Civil War/Military Terms Glossary

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A listing of terms that will help you understand information contained in our Civil War Collection.

Andersonville Prison

One of the most infamous POW camps in the Civil War, resulting in the death of nearly 13,000 men. More information can be found here.


A branch of the military mounted on horseback. Cavalry units in the Civil War could move quickly from place to place or go on scouting expeditions on horseback, but usually fought on foot. Their main job was to gather information about enemy movements.


The abandonment without consent or legal justification of a person, post, or relationship and the associated duties and obligations.

Fitch’s Home for Soldiers

First erected by Benjamin Fitch and was dedicated July 4, 1864. In 1887, the State assumed control and renamed the home Fitch’s Home for Soldiers. At the Fitch’s Home, many of the State’s Civil War Veterans were cared for, as well as Veterans of the Spanish American War and World War I.


A leave from duty, granted by a superior officer. The furloughed soldier carried papers which described his appearance, his unit, when he left and when he was due to return.  Furlough papers also contained a warning that failure to return on time would cause the soldier to be “considered a deserter”. An example of a furlough can be seen in the biography of Canfield Humphrey.


Grand Army of the Republic, Founded in Decatur, Illinois on April 6, 1866 by Benjamin F. Stephenson, membership was limited to honorably discharged veterans of the Union Army, Navy, Marine Corps or the Revenue Cutter Service who had served between April 12, 1861 and April 9, 1865. The GAR founded soldiers’ homes, was active in relief work and in pension legislation.

Heavy Artillery

Another term for Foot Artillery. Foot batteries generally manned coastal or river fortifications mounting large, immobile guns like Rodmans or the larger Parrotts.


A branch of the military in which soldiers traveled and fought on foot.

Invalid Pension

A pension applied for by the soldier themselves under the terms that they were either disabled or incapacitated due to their service.

Mustered out

To be discharged from service.


An individual who would normally be exempt from service who is drafted in place of another man. The original draftee would pay some sum of money in order to have the substitute. “Substitution quickly proved to be unpopular since it allowed for wealthy men to escape military service while leaving men of lesser resources exposed to the draft… In late 1863, substitution was abolished by an act of Congress; In January, 1864 a second act required that men who had hired substitutes report for duty as either volunteers or inductees.

Disclaimer: Each definition has either been paraphrased or directly cited from a reputable source, each source can be found hyperlinked on the word that’s being described.

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