The Language of the Civil War

By John D. Wright | Go to book overview

PREFACE

THE AMERICAN SOLDIER has never been at a loss for words, and the intensity of the Civil War, our own tragic backyard battle, made those words march, charge, and explode. Generals became historians, gunners became humorists, and pickets became poets. The home front was also at work on the language, with ladies keeping diaries, journalists puffing up reports, and politicians, as always, spinning golden webs of words.

This book is an eclectic collection of the special language spoken by people who experienced the war. It is an attempt—the first, I believe—to draw together the words and phrases that soldiers used in camp, on the battlefield, and at home: their curses, insults, nicknames, and slang; their familiar terms for equipment, food, diseases, games, songs, and books; and their names for organizations, carriages, clothes, photographs, and other familiar subjects.

What, indeed, did it all sound like?

This volume will create a personal image of everyday life in those traumatic years from 1861 to 1865. I have sought to put together an engaging book for the casual reader, a reference work for students, a special dictionary for the libraries of Civil War buffs, and a source of historical information for writers of reference and fictional works.

The entries have been assembled from the massive array of books and writings about the war, material that seems to “grow like Topsy” on a daily basis. This material includes the excellent histories, dictionaries, and other volumes I have listed in the selected bibliography, as well as magazine and newspaper articles, and even the battlefield letters of my great-grandfather, Captain William C.Baskin, who fought the hopeless Confederate cause with his fellow Mississippians in Martin’s Cavalry Division, the Army of East Tennessee. After the war, he was mayor of Tupelo, Mississippi (1888–98). I also retrieved terms from A History of Mississippi written by my grandmother’s uncle, Confederate General Robert Lowry of Mississippi, who commanded the Rankin Grays and John Adams’s brigade. Following the war, he was a commissioner who requested the release of President Jefferson Davis and then served as governor of Mississippi (1881–89).

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