Go Boil Your Skirt: Civil War Slang Quiz

By: Nathan Chandler

When a soldier had "been through the mill," what did it mean?

Suffering was par for the course during the Civil War. Those who'd experienced a lot of awful things had been through the mill.

"Forty dead men" referred to what?

Ammunition was frequently dispensed in boxes of 40 rounds. The "forty dead men" moniker was a grim acknowledgement of the ammo's purpose.

"Bread basket" referred to which body part?

During wartime, many soldiers were very, very hungry. They needed more food to fill their bread baskets, or stomachs.

Who might be described as a "big bug"?

Big wigs, or important people, were sometimes called big bugs. Common soldiers never wanted to be on the wrong side of a big bug.

Why didn't active duty soldiers like "mossybacks"?

"Mossybacks" were men who hid in the forests to avoid the war. The term ostensibly applied to men who were hiding, still and quiet, so motionless that moss could grow on them.

"Quickstep" was slang for what ailment?

Diarrhea and dysentery were alarmingly common during the Civil War. Doing the "quickstep" meant you were suffering from one of the two...or perhaps both.

If something was rare or uncommon, it was "scarce as WHAT"?

I tell you, them boys could use some John Barleycorn right about now. It's too bad that beer is as scarce as hen's teeth.

When you lost a battle, you were what?

If you had to go to war, you definitely didn't want to wind up whipped -- it meant that you were beaten by the enemy. It was a word that the South got used to after a while.

What did soldiers do with "pig stickers"?

"Pig sticker" referred to bayonets, the long, sharp knives affixed to the end of muskets. They were used to impale enemy soldiers.

It was a good thing to be called a "cashier."

No decent soldier wanted to be called a cashier. It meant that he'd received a dishonorable discharge from military service.

If a soldier lagged to the rear of the line, you might call him what?

"Bummers" were the guys who dragged their feet so as not to be first at anything during the war. And no one wanted to be the first in battle.

What did it mean to "open the ball"?

Wanna dance? It's time to go to war, boys. Let's open the ball and start shootin'.

Field surgeons were sometimes called what?

Civil War doctors spent a depressing amount of time using saws to cut off the limbs of wounded soldiers. They were called "sawbones."

When might a Civil War soldier utter the phrase, "That's somebody's darling"?

The dead were everywhere, especially after large battles. All of the corpses were "somebody's darlings."

What was a "hospital buzzard"?

Hospital buzzards were soldiers who stayed longer than necessary for medical care. Given the brutality of battle, one can hardly blame them.

What were Confederate torpedoes sometimes called?

The South sometimes deployed fish-shaped torpedoes to blast Union ships. Northern sailors called them "Devil fish."

When soldiers routed the enemy, they might shout which word?

There wasn't much to be excited about during the bloody war, but winning a battle was as good a reason as any to shout, "bully!" It meant you were excited about something.

What was a "pepperbox" used for?

A "pepperbox" was a pistol. These weapons were only good for combat in very close quarters.

What were "Lincoln pies"?

Hardtack crackers were an unfortunate staple for Union soldiers. They derisively called them "Lincoln crackers."

In their spare time, some soldiers went "sparking," which meant what?

Women were a rare diversion from the combat zone. "Sparking" meant that you were courting someone.

What were "desecrated vegetables"?

The Civil War brought dried vegetables, or desiccated vegetables, to the front lines. They were disgusting, of course, and often called desecrated vegetables.

What was an "Arkansas toothpick"?

Knives were sometimes called Arkansas toothpicks. You could use them to dislodge food stuck in your teeth...or to stab someone to death.

Union soldiers used the word "graybacks" to refer to Southern soldiers. The term also applied to what?

Both sides used many deragatory terms for each other. Union troops used "graybacks" as a term for lice, a constant source of frustration for all soldiers.

Soldiers on both sides hated John Barleycorn.

John Barleycorn was slang for beer. For men on both sides of the war, beer was a rare luxury.

If you were a Yankee inclined to sympathize with the South's secession, what were you called?

"Copperheads" refers to a venomous snake found in warmer (read: Southern) regions. Southern sympathizers were copperheads.

What did "lucifers" help soldiers do?

"Lucifers" was a fun name for matches. If you ran out of lucifers, you might not be smoking tobacco or starting a warm campfire.

What were "Sunday soldiers"?

"Sunday soldiers" were the guys who didn't really do any fighting. They lagged behind and managed to duck the worst of things.

What item, because of its shape and size, was a "beehive"?

Without your beehive, you were sunk.

New recruits were sometimes called what?

Paleface soldiers were the new men stepping into battle for the first time. Many of them didn't last long.

What did it mean to be "mustered out"?

It was supposed to be kind of funny. If you were mustered out, you were killed in action.

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About This Quiz

Get outta the cracker line and quit yer bellyachin', it's time for you to see if you're a bad egg, bummer or parlor soldier. Take our Civil War slang quiz and see how much you know about lingo from that bullet-blasted conflict.

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