Words Originating from the Civil War

The English language is cool.

Yes, it’s full of strange rules and even stranger exceptions. And yes, there are plenty of words that are spelled the same and sound the same but have two totally different meanings (homonyms). But despite all of that I still think it’s pretty neat. In fact, it’s argued that with its over 500,000 words English has the richest vocabulary in the world.

Now, you may be wondering: ‘What does this have to do with the Civil War?’ Well, with those 500,000 words it stands to reason that at least a couple would have their origins in the Civil War, and they do! So the following is a very short list of some of the words we commonly use today that got their start during the Civil War.

Andersonville Prison Camp in Georgia

1. Deadline – nowadays, this term is used to refer to a point in time when something like an assignment or credit payment is due. However, the word originates from Civil War prison camps where it referred to a boundary line. If a prisoner crossed this “deadline” they were shot dead, no questions asked. In comparison, today’s deadlines seem infinitely less stressful.

Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside and his crazy sideburns

2. SideburnsGen. Ambrose E. Burnside was a Union general who replaced Gen. George B. McClellan as commander of the Army of the Potomac in 1862. Burnside was easily recognized by his flamboyant hats and his bushy side whiskers which connected to his mustache. Burnside popularized this facial hairstyle which became known as sideburns.

Gen. Joseph Hooker

3. Hooker - Gen. Joseph Hooker replaced Gen. Burnside in the beginning of 1863. Gen. Hooker was known for keeping plenty of prostitutes around his camps in an attempt to keep up his soldiers’ morale. Though the word hooker was coined prior to the Civil War, the constant stream of women around Hooker’s regiment cemented the term and its meaning.

Shebangs at a Civil War Prison Camp

4. Shebang – (as in “the whole shebang”) was the term used to describe the shelters Union POWs at Andersonville built for themselves out of whatever cloth they could find. Needless to say, the shebangs were pretty pathetic excuses for shelter, and “the whole shebang” didn’t consist of much.

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About saregeo

I'm a college senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill majoring in public relations and minoring in history. I have an interest in the Civil War, and I'm hoping to use this blog to share interesting facts and stories from and about the war.
This entry was posted in Ambrose E. Burnside, Andersonville, Intriguing, Joseph Hooker. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Words Originating from the Civil War

  1. Catherine Marks says:

    Such a jolly great post! I highly esteem it!

  2. Pingback: Nicknames | Butternut and Blue

  3. Richard Holliday says:

    As to why “the whole..,”, I learned at a Civil War weekend on Governors Island NYC that a Union soldier carried one half of a bivouac. He then arranged with a fellow soldier to put their two halves together for shelter and so they had “the whole shebang”.

  4. Roger says:

    Interesting, thank you.

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