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NP: September 29, 1869 Washington (PA) Reporter: 140th Pennsylvania at the Siege of Petersburg, Part 1

Editor’s Note: This article was provided by John Hennessy and transcribed by Jackie Martin.  This is one part of a seven part series.  To see a list of the entire series, please scroll to the bottom of this article.  Please note that the original full series covering the entire Civil War was even longer.  The seven parts to be published here at the Siege of Petersburg Online focus on the Siege of Petersburg.

From the Beaver Radical.






“Wood up,” originated from the command of the engineer to the fireman, and meant get ready to move on.

“Grab a root” came from a fellow who was so scared at being shelled that he laid down on the ground and took hold of the root of a tree to hold on, lest he would rise an inch or two and get hit.

“Johnny,” a Rebel; “Greyback,” a Louse or Rebel.

“On the Staff.”   If a man deserted and was retaken, while under guard at headquarters soldiers spoke of him as being on the Staff of the General.

“Mrs.”  At first this was applied to officers whom the soldiers did not think of much account, latterly they spread it around until almost all the men spoke of were alluded to as Mrs. Hancock, Mrs. Caldwell, or Mrs. Barlow.

“Reco-nuisance” Reconnoisance.

“Three years or during,” was the manner in which soldiers always spoke of their enlistment.

“Blue Belly”—Yankee.  “Save”—Steal  “Ox Feathers”—Small pine branches.

“Sheet iron pies”—Crackers.  “Uncle Sam’s sweet cakes”—Crackers.

“Calico soup” was made of mixed vegetables.  It was also called “Uneducated soup.”

“Come and get your quinine,” meant for all sick to report at the hospital.

“Company O”—Darkey cooks.

“Chebang” was an arbor built on pine branches.

“The Mud March”—Burnside’s second movement on Fredericksburg.

“Wooden country”—a country minus wood.

“Bone cart”—barrel to carry dirt in, called so, not because bones were put in it, but because bone and muscle were the motive power.  A soldier carrying his wood into camp on his shoulder, said, “I done cart it to camp.”

“Brass dogs”—Brass cannon.  “Brass band” was frequently applied to a battery.

“Limber to the rear,” really was the movement by which the horses and front wheels were detached from a gun, and went back; but the soldiers spoke of non-combatants retiring from danger, as Limbering to the rear.

“Daddy and sons,” was the cartridge containing the buck and ball.

“Lie down” came from that command in battle when protection from shells was desired.  But at the tap of a brass drum or any unusual sound it could be heard in camp.

“I. C.” stood for Invalid Corps. Those letters were also put on condemned articles by the Inspector; hence soldiers generally spoke of Invalid Corps as “Condemned Yankees.”  It may have been on this account that the Government afterwards changed their name to “Veteran Reserve Corps.”

“Red Tape” was a name given to the forms through which a person had to pass at headquarters.  It rose from the Government using red tape in tying up documents.

“Spread Eagle,” was punishing a man by tying his hands and feet apart.

“Mounted Infantry,” was a punishment by putting men up on a rail.

“Skirmishing”—hunting for greybacks.

“Gutted.”—When a house was emptied of its contents this word described its condition.


“Mother.”—This was used much as Mrs. was.  It was first applied to some Granny of an officer, but afterwards was spread around generally.

The campaign had told fearfully upon our men.  Since crossing the Rapidan nearly 300 had gone down in defence of the flag.  Only one hundred and thirty were present—a mere handful compared with what it was at Harrisburg.  Hard times had been experienced since the start.  The service had been constant.  For thirty days they had not had an opportunity to change their clothing or wash.

July 3.  A delegate from the Christian Commission preached.

The regiment moved back a short distance.  Water was very scarce all along the line, and wells had to be dug.  The water was raised from them by a sweeping pole balance, with a bucket on the end.  Rain had not fallen for thirty days.  Troops moving were always enveloped in a cloud of dust.

July 5.  Built a chebang and pitched a tent behind it.  Got all the air going but had to take the dust with it.

A Johnny went back.  He was not looking sorry.  We asked him if they had any 4th of July yesterday.  “Not much.”  Some one asked him how he was captured, “I came down along the line,” and his eye twinkled as much as to say, “more design than chance.”

Some of the boys came into my tent to ask about home, and I inquired:  “Did you dig works often?”  “Yes got tired at it too.  One night at Coal Harber we took it by reliefs.  Hart’s turn came, and he went out.  A half hour afterwards the next went out and found Hart standing up with one foot on the spade, sound asleep.

“Did you skirmish much?” Yes.  Were on the skirmish line nearly al the time.  Lt. Purey was killed while in command of it.  At the time we were not fifty yards from the Reb works on an open field, without protection, but the Rebs did not dare raise their heads above the works.”


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140th Pennsylvania Series from the 1869 Washington PA Reporter:


  1. “History of the One-Hundred and Fortieth Pennsylvania Volunteers.” Washington PA Reporter. September 29, 1869, p. ? col. ?
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