balls and sulphur. The shell was designed to fire the balls in a cone-shaped pattern when the black powder exploded. Similar to canister, case shot was designed to give the same effect as canister but at a longer range.


Casualty - Military person lost through death, wounds, injury, sickness, capture, or missing in action


Cavalry - Men, trained and equipped, who fight from horseback. Not the same as mounted infantry.


Celerity - swiftness, speed.


Chain Shot - Artillery ammunition initially designed to attack sailing vessels. It consisted of two hemispheres of a hollow cannon ball connected by a short length of chain. The two hemispheres were closed together, with the chain inside, for loading. When shot, the hemispheres broke apart but continued to be held by the chain. This deadly, whirling, missile was effective only at a close range, beyond which the accuracy of the shot declined precipitously.


Chevaux-de-frise - Sharp poles arranged to obstruct attacking infantry or cavalry. The poles were placed in holes that were drilled, at regular intervals, in a log about ten feet long and a foot thick. The poles, about two or three feet long, protruded from the log at a right angle. The chevaux-de-frize was used to block gaps or breaches in a line, and to obstruct the enemy's approach to forts or breastworks. See also Abatis


Cold Steel - bayonet.


Color Bearer - a person carrying a flag especially during combat.


Columbiad - A term applied to most large, smoothbore costal artillery pieces in the pre-Civil War period. One type is known as the Rodman, after its designer.


Commutation - The substitution of one form of payment or penalty for another. During the Civil War "commutation" meant legally evading the draft by paying a "commutation fee". This fee, usually several hundred dollars, was paid by approximately 87,000 draftees during the war.


Company - A company consisted of 50 to 100 men commanded by a captain. With enough men, a company was usually divided into 2 platoons. Each platoon was then divided into two sections and, finally, each section contained 4 squads.

Thus, ideally, a company would equal two platoons, which would equal four sections, which would equal eight squads. Sergeants normally ran the sections, and corporals led the squads.

Ten companies normally made up a regiment.


Conscription - The Civil War name for what is now known as the draft. Those persons "conscripted" were call "Conscripts". Both sides used Conscription. Conscription was so disliked in the north that there were draft riots in New York.


Contraband - A term was used to described fugitive slaves who sought protection behind Union lines during the Southern invasion. It was first used by Union general Benjamin F. Butler when he learned that fugitives were working for the Confederacy war effort.


Copperheads - Starting in 1861, Republicans called antiwar Democrats "copperheads", comparing them to the poisonous snake.


Copse - A thicket, grove, or growth of small trees.


corps - A Corps was composed of two or more divisions led by a lieutenant general (Confederacy) or a major general (Union).


Corps de Chasseurs - A body of troops trained and equipped for rapid movement.


Cottonclad - a ship with bales of cotton placed on the deck to provide some protection from enemy fire.


Counterattack - An attack made to counter (off-set) an attack by the enemy.


Counter Mine - A tunnel for intercepting an enemy mine.


Coup de main - A fast attack that surprises the enemy.


Cross Fire - Firing from two or more points so that the lines of fire cross.


Debouches - Openings in a fortification where troops may enter or leave.


Defilading Battery - A battery placed on a raised parapet for protection from artillery on a commanding height.


Deo Vindice - "God Favor Our Cause" The motto on the Great Seal of the Confederacy.


Deploy - To move units to a desired position on the battlefield.


Destruction in Detail - The destruction of an opposing force one small part at a time.


Dismounted Cavalry - Cavalry, dismounted from their horses, being used temporarily as infantry for ground fighting. Generally, a cavalryman did not have the same weapons as an infantryman.


Division - Usually containing three or four brigades (North) or four to six brigades (South), a division was commanded by a major general. A Southern division tended to be twice as large as its Northern counterpart.


Dragoon - From the French (1604), dragon, dragon, dragoon. A member of a European military unit composed of heavily armed mounted troops. Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart was called the Bold Dragoon.



( Home   OR   Photograph Page ) > Definitions > Page 2 > Page 3

Copyright © USA Civil, 1998 - 2024.