CIVIL WAR SLANG


Chief Cook and Bottle Washer-person capable of doing many things.

Sheet Iron Crackers-Hardtack

Sardine Box-cap box

Bread Basket-Stomach

Greenbacks-Money

Graybacks-Southern Soldiers or lice

Arkansas Toothpick-large knife

Pepperbox-Pistol

Zu-Zu: Zuoave-Soldiers

Fit to be tied-Angry

Horse Sense-Smart

Top Rail-#1 or first class

Hunkey Dorey-great!

Greenhorn, Bugger, Skunk-Officers

Snug as a bug-comfortable, cozy

Sawbones-Surgeon

Skedaddle-run, scatter

Hornets-Bullets

Bully-hurrah! or yeah!

Possum- a buddy or pal

Blowhard- big shot

Fit as a fiddle- in good shape, healthy

Uppity -Conceited

Scarce as hen's teeth -rare or scarce

Grab a root -have dinner or potato

Tight, Wallpapered -Drunk

Bark Juice, Tar Water, Nokum Stiff or Joy juice -Liquor

Hard Case -Tough

Bluff -Cheater

Jailbird- Criminal

Hard Knocks- beaten up

Been through the mill- done a lot

Quick-step -Diarrhea

Played Out -worn out or tired

Toeing the mark -doing the job

Jonah -bad luck

Goobers- Peanuts

Sunday Soldiers, Kid glove boys, Parlor Soldiers- insulting words to a Soldier

Fresh Fish- raw recruits

Whipped- beaten



Abatis - One of the oldest forms of defense. Usually, fell trees, sharpened at one end and facing towards the enemies front. Abatis was designed to prevent an enemies advance. While not used extensively in the Civil War due to the intense labor required, semi-permanent camps often saw its use.
Aide-de-camp - A sometimes confidential ex officio officer appointed by general officers. This person reported directly to their commanders and took orders only from him. The aide must be thoroughly knowledgeable with tactics and maneuvers and be able to modify or change orders in the absence of authority. Also known as the generals right-hand-man.

Barbette - A raised wooden platform, normally found in permanent fortifications, that allowed an artillery piece to be fired over a wall without exposing its gun crew. Mound or earthen dirt often took its place.

Battery - Usually, six guns, each attached to a limber which is a two wheel ammo chest, drawn by three pairs of horses in tandem. A standard battery consisted of 155 men with various jobs to perform. Cannons are said to be in-battery while in use.

Bivouac - The Civil War term defined by the U.S. Army in 1861: "When an army passes the night without shelter, except such as can be hastily made of plants, branches, etc., it is said to be in bivouac."

Blockade - The term referred to the blockading of essential waterways, inlets, by ships of war. During the Civil War, the North used this method
extensively and had a Blockade Bureau, fully assigned to 1) determine targets of blockades, 2) assign effective ships and 3) to refine blockading methods. The intent was to deprive the South of much needed war material and to prevent foreign ships from delivering war material. Blockading also prevented the South from selling and moving its exports abroad and in the South, this normally meant cotton and other raw goods.

Border States - Considered by the Lincoln administration as being Maryland, Kentucky, Delaware and Missouri. This was due to their geographical location and questionable loyalty to both the Union and the Confederacy. Lincoln courted them and considered the border states a key to Union victory.

Bounties - A monetary sum of money, sometimes $500 for short term enlistment and $1500 for a three year enlistment to augment the armies of both the North and South. The bounty system was riddled with problems. Men would often enlist, then jump regiment hoping to reenter with another unit. The Federal government and local governments paid 600 million in bounties during the war.

Brevet Rank - A Civil War term Borrowed from the British during the Revolutionary War. Different from a commission, officers were often awarded a higher rank due to meritorious service in combat or to allow them to serve on staff positions. Many West Pointers were awarded brevet rank because there were not enough vacancies in the regular army. The rank also allowed volunteers to be promoted. It has not been used in the military since 1918.

Brigade - The common tactical infantry and cavalry unit of the Civil War. The brigade had 4-6 regiments, sometimes less, sometimes more. Operated by the brigade general, the brigade could be commanded by a colonel, dependant on its size. Brigades were not of equal strength on both sides of the war. The Confederate brigade was said to have greater numbers than the Northern brigade.

Buck and Ball - A close range musket load having 3 large buckshot bound on top of a .69 calibre, smooth bore musket ball, encased in paper. It was most often found in Confederate hands and was not commonly used during the war simply because it was highly inaccurate at a distance.

Buck and Gag - A form of corporal punishment used during the Civil War era. The soldier set on the ground, and had his hands and feet bound. His knees were drawn up between his arms and a rod inserted under the knees and over the arms. A stick was placed in his mouth sideways. The offending soldier was normally placed in full view of the command and had to endure this punishment for hours. It was normally reserve for shirkers, stragglers and drunkards.


Bummers - The term applies to foraging or marauding soldiers in the war. Military rules often disallowed foraging but when allowed, supposedly, had strict rules. A discreet officer was placed in charge; soldiers could not use threatening or abusive language; they could not trespass in a private dwelling and must leave enough for family subsistence. Too often, these soldiers became marauders, answering to no one as they gathered their spoils of war with their own methods.

Butternut - Many soldiers of the Confederacy wore uniforms colored a yellowish-brown by dye made of copperas and walnut hulls. The term later became a synonym for the soldier.

Camouflet - A counter mine device or explosive placed to the front of a tunnel believed being excavated. When struck by pick or shovel, the device exploded, burying the miners. Rarely used during the war, it is said the Confederates attempted it at Vicksburg.

Camp - A location anywhere armies were at rest or said to be in "bivouac" while in the field. Cavalry always camped in the rear.

Camp Follower - A broad term simply meaning anyone who followed armies for profit and employment. It applied to sudlers, laundress's, bakers, barbers and the like. It also applied to prostitutes, card dealers, illegal whiskey sellers.

Cascabel - The large round knob found near the base of a cannon breech.

Carpetbagger - The term of contempt by Southerners for any Northerner who came to the South and gained political control with the aid of the black vote. Many were unscrupulous and corruptionists who gained control of land through taxation. Others, benefited the South by real investment and hard labor. The term had conflicting meanings.

Case Shot - Spherical case - a cannon round invented by Henry Shrapnel, English artilleryman in 1784. The round is an antipersonnel round, fired at close range. The load breaks apart shortly after firing and smaller balls devastate close-by combatants.

Chain Shot - An obsolete form of artillery ammunition which saw some use in the Civil War. Designed originally to attack the rigging of sailing vessels, the device consisted of 2 hollow hemispheres connected by a short length of chain folded inside and the hemispheres closed together into a ball for loading. When shot, the chain whirled towards the enemy with deadly precision but only for a few.

Chevaux-de-frise - Like the Abatis, this defensive weapon was designed to protect fortifications or positions. The device has angles of six to nine feet of long pointed stakes. It was effective in stopping or slowing an advancing charge by infantry.

Commutation - A legalized form of evading the draft during the Civil War. The "commutation fee," normally about $500 allowed one to avoid military service altogether. Military records indicate 86,724 draftees bought their way out of the military and this did not include those that hired substitutes to take their place.

Company - Normally consisted any unit of 50-100 men, commanded by a Captain. 10 of these generally made up a regiment. Companies had 4 squads made up of a sergeant or corporal. Most had colorful names and mascots.
Company Fund - Was made up of funds or tax assessed to the camp sudlers (vendors) or savings from the post bakery and stores. The money was used to supplement food or minor items for distribution to the entire company. Rules governing the fund were identical in both the Confederacy and Union.

Conscription - Began during the Civil War. The Confederacy passed the first conscription act, then the Union. Officers and soldiers alike, despised the draftees, stating it undercut morale and compromised volunteers. It also seemed to encourage bounty jumping and desertion. Draft riots became famous in New York. Conscripts accounted for 25 per cent to 35 per cent of all Southern armies between April 1864 and 1865.

Contrabands - The Civil War term was used to described fugitive slaves who sought protection behind Union lines during Southern territory invasion. The term was first coined by Union political general and abolitionist, Benjamin F. Butler when he learned the fugitives were building fortifications for the Confederacy. Many relief measures were taken but commanders chronically complained of trouble caused by the masses seeking refuge. In March of 1865, the U.S. Government established a Freedman's Bureau to provide a formal structure in handling the situation.

Corps - The word derives from the French word "corps d'armee." Established by Gen. George McClellan, in 1862, the unit was composed of two or more divisions. Both sides of the conflict had corps. Most corps were designated by a number and corps had badges, such as a triangle, crescents, arrows and acorns.

Coup de main - A french term used by both North and South, meaning a quick, vigorous attack that surprises the enemy.

Davis Boot - Named for Jefferson Davis when he was Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce, this soldier's foot apparel was worn by both North and South. Said to fit most men with a few standard sizes, this boot became identifiably famous as did the Kepi, the Civil War cap. Postwar, the boot helped to pave way for mass-produced manufacturing of clothing.

Dictator - Mortar - The oldest form of artillery. The "Dictator" saw service at Vicksburg and Petersburg. It was mounted on a railroad flatcar and could heave a 220 lb. bomb, 4,325 yds with elevation of 45 degrees. It had a 20 lb powder charge.


Division - The second largest unit of military in the Civil War. Normally about 12,000 men and in Union armies, commanded by a brigadier or major general. On the Southern side, brigadiers commanded brigades and major generals, divisions.

Embalmed Beef - Civil War slang by soldiers for issued canned beef.

Engagement - Term used to employ combat of different scales: a full scale battle or limited action in advance of a full scale battle. In descending order: battle, engagement, skirmish, action and affairs.

Envelopment - To pour fire along the enemy's line. A double envelopment meant to attack both flanks of an enemy - a risky venture. A strategic envelopment was not directed against the flanks, but a turning movement designed to a point in the rear whereupon the enemy had to vacate his position to defend it.

Fascine - A bundle of sticks used to reinforce earthworks. This was a field substitute for a sandbag or cotton bale - the most preferred reinforcing material. It sometimes gave the appearance of being an Abatis.

Feint - When armies meant to attack a position, they often put into action a "Feint," or smaller action at another point in a defensive position. This was meant as a distraction to ensure the enemy would pull troops out of the main area of primary assault and commit manpower to the lesser area of attack. This tactic was often used during the Civil War.

Flanking Position - To arrange a defenders battle lines so that 1 or more lines thrust forward at an angle fom the main line, is said to be a flanking position. If troops in flanking positions have sufficient strength and are anchored tightly, they can be wheeled to squeeze the enemy between themselves and main line defenders. This tactic was a favorite of General Stonewall Jackson, C.S.A.

Flying Battery - The Civil War term whereupon 2 or more horse drawn cannons whipped along the battle front, unlimbering, setting up, firing, limbering up and riding off to another position. Confederate Maj. John Pelham refined the practice. It gave the impression many guns were in use when actually only a smaller number were being deployed.

Foraging - A Civil War term meaning to "live off the land." The term also applied to plundering. Receipts were often exchanged for goods taken and these in turn, would be owed or paid by the quartermaster. Too often, the term is more accurately applied to stealing by undisciplined officers and soldiers alike. Many soldiers felt the goods taken were payment for their fighting in the war. It has been said, cavalry was more prone to foraging than infantry. This is because the infantry normally was followed by supply wagons, sudlers and the like. This system of supply was not practical to the cavalry since they were so mobile.

Frontal Attack - A holdover from the 18th century, this tactic, often used in the Civil War, was disastrous to many a soldier. The era of the smooth bore musket had passed and the invention of the rifle changed this tactic forever. Gettysburg, Cold Harbor, Virginia, and Franklin, Tennessee were examples of the deadly attack.


Furlough - Any leave granted to a soldier by his superior. A soldier on furlough left his arms and accoutrements behind. He carried furlough papers detailing his leave dates, assignment and return to duty date. Since photos were noticeably absent, such furlough papers gave a physical description of the man.

Gabion - Another Civil War fortification. They were cylindrical wicker baskets filled with dirt and stones. Often used to fortify field works and temporary positions.

Grape shot/cannister - An artillery round. Usually 9 shot placed between two iron plates. Canister, was iron plates having iron balls with 4 tiers and packed with sawdust. Both of these rounds were used in close quarters combat and were highly effective and gruesome in their use. Charging infantry were virtually eliminated as they approached these batteries. Very few walked away. Batteries changed over to grape and canister when the position appeared to be overrun or had the potential of being overrun.

Graybacks-slang for Confederate soldier or Confederate dollar.

Habeas Corpus - One of a variety of writs, by law, issued to bring a party before a court or judge, having as its function the release of a party from unlawful restraint. President Lincoln invoked it during the Civil War at the outbreak of hostilities. The suspension saw 18,000 persons arrested in the North for suspicion of disloyalty, especially in the border states. The military released most quickly. Congress pass the Habeas Corpus Act in 1863, giving Lincoln the official backing to invoke the Act. It was also suspended by Confederate President Jefferson Davis in the Southern states. Most in the South saw the act as a step toward despotism even through Davis used it sparingly. The Confederate Congress failed to renew the act despite Davis' appeal to do so.

Hardtack - A quarter inch cracker made of unleavened flour. It was a staple of Northern and Southern soldiers alike. Often worm infested, the cracker was unpopular and unpalatable, but it had shelf life...

Havelock - The white kepi or cap cover that has a tail covering the neck and shoulders of a combatant. Originally designed to prevent sunstroke by Sir Henry Havelock, British commander in India, the Havelock fell out of grace when American Civil War Combatants learned it cut off circulation around the head and face. It saw use early in the war but was later abandoned.

Haversack - A white canvas bag about a foot square. It has a strap and was carried over the shoulder. It carried an enlisted mans rations and personals. Officers sometimes had theirs made out of leather. The Haversack displayed a number or identification thereon. The Haversack had a water proof lining and a flap that buckled down. Like many Civil War issues, it too was often regarded as cumbersome and eventually, many just carried their items rolled up in a blanket or halved tent.

Hot Shot - Used during the Civil War were solid iron shot, heated in a furnace and fired at wooden vessels of war. Shot furnaces were found aboard ships and at coastal fortifications. The projectile would embed itself in the ship, smolder and then set the vessel on fire.

Impressment - A Southern enactment, allowing the Confederacy and state governments to seize property, horses, food, clothing, etc. for the benefit of the war apparatus as a whole. Confederates relied on impressment to augment supplies to their armed services. The U.S. government allowed impressment only in emergencies but rarely resorted to it since their supplies appeared unlimited.

Knapsack - Most soldiers carried these at the outset of the war. Most rode on a light wooden frame and some were made of rubber - most from canvas. These were found to be too hot and uncomfortable. Both armies abandoned the knapsack in short time, opting instead for the rolled blanket.

Lunette - A 2 or 3 sided field fort. The rear was open and exposed, enabling a rear action to be placed against it. Used early in the war, they were also abandoned. Some were named after battery commanders.

Minie Bullet - Developed in the 1840's by French captains Henri-Gustave Delvigne and Claude- Etienne Minie, was the standard projectile of the Civil War. Unlike the musket, the Minie allowed quicker loading and greater accuracy. It is generally thought to be the device that caused appalling battle casualties in the war.

Napoleon - The most famous and in-use cannon of the Civil War. The model 1857 gun howitzer, a 12 pounder smooth bore saw little use prior to the Civil War but was in operation in all quarters near the end. Generally made of bronze, this instruments of war brought devastation to a new meaning.


Noncombatants - The Civil War term for surgeons, nurses, chaplains, sudlers and citizens travelling with the armies. Persons captured having this status were released immediately, unconditional and unilaterally by both sides of the conflict. This was arranged by Confederate army surgeon, Hunter H. McGuire. History records no violation of these accords.

Nullification - Early proclamation by Southern States to declare null and void Federal laws within state boundaries which were declared against their interests.

Oblique - Crossing the battlefield in a diagonal line and hitting the enemy position at one end. As more troops joined in the operation, in theory, the enemy line would roll up. The advent of the rifle changed this battle tactic as well as others. Still tried intermittently during the war, the results were murderous.

Parole - Early in the war, both sides of the conflict could not effectively handle the massive number of prisoners. They agreed to let the prisoners take an oath not to fight anymore and were released to their prospective commands. The system was complex, cumbersome and expensive. It was abandoned after U.S. Grant learned many Southern parolees were simply right back in the fray months later and after the slaughter at Ft. Pillow in Tennessee by Forrest's troops.

Partisan Rangers - The South allowed a system of partisan warfare. Civilian roving gangs combed the countryside, sometimes out of control as in the case of Quantrill in Missouri and Kansas. The South repealed their use but allowed it in special circumstances. Their effectiveness comes into question but some historians believe the partisans may have protracted the war by extended it one more year. Mosby's rangers became the only recognized effective force according to J.E.B. Stuart, C.S.A.

Privateers - The Civil War term for the private preying of vessels on the high seas. On April 17, 1861, Confederate President Jefferson Davis offered Letters of marque, allowing privately owned ships the authorization to attack Northern owned vessels on the high seas. Privateers did so, motivated by patriotism and pecuniary gain. Lincoln announced the capture of any such crew would be hanged as pirates. Davis countered with a like faith for any Northern crew. Although some privateers had minimal success, it was the Confederate privateer which did the most damage.

Point d'appui - A support or secured point that anchored a position such as the wall at Marye's Heights, Fredericksburg, Va.

Prolonge - An 18 foot length of rope, 3.5 inches in diameter, used in maneuvering an unlimbered gun.

Redoubt - Works outside of the main protected area which supported cannon and infantry. The earthen works also contained logs. Ringed cities and other positions felt to be under imminent attack had redoubts built on the perimeter.

Revenue Cutters - The forerunner of the U.S. Coast Guard. These fast vessels prowled the seas and the great lakes to prevent smuggling and loss of U.S. custom and importation fees.

Rifle Pit - A semi-shallow pit, built from earth which sheltered the common soldier against attack. Usually body length in length and 3-4 feet deep, it was often described as a Civil War soldier's foxhole.

Running The Guard - A Civil War term for desertion. Also known as "flanking the sentinel." Desertion was high when Civil War soldiers were stationed close to or campaigned near their homes.

Salient - In the Civil War, the salient was a defensive line closest to the enemy. It invited an attack. Generals erected salients to protect or cover dominate ground beyond their entrenchments. The "Mule Shoe," of Spotsylvania one of the better known salients.

Scalawags - Southern Republicans in postwar politics who had advocated peace during the war or who had never supported the South, later looking to have their loyalty rewarded.

Shoddy - An inferior wool cloth issued in the form of uniforms during the early days of the war. The term later became the word used to describe inferior government equipment. It literally fell apart in a few weeks of being issued.

Sutlers - Civilian businessmen, appointed by the service to be camp vendors. They often inflated prices and extended credit making each wealthy. Sometimes soldiers would raid their tents and clean them out for such practices.
Unreconstructed - unrepentant, bitter, former Confederate veterans who refused to accept defeat.

Vidette - Another term for picket but usually found on horseback.

Zouave - Civil War units known for their colorful uniforms and bravery, first organized in Chicago by Elmer E. Ellsworth.


Absquatulate - to take leave, to disappear
Acknowledge the Corn - to admit the truth, to confess a lie, or acknowledge an obvious personal shortcoming
Arkansas Toothpick - a long, sharp knife
A.W.O.L. - Absent With Out Leave


Bad Egg - bad person, good for nothing
Balderdash - nonsense
Bark Juice, Red Eye, O Be Joyful - liquor
Beat the Dutch - if that don't beat all
Bluff - trick or deceive
Bragg's Body Guard - lice
Been Through the Mill - been through a lot, seen it all
Bellyache - complain
Big Bugs - big wigs, important people
Bivouac - to camp without formal shelter or in temporary circumstances
Blowhard - braggart, bully
Blue Mass - refers to men on sick call; named after blue pill.
Bread Bag - haversack
Bread Basket - stomach
Bully - exclamation meaning, &'terrific!' or 'hurrah!'
Bully for You - good for you
Bummer – malingerer, someone who deliberately lags behind to forage or steal on his own shrift
Bummer's Cap - regulation army cap with a high/deep crown, so-called because it could be filled with gathered foodstuffs
Bust Head / Pop Skull - cheap whiskey


Camp canard - tall tale circulating around camp as gossip
Cashier - to dismiss from the army dishonorably
Chief Cook and Bottle Washer - person in charge, or someone who can do anything
Chicken Guts - gold braid used to denote officer ranks
Company Q - fictitious unit designation for the sick list
Conniption Fit - hysterics, temper tantrum
Contraband - escaped slaves who sought refuge behind Union lines
Copperhead - Northern person with Southern, anti-Union sympathies
Cracker Line - supply line for troops on the move


Deadbeat - useless person, malingerer
Desecrated Vegetables - Union, dehydrated (desiccated) vegetables formed into yellowish squares
Dog Robber - soldier detailed from the ranks to act as cook
Dog Collar - cravat issued with uniforms, usually discarded
Duds - clothing


Embalmed Beef - canned meat
Essence of Coffee - early instant coffee, found in paste form


Forage - to hunt for food, live off the land; also came to mean plundering enemy property for sustenance
Fit as a fiddle - in good shape
Fit to be tied - angry
Forty Dead Men - a full cartridge box, which usually held forty rounds
French Leave - to go absent without leave
Fresh Fish - new recruits

Go Boil Your Shirt - take a hike, get lost, bug off
Grab a Root - eat a meal, especially a potato
Greenbacks - money
Grey Backs - lice, also derogatory term for Confederate soldiers
Grit - courage, toughness
Goobers - peanuts
Hanker - a strong wish or want


Hard Case - tough guy
Hard Knocks - hard times, ill use
Hardtack - unleavened bread in the form of ¼ inch thick crackers issued by the army
Haversack - canvas bag about one foot square, which was slung over the shoulder and used to carry a soldier's rations when on the march
High-falutin - highbrow, fancy
Horse Sense - common sense, good judgement
Hospital Rat - someone who fakes illness to get out of duty
Housewife - sewing kit
Huffy, In a Huff - angry, irritated


Humbug - nonsense, a sham, a hoax
Hunkey Dorey - very good, all is well
Jailbird - criminal
Jawing - talking
John Barleycorn - beer
Jonah - someone who is or brings bad luck
Knock into a Cocked Hat - to knock someone senseless or thoroughly shock him
Let 'er Rip - let it happen, bring it on


Let Drive - go ahead, do it
Likely - serviceable, able-bodied
Light Out - leave in haste
Long Sweetening - molasses
Lucifers - matches
Muggins - a scoundrel
Mule - meat, especially if of dubious quality
Mustered Out – wry term meaning killed in action


No Account - worthles
Not By a Jug Full - not by any means, no way
On His Own Hook - on one's own shrift, without orders
Opening the Ball - starting the battle
Opine - be of the opinion
Peacock About - strut around
Peaked - pronounced peak-ed; weak or sickly
Pie Eater - country boy, a rustic


Pig Sticker - knife or bayonet
Picket - sentries posted around a camp or bivouac to guard approaches
Play Old Soldier - pretend sickness to avoid combat
Played Out - worn out, exhausted
Pumpkin Rinds - gold lieutenant's bars
Quartermaster Hunter - shot or shell that goes long over the lines and into the rear.
Quick Step, Flux - diarrhea
Robber's Row - the place where sutlers set up to do business
Row - a fight


Salt Horse - salted meat
Sardine Box - cap box
Sawbones - surgeon
Scarce as Hen's Teeth - exceedingly rare or hard to find
Secesh - derogatory term for Confederates and Southerners: secessionists
See The Elephant - experience combat or other worldly events
Shakes - malaria
Shanks Mare - on foot


Sheet Iron Crackers - hard tack
Shoddy - an inferior weave of wool used to make uniforms early in the war; later came to mean any clothing or equipment of substandard quality
Sing Out - call out, yell
Skedaddle - run away, escape
Slouch Hat - a wide-brimmed felt hat
Snug as a Bug - very comfortable
Somebody's Darling - comment when observing a dead soldier
Sound on the Goose - Ture
Sparking - courting a girl
Spondulix - money
Sunday Soldiers / Parlor Soldiers - derogatory terms for unsuitable soldiers


Take an Image - have a photograph taken
Tennessee or Virginia Quick Step - diarrhea
Tight - drunk
Toe the Mark - do as told, follow orders
Top Rail - first class, top quality
Traps - equipment, belongings
Tuckered Out - exhausted

Uppity - arrogant

Vidette - a sentry same as Picket but usually on horseback

Wallpapered - drunk
Whipped - beaten
Wrathy - angry

Zu Zu - Zouaves, soldiers whose units wore colorful uniforms in a flamboyant French style with baggy trousers, known for bravery and valor


"Bumblebee" Sound of Flying miniballs.
"Grey Backs" Derogatory slang for Rebels meaning lice.
"Dog Collar" Army issued cravat, usually thrown away.

"Jonah" Bad Luck.
"Sardine Box" "Cap Box."
"Bread Bag" Haversack.
"40 Dead Men" Cartridge box.
"Patent Bureau" Knapsack.
"Sham Fight" Mock Battle.
"Fresh Fish" Raw recruits.
"Rio" Coffee.
"Hunkey Dorey" Things are going great!
"Tight" or "Wallpapered" Drunk.
"Bark Juice" "Tar Water" Liquor; also "Kokum Stiff" "Old Red Eye" "O Be Joyful"
"Lucifer" Match.
"French Leave" Going AWOL.
"Zu Zu" Zouaves.
"Arkansas Toothpick" Knife.
"PepperBox" Pistol.
"Sawbones" Surgeon.


"Quick Step" "Flux" Diarrhea, also "Tennesse or Virginia Quick Step."
"Shakes" Malaria.
"Greenbacks" "Rocks" "Spondulix" Money.
"Blowhard" A big shot or braggart.
"Hard Case" Tough Guy.
"Salt Horse" Pickled beef.
"Dog Robber" Detailed cook from regular ranks.
"Roast Beef" Noon Meal.
"Peas on a trencher" Breakfast call.
"Essence of Coffee" Civil War form of instant coffee.
"Jonah" Bad Luck.
"Long Sweetening" Molasses


"Chief cook and bottle washer" Person capable of doing many things.
"Take an image" Have your picture taken.
"Housewife" Sewing kit.
"Been through the mill" Bad day; too busy a day.
"Toeing the mark" Doing the job.
"Hard knocks" A tough break.
"Bully" Yeah, or hurrah!
"Bread basket" Stomach.
"Let 'er rip" Go ahead and start.
"Snug as a bug" Very comfortable.
"Artillery" Camp kettles, stoves, posts, tubs, iron foundries.
"Barrel shirt" Barrel worn by thieves for punishment.
"Duds" Clothing.
"Pumpkin rinds" Grumpy term for lieutenants,from their shoulder straps.



Confederate Terms
"Smoked Yanks" Union soldiers cooking over a fire.
"Chicken Guts" Officer's gold braiding on his cuff.
"Gallinippers" Insects, mosquitoes.
"Bombproofs" Term for provost guards/commissaries due to soft life.
"Fighting under the black flag" Soldiers killing lice.
"Giving the vermin a parole" Throwing away clothing infected with lice.
"Bull Pit" Under-arrest confinement area.
"Iron Clad Possum" An armadillo dinner.



"Bragg's Body Guard" Body Lice.
"Sunday or Parlor Soldiers" Insult for soldiers of little merit.
"Jeff Davis' Pets" Rebel western troops' term for A.N.V.
"Company Q" Term for the Sick List.
"Hospital Rats" Person who fakes an illness.
"Worth a Goober" Something that amounts to a lot.
"Goobers" Peanuts.
"Buttermilk Cavalry" Term infantry had for cavalry.
"Web Feet" Term cavalry had for infantry.
"Fairy Fleet" Boats carrying trade between sides at Fredricksburg
Abbreviation "I.W." In For the War.
"Mule" Meat.
"Top Rail" First class.
"Greenhorn", "Bugger", "Skunk" Officer.
"Skeddadle" Better run!
"Jawings" Talking.
"Ginned Cotton" Flower bread.
"Night blindness" "Gravel" Condition caused by lack of green veggies.
"Horse sense" Smart, or on the ball.
"Fit to be tied" Angry.
"Here's your mule" 1.Nonsense expression like: Kilroy was here.
2. Term infantry used to insult cavalry.
Reader Chuck Bryant wrote the infantry
would hold up their feet and say, "Mister,
here's your mule" meaning the infantryman's
feet did the job of transporting the soldier
(like a mule would for the cavalry). The double
insult was also in the fact the cavalry
rode horses, and not mules.
"Who wouldn't be a soldier?" "Who cares?"


"Bluff" Cheater.
"Jailbird" A criminal.
"Scarse as hen's teeth" Something rare or scarce.
"Fit as a fiddle" Healthy, feeling good.
"Sparking" Kissing.
"Quartermaster Hunter" Shot or shell that passed overhead and far into rear.
"Opening of the ball" Units waiting to move into battle.
"Goober Grabbers" Good natured term for Georgia troops.
"Sand Happers" Good natured term for South Carolina troops.
"Yellow Hammers" Good natured term for Alabama troops.



Ace-high ~ first class, respected.

According to Hoyle ~ Correct, by the book.

A hog-killin' time ~ a real good time. "We went to the New Year's Eve dance and had us a hog-killin' time."

A lick and a promise ~ to do haphazardly. "She just gave it a lick and a promise."

All down but nine ~ missed the point, not understood. (Reference to missing all nine pins at bowling.)

Arbuckle's ~ slang for coffee, taken from a popular brand of the time. "I need a cup of Arbuckle's."

At sea ~ at a loss, not comprehending. "When it comes to understanding women, boys, I am at sea."

Back down ~ yield, retract.

Balled up ~ confused.

Bang-up ~ first rate. "They did a bang-up job."

Bazoo ~ mouth. "Shut your big bazoo."

Bear sign ~ cowboy term for donuts. A cook who could and would make them was highly regarded.

Beat the devil around the stump ~ to evade responsibility or a difficult task. "Quit beatin' the devil around the stump and ask that girl to marry you."

Beef ~ to kill. (From killing a cow to make beef to eat.) "Curly Bill beefed two men in San Antonio."

Bend an elbow ~ have a drink. "He's been known to bend an elbow with the boys."

Bender ~ drunk. "He's off on another bender."

Between hay and grass ~ neither man nor boy, half-grown.

Best bib and tucker ~ your best clothes. "There's a dance Saturday, so put on your best bib and tucker."

Big bug ~ important person, official, boss. "He's one of the railroad big bugs."

Bilk ~ cheat.

Blow ~ boast, brag. "Don't listen to him, that's just a lot of blow."

Blowhard ~ braggart, bully.


Blow-up ~ fit of anger. "He and the missus had a blow-up, but it's over, now."

Bone orchard ~ cemetery.

Bosh ~ Nonsense.

Boss ~ the best, top. "The Alhambra Saloon sells the boss whiskey in town."

Bulldoze ~ to bully, threaten, coerce.

Bully ~ Exceptionally good, outstanding. (Used as an exclamation.) "Bully for you!"

Bunko artist ~ con man.

Burg ~ town.

By hook or crook ~ to do any way possible.

Calaboose ~ jail.

California widow ~ woman separated from her husband, but not divorced. (From when pioneer men went West, leaving their wives to follow later.)

Chisel, chiseler ~ to cheat or swindle, a cheater.

Clean his/your plow ~ to get or give a thorough whippin'.

Coffee boiler ~ shirker, lazy person. (Would rather sit around the coffee pot than help.)

Consumption ~ slang for pulminary tuberculosis.

Copper a bet ~ Betting to loose, or being prepared against loss. "I'm just coppering my bets."

Come a cropper ~ come to ruin, fail, or fall heavily. "He had big plans to get rich, but it all come a cropper, when the railroad didn't come through."

Croaker ~ pessimist, doomsayer. "Don't be such an old croaker."

Crowbait ~ derogatory term for a poor-quality horse.

Curly wolf ~ real tough guy, dangerous man. "Ol' Bill is a regular curly wolf, especially when he's drinkin' whiskey."

Cut a swell ~ present a fine figure. "He sure is cutting a swell with the ladies."

Dicker ~ barter, trade.

Difficulty ~ euphamism for trouble, often the shootin' or otherwise violent kind. "He had to leave Texas on account of a difficulty with a gambler in San Antonio."

Directly ~ soon. "She'll be down, directly."

Deadbeat ~ bum, layabout, useless person.

Dinero ~ from the Spanish, a word for money.

Don't care a continental ~ Don't give a damn.

Down on ~ opposed to. "His wife is really down on drinking and cigars."

Doxology works ~ a church.

Dragged out ~ fatigued, worn out.

Dreadful ~ very. "Oh, her dress is dreadfully pretty."

Dry gulch ~ to ambush. Reference from abandoning a body where it fell.

Dude ~ an Easterner, or anyone in up-scale town clothes, rather than plain range-riding or work clothes.

Eucher, euchered ~ to out-smart someone, to be outwitted or suckered into something.

Fandango ~ from the Spanish, a big party with lots of dancing and excitement.

Fetch ~ bring, give. "Fetch me that hammer." / "He fetched him a punch in the nose."

Fight like Kilkenny cats ~ fight like hell.

Fine as cream gravy ~ very good, top notch.

Fish ~ a cowboy's rain slicker, from a rain gear manufacturer whose trademark was a fish logo. "We told him it looked like rain, but left his fish in the wagon anyhow."

Flannel mouth ~ an overly smooth or fancy talker, especially politicians or salesmen. "I swear that man is a flannel-mouthed liar."

Flush ~ prosperous, rich.

Fork over ~ pay out.

Four-flusher ~ a cheat, swindler, liar.

Full as a tick ~ very drunk.

Fuss ~ disturbance. "They had a little fuss at the saloon."

Game ~ to have courage, guts, gumption. "He's game as a banty rooster." Or, "That's a hard way to go, but he died game."

Get a wiggle on ~ hurry.

Get it in the neck ~ get cheated, misled, bamboozled.

Get my/your back up ~ to get angry. "Don't get your back up, he was only joking."

Get the mitten ~ to be rejected by a lover. "Looks like Blossom gave poor Buck the mitten."

Give in ~ yield.

Goner ~ lost, dead.

Gone up the flume ~ same as goner!

Gospel mill ~ a church.

Gospel sharp ~ a preacher. (Apparent opposite of a card sharp!)

Got the bulge ~ have the advantage. "We'll get the bulge on him, and take his gun away."

Go through the mill ~ gain experience. (Often the hard way.)

Grand ~ excellent, beautiful. "Oh, the Christmas decorations look just grand!"

Granger ~ a farmer.

Grass widow ~ divorcee.


Hang around ~ loiter.

Hang fire ~ delay.

Half seas over ~ drunk.

Hard case ~ worthless person, bad man.

Heap ~ a lot, many, a great deal. "He went through a heap of trouble to get her that piano."

Heeled ~ to be armed with a gun. "He wanted to fight me, but I told him I was not heeled."

Here's how! ~ a toast, such as Here's to your health.

Hobble your lip ~ shut up.

Hold a candle to ~ measure up, compare to.

Hoosegow ~ jail.

Hot as a whorehouse on nickel night ~ damned hot.

In apple pie order ~ in top shape.

Is that a bluff, or do you mean it for real play? ~ Are you serious?

Jig is up ~ scheme/game is over, exposed.

Kick up a row ~ create a disturbance.

Knocked into a cocked hat ~ fouled up, rendered useless.

Knock galley west ~ beat senseless.

Let slide/ let drive/ let fly ~ go ahead, let go. "If you think you want trouble, then let fly."

Light (or lighting) a shuck ~ to get the hell out of here in a hurry. "I'm lightin' a shuck for California."

Like a thoroughbred ~ like a gentleman.

Lunger ~ slang for someone with tuberculosis.

Make a mash ~ make a hit, impress someone. (Usually a female.) "Buck's tryin' to make a mash on that new girl."

Mudsill ~ low-life, thoroughly disreputable person.

Nailed to the counter ~ proven a lie.

Namby-pamby ~ sickly, sentimental, saccharin.

Odd stick ~ eccentric person. "Ol' Farmer Jones sure is an odd stick."

Of the first water ~ first class. "He's a gentleman of the first water."

Offish ~ distant, reserved, aloof.

Oh-be-joyful ~ Liquor, beer, intoxicating spirits. "Give me another snort of that oh-be-joyful."

On the shoot ~ looking for trouble. "Looks like he's on the shoot, tonight."

Pass the buck ~ evade responsibility.

Pay through the nose ~ to over-pay, or pay consequences.

Peter out ~ dwindle away.

Play to the gallery ~ to show off. "That's just how he is, always has to play to the gallery."

Played out ~ exhausted.

Plunder ~ personal belongings. "Pack your plunder, Joe, we're headin' for San Francisco."

Pony up ~ hurry up!

Powerful ~ very. "He's a powerful rich man."

Promiscuous ~ reckless, careless. "He was arrested for a promiscuous display of fire arms."

Proud ~ glad. "I'm proud to know you."

Pull in your horns ~ back off, quit looking for trouble.

Put a spoke in the wheel ~ to foul up or sabotage something.

Quirley ~ roll-your-own cigarette.

Rich ~ amusing, funny, improbable. "Oh, that's rich!"

Ride shank's mare ~ to walk or be set afoot.

Right as a trivet ~ right as rain, sound as a nut, stable.

Rip ~ reprobate. "He's a mean ol' rip."

Roostered ~ drunk. "Looks like those cowboys are in there gettin' all roostered up."

See the elephant ~ originally meant to see combat for the first time, later came to mean going to town, where all the action was.

Scoop in ~ trick, entice, inveigle. "He got scooped into a poker game and lost his shirt."

Scuttlebutt ~ rumors.


Shave tail ~ a green, inexperienced person.

Shin out ~ run away.

Shindy ~ uproar, confusion.

Shoddy ~ poor quality.

Shoot, Luke, or give up the gun ~ poop or get off the pot, do it or quit talking about it.

Shoot one's mouth off ~ talk nonsense, untruth. "He was shootin' his mouth off and Bill gave him a black eye."

Shove the queer ~ to pass counterfeit money.

Simon pure ~ the real thing, a genuine fact. "This is the Simon pure."

Skedaddle ~ run like hell.

Soaked ~ drunk.

Soft solder ~ flattery. "All that soft solder won't get you anywhere."

Someone to ride the river with ~ a person to be counted on; reliable; got it where it counts.

Sound on the goose ~ true, staunch, reliable.

Stand the gaff ~ take punishment in good spirit. "He can really stand the gaff."

Stop ~ stay. "We stopped at the hotel last night."

Stumped ~ confused.

Superintend ~ oversee, supervise. "He just likes to superintend everything."

Take on ~ grieve. "Don't take on so."

Take French leave ~ to desert, sneak off without permission.

Take the rag off ~ surpass, beat all. "Well, if that don't take the rag off the bush."

The Old States ~ back East.

The whole kit and caboodle ~ the entire thing.

Throw up the sponge ~ quit, give up, surrender.

Tie to ~ rely on. "He's a man you can tie to."

To beat the Dutch ~ to beat the band. "It was rainin' to beat the Dutch."

To the manner born ~ a natural. "He's a horseman to the manner born."

Twig ~ understand.

Up the spout ~ gone to waste/ruin.

Wake up/Woke up the wrong passenger ~ to trouble or anger the wrong person.

Who-hit-John ~ Liquor, beer, intoxicating spirits. "He had a little too much who-hit-John."

Wind up ~ settle. "Let's wind up this business and go home."