Aide-de-Camp: A soldier who was appointed by an officer to be his confidential assistant. The aide wrote and delivered orders and held a position of responsibility which required him to know troop positions and where officer quarters were located. The aide-de-camp was an officer by virtue of his position and he took orders from his commander only.
Battery: The basic unit of soldiers in an artillery regiment; similar to a company in an infantry regiment. Batteries included 6 cannon (with the horses, ammunition, and equipment needed to move and fire them), 155 men, a captain, 30 other officers, 2 buglers, 52 drivers, and 70 cannoneers. As the War dragged on, very few batteries fought at full strength. A battery can also be the position on a battlefield where cannon are located.
Bivouac: (pronounced BIH-voo-ack) Temporary soldier encampment in which soldiers were provided no shelter other than what could be assembled quickly, such as branches; sleeping in the open.
Border States: The states of Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, and Missouri. Although these states did not officially join the Confederacy, many of their citizens supported the South.
Breastworks: Barriers which were about breast-high and protected soldiers from enemy fire.
Breech-loading: Rifle-muskets that could be loaded at the breech (in the middle between the barrel and the stock) instead of from the end (by shoving gunpowder and a ball down the barrel) were called breech-loading guns
Campaign: A series of military operations that form a distinct phase of the War
Canister: Canister shot was the deadliest type of ammunition, consisting of a thin metal container loaded with layers of lead or iron balls packed in sawdust. Upon exiting the muzzle, the container disintegrated, and the balls fanned out as the equivalent of a shotgun blast. The effective range of canister was only 400 yards (370 m), but within that range dozens of enemy infantrymen could be mowed down. Even more devastating was “double canister”, generally used only in dire circumstances at extremely close range, where two containers of balls were fired simultaneously.
Carbine: A breech-loading, single-shot, rifle-barreled gun primarily used by cavalry troops. A carbine’s barrel is several inches shorter than a regular rifle-musket.
Case: These were antipersonnel projectiles carrying a smaller burst charge than shell, but designed to be more effective against exposed troops. While shell produced only a few large fragments, case was loaded with lead or iron balls and was designed to burst above and before the enemy line, showering down many more small but destructive projectiles on the enemy. The effect was analogous to a weaker version of canister. With case the lethality of the balls and fragments came from the velocity of the projectile itself – the small burst charge only fragmented the case and dispersed the shrapnel. The spherical case used in a 12-pounder Napoleon contained 78 balls. The name shrapnel derives from its inventor, Henry Shrapnel.
The primary limitations to case effectiveness came in judging the range, setting the fuse accordingly, and the reliability and variability of the fuse itself
Caisson: The caisson was also a two-wheeled carriage. It carried two ammunition chests and a spare wheel. A fully loaded limber and caisson combination weighed 3,811 pounds The limbers, caissons, and gun carriages were all constructed of oak. Each ammunition chest typically carried about 500 pounds of ammunition or supplies. In addition to these vehicles, there were also battery supply wagons and portable forges that were used to service the guns.
Charge: To rush towards the enemy. “A charge” can refer to the act of rushing the enemy’s lines by cavalry or infantry, but also the amount of gunpowder loaded into a firearm in order to send the projectile out of the gun’s barrel.
Courier: A soldier who served the officers of his regiment by carrying messages.
Defeat in Detail: Defeating a military force unit by unit. This occurred when units were unable to support one another, often because of distance.
Dysentery: Intestinal disease causing severe diarrhea. Dysentery was a leading cause of deaths by disease.
Entrenchments: Long cuts (trenches) dug out of the earth with the dirt piled up into a mound in front; used for defense.
Earthwork: A field fortification (such as a trench or a mound) made of earth. Earthworks were used to protect troops during battles or sieges, to protect artillery batteries, and to slow an advancing enemy.
Flank: Used as a noun, a “flank” is the end (or side) of a military position, also called a “wing”. An unprotected flank is “in the air”, while a protected flank is a “refused flank”. Used as a verb, “to flank” is to move around and gain the side of an enemy position, avoiding a frontal assault.
Garrison: A group of soldiers stationed at a military post.
Grapeshot: By the time of Gettysburg, this was relegated to a term used interchangeably with canister. While similar to canister, grapeshot originated in Naval use for firing into an enemy ship at close range in order to cut the rigging and sails and clear the decks of personnel. While grapeshot was used for a period of time in the field, canister had come to replace grapeshot’s use on land in the American Civil war. The period Ordnance and Gunnery work states that grape was excluded from “field and mountain services.
Hardtack: Hardtack is a term used to describe the hard crackers often issued to soldiers of both sides during the Civil War. These crackers consisted of nothing more than flour, water, and salt. They were simple and inexpensive to make in very large quantities. However, these crackers became almost rock solid once they went stale.
Haversack: Small canvas bag, about one foot square, used to carry a soldier’s food. Typically, these bags were painted with black tar to make them waterproof.
Howitzer: A cannon which fired hollow projectiles and was generally lighter and shorter than its solid-shot cousins. A howitzer’s projectiles had a smaller powder charge. Also, canister projectiles contained more small balls than other types of canister. Howitzers were useful in defending fortifications and causing disorder within a fortification by an attacking force
Interior Lines: A military strategy which holds that the fastest, most efficient maneuvers, transportation and communication are conducted within an enclosed geographic area as opposed to outside the geographic area.
Kepi: Cap worn by Civil War soldiers; more prevalent among Union soldiers.
Limber: A two-wheeled cart that carried one ammunition chest for an artillery piece. The artillery piece could be attached to the limber, which would allow both to be pulled by a team of horses. Also verb: The practice of attaching a piece of artillery to the limber that holds its ammunition.
Militia: Troops, like the National Guard, who are only called out to defend the land in an emergency.
Muster: To formally enroll in the army or to call roll.
Muzzle-loading: Muzzle-loading muskets or rifle muskets had to be loaded from the end by putting the gunpowder and the bullet or ball down the barrel. The vast majority of small arms and artillery used at Gettysburg were muzzle-loading weapons
Napoleon Gun: Another name for the Model 1857 gun howitzer. This lighter, more maneuverable field artillery piece fired 12 pound projectiles and was very popular with both Federal and Confederate armies
Napoleonic Tactics: The tactics used by Napoleon Bonaparte that were studied by military men and cadets at West Point before the Civil War. His tactics were brilliant for the technology of warfare at the time he was fighting. However, by the Civil War, weapons had longer ranges and were more accurate than they had been in Napoleon’s day.
Ordnance: The term used for military supplies, such as weaponry and ammunition.
Parrott Gun: A rifled artillery piece with a reinforcing band at the rear, or breech. Parrott guns were used by both the Army and the Navy, and ranged from 10-pounders to 300-pounders. They were named after their designer, Robert Parker Parrott.
Picket: Soldiers posted on guard ahead of a main force. Pickets included about 40 or 50 men each. Several pickets would form a rough line in front of the main army’s camp. In case of enemy attack, the pickets usually would have time to warn the rest of the force. During the Gettysburg Campaign, it was a picket line that first encountered Longstreet’s spy names “Harrison” and brought him to Longstreet’s chief of staff, Moxley Sorrel.
Pontoon Bridge: (pronounced pawn-TOON) A floating bridge which was constructed by anchoring a series of large, flat-bottomed boats across a waterway and then laying wooden planks across them. The planks (the “chess”) were anchored by side rails and then covered with a layer of soil to protect it and to dampen sounds. Pontoon bridges were extremely important to the outcome of several battles, including Fredericksburg.
Quartermaster: The officer who was responsible for supplying clothing, supplies and food for the troops.
Reserve(s): Part(s) of the army which were withheld from fighting during a particular battle but ready and available to fight if necessary
Rifle-Musket: The common weapon of the Civil War infantryman, it was a firearm fired from the shoulder. It differed from a regular musket by the grooves (called rifling) cut into the inside of the barrel. When the exploding powder thrusts the bullet forward, the grooves in the barrel make it spin, just like a football spirals through the air. Rifle-muskets were more accurate and had a longer range than smoothbore weapons.
Shot: A solid, round projectile, shot from a cannon.
Shell: A hollow projectile, shot from a cannon; a shell was filled with powder and lit by a fuse when it was fired. Shells exploded when their fuse burned down to the level of the powder. Depending on the length of the fuse, artillerymen could decide when they wanted the shell to burst.
Skirmish: A minor fight.
Spike: To make an artillery piece unusable so that it could not be used by the enemy if captured.
Theater: A theater of war is a region or area where fighting takes place.
Traverse: A mound of earth used to protect gun positions from explosion or to defilade the inside of a field work or fortification.
Vedette(or Vidette): A mounted sentry stationed in advance of a picket line
Works: Fortified structures designed to strengthen a position in battle. This includes earthworks, fieldworks, entrenchments, siege lines, etc.
Zouave: (pronounced zoo-ahv or zwahv) A zouave regiment was characterized by its soldiers’ bright, colorful uniforms which usually included baggy trousers, a vest, and a fez in different combinations of red, white, and blue. American zouave units were found in both Union and Confederate armies. They were modeled after French African troops who were known for their bravery and marksmanship.