The Language of the Civil War

By John D. Wright | Go to book overview
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“Mac” The nickname of Union Brigadier General James Birdseye McPherson, the chief engineer of Major General W.T. Sherman’s army. (Also the nickname for most officers and soldiers having last names beginning with the Scottish “Mc” or “Mac.”) See also “Little Mac.”

Macaria, or Altars of Sacrifice A patriotic and melodramatic southern novel that was popular in Confederate camps but banned in Union ones by the U.S. government. Written in 1864 by Augusta Evans Wilson, an Alabama author, it revolved around a war episode.

machicoulis gallery A open balcony projecting out from the parapet of a fort, which allowed the defenders to drop fire and heavy objects like bricks onto the attacking force. Fort Sumter had three wooden machicoulis galleries, useless additions in the age of long-range shelling.

Mackinaw blanket A thick woolen blanket often carried by Union soldiers. The item, usually brightly colored, took its name from Michigan’s Mackinac Island where it was popular with Indians and lumbermen. When a fellow soldier lost Union Major Henry Hitchcock’s blanket during Major General W.T.Sherman’s march through Georgia, the major wrote in his diary on November 24, 1864, that “The fool seems so distressed. I can’t scold. But a good double Mackinaw blanket is a bad loss.”

Mackrelville The nickname during the war for the poor Irish section of New York City on Manhattan’s lower East Side. The name was the usual stereotypical association of Catholics eating fish on Fridays.

Madam Russell’s Bake Oven The name of a house of prostitution on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., that was frequented by soldiers during the war. Competition was provided by Madam Wilton’s Private Residence for Ladies.

mad as a wet hen A simile for extreme anger, popular during the war years and still heard today.

magnetic telegraph A scientific-sounding name for the telegraph. News reports in the New York Tribune carried a standing headline in each edition: THE LATEST NEWS RECEIVED BY MAGNETIC TELEGRAPH.

mail carrier A common name for a spy, especially one delivering written messages.


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