The Language of the Civil War

By John D. Wright | Go to book overview

H

H An abbreviation for “hell.” A preacher might say, “Bless your enemies in church, boys, but give them H on the battlefield.”

hack 1. The common name for a hired hackney carriage, taken in cities and across the countryside. When the war began, Betty Maury left Washington, D.C., for her native Virginia and recorded the $25 paid to take a hack from Alexandria to Manassas Junction, Virginia. Hackneys were named for the English village of Hakeney (now Hackney, part of London) where they were first built. Taxicabs are still called hacks. 2. A slang name for a try or attempt; e.g., “Someone had to eliminate the sharpshooter, and Sloane decided to take a hack at it.” Today’s equivalent would be “whack.”

hacked Worn out and dispirited. It was often used to describe soldiers after a battle, particularly a defeat.

hail Columbia A euphemism for hell. Officers urged their troops to “Give ’em hail Columbia!” before and during a battle. A soldier could also get “hail Columbia” during a severe scolding or punishment.

hail fellow well met A common expression during the war, and still used, to describe a person who is friendly to everyone, mostly in a superficial way; e.g., “Our new lieutenant was hail fellow well met with all the men, but discipline suffered.”

“Hail to the Chief” The official music, still played, for the entrance of the U.S. president. The music was written in 1812 by an Englishman, James Sanderson, and first used in 1815 during James Madison’s administration. It was constantly performed for Abraham Lincoln’s official and informal duties. When he arrived late at Ford’s Theater the evening he was assassinated, the play was interrupted while the band struck up “Hail to the Chief.” The music was sometimes played as a tribute to others. When Union Major Robert Anderson surrendered Fort Sumter on April 13, 1861, and emerged from its gate to board a steamer, his band changed from playing “Yankee Doodle” to “Hail to the Chief.” At Gettysburg, a Union band similarly honored Major General George G.Meade during an evening lull in the fighting, causing a war correspondent to tease, “Ah, General Meade, you are in very great danger of being President of the United States.” By 1864, bands played the music for General Ulysses S.Grant “at every stopping place.”

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