Civil War Living History
(Article submitted by John Bowen to the Union Standard)

Probably the most difficult part of reenacting is doing a credible job at first person portrayals. Aside from doing the actual research on the individual you would like to portray, the hardest concept to grasp is the context of their lives. Without some knowledge of what was occurring and when it occurred, it's hard not to introduce anachronisms into your attempt. I present the following in the hope that with just a small expense of time and effort, we will all be able to begin to approach a level of authenticity to be able to carry on an intelligent conversation with our resident dean of Civil War mannerisms and vocabulary: yes, I'm speaking of Moses' brother hisself, brother Glen Hargis...

From "Everyday Life in the 1800's, A Guide for Writers, Students & Historians"


Acknowledge the corn: to admit the truth, to confess
Across lots: to push on straight thru despite obstacles
Adventuress: euphemism for prostitute or wild woman
Albert: a short chain connecting a watch to a buttonhole
All creation, all nature, all wrath: everything and everybody
All-fired: hell-fired
All on one stick: a conglomeration or combination
All-overish: uncomfortable
Allow: to admit, to be of the opinion
All possessed, like: like someone or something possessed by the devil
All too pieces: completely, absolutely
Almighty: huge
Anti-fogmatic: raw rum or whiskey
Apple jack: apple brandy, liquor distilled from apple cider
Arkansas toothpick: a long knife (also known as a California or Missouri toothpick)
Backing and filling: changing one's mind, waffling
Bad egg: a bad person, a good-for-nothing person
Balderdash: nonsense, foolishness, empty babble
Baldface: slang for old brown whiskey
Balls: shortened from ballocks
Bawdy house: a house of prostitution. Washington D.C. was home for an estimated 450 
bordellos; among them: the Blue Goose, the Haystack, the Ironclad, Hooker's 
Headquarters and Mother Russel's Bake Oven. Also known as an Assignation 
House or House of ill-fame. 
Beans, don't know, don't care: anything something, nothing
Beat the Dutch: to beat all or beat the devil
Biddy: a hen
Big Bugs: bigwigs, important people
Biggest toad in the puddle: the most important person in a group
Black soldiers: 178,975 blacks in some 166 regiments served in the war
Blackstrap: slang for any cheap alcohol, named after the thick molasses used in the
processing of industrial alcohol
Blame: euphemism for damn
Blazes: euphemism for hell or the devil
Bodaciously: an exaggeration of 'bodily'
Body: a person
Boiled shirt: popular slang for a clean shirt
Boodle: a crowd of people/ or counterfeit or stolen money
Born days, in all's one's: lifetime, since one was born
[Not] Born in the woods to be scared by an owl: one who is experienced and not afraid
Breast: not used in mixed company. 'Delicate' citizens went so far as to call a chicken 
breast a bosom.
Brick in one's hat, to have: to be drunk
Bub and sis: brother and sister, especially applied to children
Bucket shop: a gin mill, a distillery
Bully for you!: well done, good for you
Bully soup: a hot cereal comprised of cornmeal and mashed hard tack boiled in water,
wine and ginger, and served to Union troops 
Bummer: the original word for a bum, a lazy hobo or a drunk
Bunkum: claptrap
Candle-lighting: dusk
Cap the climax: to beat all, to surpass everything
Carryings-on: frolicking, partying
[to] Catch a weasel asleep: referring to something impossible or unlikely in regard to
someone who is always alert and seldom or never caught off guard
Cavort: to frolic or prance about
Chandler: a candle maker
Chattel: euphemism for a slave, used by polite society
Chevaux-de-frise: spiked logs used to protect defensive positions
Chirk: cheerful, chirpy
Cobbler: one who repaired shoes and boots
Cocked hat: to knock someone senseless or to shock him completely
Cold as a wagon tire: dead
Conniption fit: a fit of hysteria
Considerable: no small specimen
Contraband, cuffy, cuffee, darky: pejorative slang for a Negro
Coon's age: a long time
Coot: an idiot, a simpleton, a ninny
Cooper: one who made or repaired wooden vessels, especially barrels and tubs
Corned: drunk
Cordwainer: one who made shoes
Cracker: a poor white of the South, named after the cracking whips used by rural 
Cussed: a somewhat acceptable swear word, meaning cursed, contemptible, mean
Dad: a euphemistic form of God, e.g. dad-blame it
Dang or dash: euphemism for damn
Deadhead: a noncombatant traveling with the army
Devil: a more powerful expletive in the 19th century than now
Dickens: a euphemism for devil
Didoes: to cut up didoes was to get into mischief
Diggings: one's home, lodgings, community
Doggery: a cheap drinking establishment, in modern terms; a dive
Doings: 'fixings' for a meal
Do tell: phrase used to express fascination with a speaker's subject
Doughface: a Northerner who favored slavery
Dude: a dandy
Dundrearys [or Icadilly Weepers]: sideburns
Eat the Dishrag: the dishrag was bread wiped across your plate to mop last drops
[to see the] Elephant: to see it all, to experience it all
Embalmed beef: nickname given by Union troops to the tinned beef sold to the army by
Chicago meat packers. Also called Salt Horse 
Express: the mails, a mail stage
Faith Paper: Paper money based on trust rather than precious metal
Farrier: a blacksmith who specialized in shoeing horses
Fire & Fall Back: to throw up
[make a] Fist: to succeed at something
Flip: a drink comprised of beer, rum, and sugar
French pox: euphemism for syphilis
Full chisel: at full speed, executed with everything you've got
[not one's] Funeral: not one's business, none of one's concern
Gallowses: suspenders
Goober grabbers: nickname for Confederate soldiers from Georgia
Gotham: New York City
Go the whole hog: to go all the way
Greased lightning: anything very fast
Grist: a quantity
Grit: guts, courage, toughness
Grocery: a drinking establishment [also doggery, dram shop, grocery]
Grum: surly, gloomy, glum
Gum: lies, exaggerations. As a verb, to dupe someone.
Guttersnipe: a homeless child who roamed and slept in the streets
Hang up one's fiddle: to give up
Hankering: a strong desire
Hard tack: also called teeth dullers, worm castles, & sheet iron crackers 
[settle one's] Hash: to settle one's business
High-falutin: highbrow, stuck up
[on one's own] Hook: on one's own, one's own doing
Hooter: an atom, a tiny amount
[by the] Horn spoon: an exclamation of surprise, shock or anger
Hornswoggle, honey-fuggled: to cheat, to pull the wool over one's eyes
Huckleberry above a persimmon: a cut above
Huffed, huffy: angry, irritated, offended
Hull: frequently used for whole
Hum: frequently used for home
Humbug: a deception, a hoax, an imposter, the equivalent of the modern BS
Inexpressibles: euphemism for pants (underwear)
I snore, I swan, I swow: socially acceptable alternative to the expression "I swear"
Jesse: to give one hell or to beat the hell out of him
Jim Crow car: any railroad car in which Negroes were segregated from white 
passengers. The name derived from a minstrel routine-"Jump Jim Crow"- 
performed in 1828. The name grew quickly into a pejorative epithet for blacks.
Knacker: one who purchased old or dead livestock and sold meat or hides
Kick: to protest or object to something, to complain
Lampposts: Civil War soldiers described artillery shells in flight as flying lampposts
because to the naked eye they looked like elongated blurs 
Land sakes: socially acceptable alternative for lord's sake
Lay: price, terms, salary
Lead Mine: a soldier who has received multiple bullet wounds
Leg: considered a naughty term, limb was used as a polite substitute
Let her rip: let it go!
Like a book: to speak eloquently or with a large vocabulary
Likely: able-bodied, attractive, serviceable
Limb: socially acceptable or polite word for leg
Little end of the horn: same as short end of the stick, to come out of a situation 
Lobcourse: Union soup made of salt pork, hard tack and anything else available 
Long nine: nickname foe a cheap, 9-inch cigar
Mad as a March hare: very angry
Make a die: to die
Maroon: a fugitive slave in hiding
Miller: one who operated a grain-grinding mill
[have a] Mind: to have a notion, to be willing
[to get or give the] Mitten: a lady, in turning down a proposal is said to give the
gentleman the mitten
Mosey: to saunter or shuffle along
Most: used for almost
Mudsill: the uneducated, working class
Musical Box: a Confederate army wagon, also called a Jeff Davis Box
No-account: worthless
Nohow, no way you can fix it: not at all
Not by a jugful: not at all
Notions: a wide variety of miscellaneous articles for sale
[ask no] odds: ask no favor
Old man, old woman: one's spouse, also, one's father or mother
Old orchard: whiskey
One-horse: small, limited, inferior
Opine: to be of the opinion
Ornary: mean
Paper Collar Soldiers: soldiers assigned to forts
Peaked: thin or sickly in appearance
Peart: fresh and happy, sprightly
Philadelphia lawyer: popularly credited with nearly superhuman intelligence
Picayune: used to signify something small or frivolous
Picture: one's face, one's person
Pile on the agony: to add insult to injury
Plank, plank down, plank up: to pay in cash
Plug-ugly: a Baltimore rowdy, any rowdy or ruffian
Plum, plumb: entirely, completely
Plunder: personal belongings, baggage
Pony up, post the pony: pay up
Poor as Job's turkey: very poor
Potomac Chowder: Burnt hardtack in water
Powerful: great, extreme, a large quantity
Pucker: in a state of irritation or anger
Puke: a Missourian (sorry George, just reportin' the facts!)
Pull foot: to leave in a hurry
Reckon: to think or guess
Retiracy: retirement
Ride out on a rail: to be forced to leave town
Rip-roaring, rip-staver, rip-snortin': an impressive person or thing
Rum-hole: a small drinking establishment, especially in New York
Runner: one who solicited business for a hotel, boardinghouse, steamship, etc.
Sabbaday, Sabberday: the Sabbath day
Sakes alive: the equivalent of good heavens or for God's sake
Salt River: to row someone up Salt River is to beat him up or give him hell
Sam Hill: euphemism for the devil
Saratoga Chips: invented in 1853 at Saratoga Spgs, NY, the original potato chip
Savage as a meat axe: extremely savage
Savagerous: savage
Sawyer: one who sawed trees or wood by hand at a lumber mill
School ma'am, school'marm: a woman teacher
Seed: often used for saw or seen
Set by, set much by: to regard, to esteem
[to] Set store by: to set value upon, to appreciate
Seven to nine: something or someone of inferior or common quality, originating from
common windowpanes of that size
[great] Shakes: of great consequence
Shaw, pshaw: an expression of contempt or incredulity
Shecoonery: a corruption of chicanery
[to cut] Shines: to pull practical jokes or tricks
Shoddies: shoddy uniforms made from wool scraps that fell apart in bad weather
Shucks: worthless people or things (from corn or pea shucks)
Shut pan: shut up, shut your mouth
Sin to Moses, sin to Crockett: something that would shame either Moses or Crockett
Skedaddle: to flee
Skeery: to be afraid or cautious
Skillygalee: hard tack soaked in water and fried in pork grease, a Union specialty 
Slantindicular: slanting
Slick: to fix or dress up
[right] Smart: a large quantity
Smart as a steel trap: particularly intelligent and quick
Smile: a drink, to take a drink
Sockdologer: a powerful punch or blow
Some pumpkins: someone or something impressive
Sorghum: sorghum syrup and sugar served as a substitute for cane sugar in the South 
throughout the Civil War
Sot: a corruption of set or sat
Sour on: to get sick of someone or something, to give up something out of disgust
Sparking/ spark it: courting; to court
Spree: to go out and carouse, to party and get drunk
Squire: a justice of the peace or magistrate
Steady habits: the land of steady habits was New England
Streaked: frightened or annoyed
Suspicion: to suspect
Tinker: one who repaired or made tinware
Tomatoes: widely believed to be poisonous and generally not eaten until the early 1880s
Tote: to carry
Trace: a trail or path
Truck, spun truck: garden produce intended for market. Later, it came to mean any
quantity of 'stuff.'
Tuckered out: exhausted
Vamose: to leave quickly
Virginia fence: a staggering drunk was said to make this (a zig-zagging fence) when he
walked. Anyone or anything that meanders.
Wake snakes: to raise a ruckus
Wheelwright: one who made or repaired wagon wheels
Whip one's weight in wild cats: to defeat a powerful opponent
Whitewash: to gloss over or hide one's faults or shortcomings
Wrathy: angry
Yankee notions: things made in New England, made widely known by traveling Yankee 


Bit: one-eighth of a dollar, therefore a quarter is 2 bits
Bungtown coppers: worthless copper coins
Civil War tokens: also Hard Times tokens: frequently called Copperheads, issued by 
private individuals and businesses to make up for the severe coin shortage due to 
Coppers: slang for cents
Double eagle: a 20 dollar gold piece
Eagle: a 10 dollar gold piece
Fractional currency: from 1863 to 1876, small notes of 3, 5, 10, 25, and 50 cents were 
issued by the gov't. to help alleviate the coin shortage and to be used in lieu of 
postal currency
Green backs or United States notes: the legal tender notes issued by the gov't. in 1862.
They were the dominant form of money sued by the North, depreciating to 35
cents per dollar in 1864 and rising to 75 cents as the North began to win the war.
Actual face value per dollar was finally achieved 14 years after the war.
Large cents: minted 1793-1857. Replaced in 1857 by a smaller cent. Other uses: 
housewives tossed them in their pickling crocks to give their pickles a rich green 
color, which it was learned, poisoned people. Were also tacked to the ridgepoles 
of new houses in New England to insure good luck. The eyes of corpses were 
also kept shut by these coins. Some people made necklaces of the cents as a cure 
for arthritis.
National Bank Notes: issued by Nat'l banks in 1863 to replace those issued by state 
Pocket full of rocks: slang for having plenty of money
Postal currency: in July 1862 the gov't. allowed the use of postage stamps to help
alleviate the massive coin shortage. 
Shinplasters: paper currency issued in denominations as low as 5 cents by businesses 
and individuals in the 1830s and again in the 1860s to help offset the shortage of 
Slug: a 50 dollar gold piece issued in 1851 and 1852
Small cents: made from copper and nickel and actually called nickels by the public from 
Spondulicks: slang for money
Vs and Xs: 5 and 10-dollar bills

Other coins in circulation: gold dollar, half cent, half dime, half dollar, half eagle, quarter, quarter eagle, silver dollar, 3 cent piece, 2 cent piece.


While 110,000 Northern and 94,000 Confederate soldiers were mortally wounded in battle, 388,580 died from illnesses, most often from diarrhea, typhoid, typhus, malarial fevers, pneumonia and small pox.

Ague: a frequently used name for malarial fever and chills
Anesthetics: Nitrous oxide was introduced in 1844 and ether in 1848 and morphine
became available during the Civil War.
Catarrh: frequently used name for any inflammation of the mucous membranes, 
especially in the nose and throat
Consumption: the commonly used name for the lung-destroying disease of tuberculosis, 
one the most frequent causes of death throughout the century. The true nature of 
TB wasn't discovered until 1882
Dyspepsia: indigestion
Miasma: the bad air or poisonous effluvium thought to be responsible for many diseases.
Nostalgia: Union physician's term for the disease of homesickness 
Patent medicines: nonprescription, quack remedies, frequently laced with alcohol, 
purporting to cure everything from consumption to old age. Some examples: 
Prof. Low's Liniment and Worm Syrup, Dr. Flint's Quaker Bitters, Dr. 
Townsend's Sarsaparilla.


1800: capital moved from Philadelphia to Washington
1801: Thomas Jefferson, Pres, Aaron Burr, VP
Tripoli declares war on U.S. 
1802: West Point established 
1803: Louisiana purchased for $15 million, Ohio becomes 17th state
1804: Burr kills Alexander Hamilton in duel at Weehawken, NJ.
1805: Jefferson begins 2nd term.
1806: Zebulon Pike names Pile's Peak
1807: Robt. Fulton tests steamboat Clermont on the Hudson
1808: Slave trade with Africa banned
1809: James Madison becomes 4th president
1811: Battle of Tippecanoe. First steamboat on the Ohio River. Construction of the 
Cumberland Road (National Road) (completed in 1818.
1812: Louisiana admitted as state. U.S. declares war on Great Britain. Canada invaded.
1813: Perry captures English fleet on Lake Erie. Madison reelected.
1814: British burn Washington, bomb Ft. McHenry
1815: Battle of New Orleans
1816: U.S. Bank chartered by Congress/ Indiana admitted
1817: James Monroe, Pres./ Mississippi admitted/ Seminole Wars
1818: Illinois admitted
1819: The Savannah, 1st transatlantic steamship/ Alabama admitted/ Spain sells Florida 
to U.S. for $5M
1820: N.Y.C. population: 124,000, Philadelphia: 113,000, Baltimore: 63,000/ Maine, 
formerly a part of Mass. Admitted
1821: Monroe elected to 2nd term/ Missouri Compromise passed/ Missouri admitted
1823: Monroe Doctrine
1825: John Quincy Adams, Pres./ Erie Canal completed
1827: 1st railway in U.S. constructed in Mass.
1828: Protective Tariff Bill passed
1829: Andrew Jackson Pres.
1830: 1st steam locomotive, Tom Thumb, built in Baltimore, loses race against horse-
drawn train after mechanical failure/ Nat Turner slave rebellion in VA.
1832: Black Hawk War
1833: Jackson reelected
1834: Whig Party 1st takes its name
1835: 1st assassination attempt in U.S. fails against Jackson/ 2nd Seminole War begins
1836: Massacre at the Alamo
1837: Martin Van Buren Pres./ Economic panic and depression
1840: 1st regular steamship service btw Boston & Liverpool/ Antarctic discovered
1841: William Harrison Pres. / Harrison dies, John Tyler takes over/ NY Times founded 
by Horace Greeley
1843: Samuel Morse's 1st telegraph message "What hath god wrought." Sent from 
Baltimore to Washington D.C.
1845: TX admitted/ James Polk Pres. / Florida admitted/ Oil discovered near Pittsburgh
1846: Mexican War begins/ Smithsonian established/ Iowa admitted/ Mormons follow 
Brigham Young from Illinois to Utah
1847: Mormons found Salt Lake City/ Mexican War ends
1848: Gold discovered in Sacramento/ Wisconsin admitted/ 1st Women's Rights 
Convention in Seneca Falls, NY
1849: Zachary Taylor Pres./ Gold Rush begins
1850: Taylor dies, Millard Fillmore Pres./ California admitted/ Slave trade banned in 
1851: New York Times founded
1852: Uncle Tom's Cabin published, sells 300,000 copies in 1st year, over 1M 2nd year
1853: Franklin Pierce Pres./ U.S. buys southern Arizona & NM form Mexico for $10
1854: Republican Party formed
1857: James Buchanan Pres./ Dred Scott decision
1858: Macy's opens in NYC/ Minnesota admitted/ 1st message over transatlantic cable
1859: Oregon admitted/ John Brown's raid/ Gold rush to Colorado & Nevada/ 1st oil well 
drilled at Titusville, PA
1860: Pony Express begins btw St. Joseph, MO & Sacramento/ South Carolina secedes
1861: Abraham Lincoln Pres./ secession of Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, 
Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, & North Carolina/ Kansas 
admitted as 34th state/ 1st income tax (3 percent of income over $800)/ 
Transcontinental telegraph becomes operational/ Jefferson Davis, Pres of 
1862: Battle btw Monitor & Virginia (Merrimac)/ Slavery abolished in D.C./ Capture of 
Ft. Henry & Donelson/ Shiloh/ Antietam/ Greenbacks issued for 1st time/ 
Homestead Act signed
1863: Emancipation Proclamation/ West Virginia admitted/ Gettysburg/ Vicksburg/ 
Gettysburg Address, Nov 19th
1864: Nevada admitted/ Battles of Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, Petersburg 
cost Grant 68,000 soldiers/ Sherman's March to the Sea
1865: Lincoln reelected/ Lee surrenders/ Lincoln assassinated/ Reconstruction


1792: The Farmer's Almanac founded
1818: Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
1821: The Spy, James Fenimore Cooper
Saturday Evening Post founded
1823: Leatherstocking Tales, James Fenimore Cooper
1826: The Last of the Mohicans, James Fenimore Cooper
1827-28: The Birds of America, John James Audubon
1828: American Dictionary of the English Language, Noah Webster
1830: The Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith
Godey's Lady's book (magazine) founded
1831-1865: Liberator (anti-slavery magazine) published in Boston
1833- 1865: Knickerbocker Magazine published
1836: Pickwick Papers, Charles Dickens
Nature, Ralph Waldo Emerson
1837: Essays, Ralph Waldo Emerson
Twice Told Tales, Nathaniel Hawthorne
1840: Two Years Before the Mast, Richard Henry Dana
1841: Tales of Grotesque and Arabesque, Edgar Allen Poe
1845: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas, an American Slave, Frederick Douglas
Scientific American founded
1846: Home Journal (magazine) founded
1847: Vanity Fair, W.M. Thackeray
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
1849: On the Duty of Civil Disobedience, Henry David Thoreau
1850: The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne
1850: Harper's Monthly Magazine founded
1851: The House of the Seven Gables, Nathaniel Hawthorne
Moby Dick, Herman Melville
1852: Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe
1855: Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper founded
1856: Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert
1859: Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
1860: The Mill on the Floss, George Eliot
1861: Silas Marner, George Eliot
1864: Journey to the Center of the Earth, Jules Verne
1865: From the Earth to the Moon, Jules Verne

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