Webb Garrison's Civil War Dictionary
Webb Garrison, Sr. and Cheryl Garrison
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Buy *Webb Garrison's Civil War Dictionary: An Illustrated Guide to the Everyday Language of Soldiers and Civilians* by Webb Garrison, Sr. and Cheryl Garrison online

Webb Garrison's Civil War Dictionary: An Illustrated Guide to the Everyday Language of Soldiers and Civilians
Webb Garrison, Sr. and Cheryl Garrison
Cumberland House Publishing
368 pages
August 2008
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Artist, entrepreneur and general all-around hardworking writer Webb Garrison produced this book, one of many (more than fifty) he wrote about the Civil War. He passed away shortly after completing this most recent work, and his daughter-in-law Cheryl assisted in bringing the project to fruition. This is not a scholarly work as that term is generally applied, but a knowledgeable amateur's creation, done with love for the facts and a quirky sense of what should be included in what the author called " An Illustrated Guide to the Everyday Language of Soldiers and Civilians."

Here are some of the terms included in this wide-ranging compendium, terms that were new to me and caught my eye:

  • Blown horses - animals that had been ridden to the point of exhaustion
  • Paper collar soldiers - soldiers on garrison duty where the probability of fighting was remote
  • Kill ratio - the percentage of enemy dead compared to the original body of soldiers
  • Down the line - a brothel district
  • Canaan - the hereafter
  • Borrowed - a euphemism for theft, foraging and pillaging
  • Sacred dust - slang for a corpse
There were a lot of slang terms for various commanding officers. Union General George Armstrong Custer was known as Hard Backsides because of his exploits on horseback. Jeb Stuart was known, sarcastically, as Beauty. General Terror was the unhappy nickname of the officer assigned to oversee the notorious federal prison in Delaware where infractions were punished severely. Several officers including Robert E. Lee were called "Granny" either because of their age or, in Lee's case, because he made his men work so hard digging trenches and building fortresses.

Rifles were referred to as Beecher's Bibles, a reference to Henry Ward Beecher who, in the years before the war, aided abolitionists in Kansas by sending them rifles in crates marked "Bibles."

The Drummer Boy of Chickamauga was John Lincoln Clem, who tried to enlist in the Michigan Infantry at age 9 and was eventually adopted as a mascot by them. At the Battle of Chickamauga, he was the subject of national attention for his refusal to surrender, and he retired from the army in 1916 as a major general. His rival for acclaim was the Drummer Boy of Rappahannock, a thirteen-year-old who, it was claimed, captured a Rebel soldier and was rewarded later with a job in the U.S. Treasury Department.

Webb Garrison called this dictionary "the culmination of thirty years of research and writing during which any word, phrase, title or named installation not self-explanatory was filed for future reference. Numerous long entries have few if any counterparts in other works...there is much that has fallen by the wayside as scholarship on the war has accumulated new insights over the almost 150 years since the conflict concluded. Some of that which has receded into the shadows is rooted in the evolution of our language..."

As you can see, this is not just a dictionary but a tribute to how Americans have honed their communication in times of strife, as well as a collection of stories and bits of information that enliven history. Fans of Mr Garrison's previous books will be delighted with this posthumous offering, and undoubtedly it will attract new interest in his other works.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. Barbara Bamberger Scott, 2008

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