Field Armies and Fortifications in the Civil War: The Eastern Campaigns, 1861-1864

By Earl J. Hess | Go to book overview

Glossary

Because the terminology used to describe fortifications is technical in nature, much of it deriving from the French language, it is often necessary for historians to include a glossary of terms for the reader's use. I include only those terms used in this volume; no attempt is made to provide a comprehensive dictionary of fortifications. I have made every attempt to be accurate in defining my terms, but I do not claim to have produced definitions that would satisfy an engineer. My purpose is simply to explain in common language what I think a term signified to a contemporary of the Civil War and to provide a common sense explanation readily understood by the reader of this book.1

A word about the meanings of key words and phrases is in order. Civil War contemporaries paid relatively little attention to the proper use of terminology, unless, of course, they were trained engineers. The average soldier used "rifle pits," "breastworks," and "ditches" to signify the same thing: earthworks made for infantry use. Specialists in military engineering recognized that each of these terms meant something different, but most soldiers did not care about such fine distinctions.

Like the specialist, we should try to differentiate between these terms. "Rifle pits" refers to individual holes dug for skirmishers, similar to twentieth-century foxholes. The term originated in the Crimean War when Russian riflemen dug similar holes in front of their earthworks so they could harass the Allied soldiers who were advancing siege approaches. Chaplain A. M. Stewart of the 102nd Pennsylvania recognized the misuse of this term and commented on it in his book, published in 1865. The phrase had "become a rather general one, designating almost any military construction, for offence or defence." It referred to "not merely a round or square hole in the ground, but a ditch, breastwork or embankment miles in length." Stewart was absolutely right. "Rifle pits" is probably the most commonly used phrase by Civil War soldiers to refer to infantry earthworks.2

I use the term "breastworks" to refer only to an accumulation of material on top of the ground—usually logs, rails, or stones—that does not involve any digging. This term ran a close second to "rifle pits" in its common usage among Civil War soldiers. The word "ditches" was much less commonly used, although it has a direct, earthy tone that leaves no doubt about what the writer was thinking. I use the word to refer only to the ditch dug in front of a parapet, for the purpose of both serving as an

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Field Armies and Fortifications in the Civil War: The Eastern Campaigns, 1861-1864
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations viii
  • Maps x
  • Preface xi
  • 1: Engineering War 1
  • 2: On to Richmond 28
  • 3: Western Virginia and Eastern North Carolina 47
  • 4: The Peninsula 67
  • 5: From Seven Pines to the Seven Days 96
  • 6: Second Manassas, Antietam, and the Maryland Campaign 130
  • 7: Fredericksburg 154
  • 8: Chancellorsville 174
  • 9: Goldsborough, New Bern, Washington, and Suffolk 200
  • 10: Gettysburg and Lee's Pennsylvania Campaign 215
  • 11: Charleston 241
  • 12: The Reduction of Battery Wagner 259
  • 13: From Bristoe Station to the Fall of Plymouth 289
  • Conclusion 308
  • Appendix 1 - The Design and Construction of Field Fortifications at Yorktown 315
  • Appendix 2 - Preserving the Field Fortifications at Gettysburg 331
  • Glossary 333
  • Notes 341
  • Bibliography 393
  • Index 417
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