Soldiers profanity North and South

Paul Goodman

Cadet
Joined
Apr 2, 2021
Apparently, George Meade was no slouch when it came to cussing. At Fredericksburg, with his and Gibbons' men in dire straits in front of the Confederate right, Meade twice sent an aide to General David Birney pleading for reinforcements. Both requests were refused, so the third time, Meade himself raced to the rear. He found Birney and cursed him in language that someone who overheard said could "make stones creep". I love that description.
 

Waterloo50

Major
Forum Host
Silver Patron
Joined
Jul 7, 2015
Location
England
I get the impression from the various bits and pieces that I’ve read that swearing was just as common during the war as it is to today, the only difference being that swearing (known as oaths) carried far more shame than perhaps it does today.


—Alfred Castleman, 5th Wisconsin Infantry, on his regiment receiving news that their orders to march had been countermanded after hours spent packing up camp, in his diary, May 18, 1862

“Profanity, which heretofore was largely indulged in is now seldom heard, probably for the reason that there is now nothing to swear at. This abominable vice is endemic in its symptoms and character. Men who at home would shudder at the awful swearing which escapes their lips, scarcely open their mouths without letting fly an oath or two, and when their attention is called to it, they wonder how the practice could have grown upon them. And then too, men who have been quiet at their home work, not given to much talk, become noisy and full of tongue. This too, abates in course of time, and they resume their former quiet demeanor. All the good qualities will finally overcome the more pernicious ingredients of character, but it requires discipline and mental restraint, regularity of duty, and good example on the part of those in authority to effect the change.”
 

Si Klegg

Corporal
Joined
Jul 13, 2018
Location
Bedford UK
After the publication of Wilbur Hinman's "Corporal Si Klegg and His Pard," Hinman's former editor, John McElroy (who served in the 16th Illinois Cavalry, was captured in 1864, and sent to Andersonville) published his own Si Klegg novel - "Si Klegg: His Transformation from a Raw Recruit to a Veteran." It featured the same characters - Si Klegg and Shorty. Unlike Hinman's version, John McElroy does name specific battles and events.

Anyways - there's a scene in the McElroy version where at Stone's River a terrified teamster comes racing past the regiment. The soldiers all shout insults at the man -

"Run, you egg-sucking hound."

"Run, you scald-headed dominie."

"Somebody busted a cap in your neighborhood, old white-liver."

"Seen the ghost of a dead rebel, Pilgarlic?"

"Pull back your eyes, you infernal mulewhacker. A limb'll brush 'em off."

"Look at his hair standin' up stiffer'n bristles on a boar's back."

"Your mules got more sand 'n you. They're standing where you left 'em."

"Of course, you're whipped and all cut to pieces. You was that when you heard the first gun crack."

"Get out of the way, and let him run himself to death. That's all he's fit for."

"You've no business in men's clothes. Put on petticoats."

"Go it, rabbit; go it, cotton-tail you've heard a dog bark."

"Chickee chickee skip for the barn. Hawk's in the air."

"Let him alone. He's in a hurry to get back and pay his sutler's bill."


A quick google search on the obscure words and terms -
Pilgarlic - a man looked upon with humorous contempt or mock pity. (also means bald-headed but I think they're using it this way)

Dominie - a pastor or clergyman

Scald head - any of several diseases of the scalp characterized by falling out of the hair and by pustules the dried discharge of which forms scales. (this might not be how he's using it)


In Hinman's book, there is a scene where fresh recruit Si Klegg is being insulted by a bunch of veterans as he marches past them trying to catch up to his own regiment. Some of their insults are real head-scratchers to me:

"Grab a root!"

"Hello, there, you! Change step an' ye'll march easier!"

"Here comes one o' the persimmon-knockers!"


If anyone has any idea what "grab a root" means or what a "persimmon-knocker" is I am all ears.

In keeping with the purpose of this thread, it's worth noting that in the entirety Hinman's book there is very little if any cursing. Though he recreated the slang and the vernacular, he did not include the cursing. McElroy included only very, very, very limited cursing from what I can tell in a brief scan.

I can only speculate as to why that is the case, but I have a sneaking suspicion it's not because the soldiers didn't curse in real life....

The different versions of Si Klegg
http://commonplace.online/article/innocents-war-si-kleggs-civil-war/

McElroy's Version
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/31772/31772-h/31772-h.htm#link2HCH0006

I will say though - in the above link Book 1 seems to be pretty much the same as Hinman's version. It isn't until Book 2 that it starts noticeably changing.
I can help with 'Grab a root'.

There's a chapter in Leslie Anders' excellent 'The Eighteenth Missouri' entitled 'Grab a root, Colonel'

While crossing the South Edisto River in the South Carolina campaign in February 1865 as part of Mower's Division of the XVII Corps, the 18th Mo of Fuller's Brigade had got across a floating bridge and then encountered marshy approaches to some Rebel breastworks bordering the swamp. While Tillson's Brigade was 'carrying on a brisk skirmish up ahead', Fuller's leading companies 'jumped from the far end of the pontoons into the quagmire'.

Anders recounts the following:

'Elias Perry found the water "very cold and thigh deep." So did Colonel Sheldon, [18th Mo Commander] whose bad luck it was "just as I neared the further shore, to fall over a cypress knee ... and take an involuntary plunge bath, and worse than all, soaking my overcoat, which I found frozen stiff when we returned from pursuing the enemy. Nor were my lacerated feelings at all soothed by the subdued cries of 'grab a root! grab a root, Colonel!' which could be heard on all sides.'

'Persimmon Knocker' is a strange one. Never heard it before, I had to look into it.

Whatever it is, it wasn't something nice to be called certainly during the war. There were several regiments or parts of regiments known as the 'Persimmon Knockers' - a Company of the 63rd Pa were the 'original Persimmon Knockers'.

The entire 116th Indiana, also joshed as 'a Six-Month Brigade' got the name because they were so new they hadn't been issued rifles and on a march with the Veterans of their Brigade were quick to rush and gather the fruit from persimmon trees, being unencumbered by firearms. Orlando B. Wilcox states 'Those Indiana boys of mine who were taunted along the march as 'Persimmon Knockers', have now assumed the sobriquet for their organisation as something to laugh about in their yearly gathering at Indianapolis.'

The 129th Ohio were known as the 'Persimmon Knockers' according to quotes in the National Tribune, and another Hoosier outfit the 86th Indiana, at one time or another had the nickname.

On the other hand, I found a reference to the phrase in an agricultural journal in 1894 where a letter to the editor praised the publication as a 'Persimmon Knocker' for getting a good response to his advert!
 

Jeff in Ohio

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 17, 2015
I can help with 'Grab a root'.

There's a chapter in Leslie Anders' excellent 'The Eighteenth Missouri' entitled 'Grab a root, Colonel'

While crossing the South Edisto River in the South Carolina campaign in February 1865 as part of Mower's Division of the XVII Corps, the 18th Mo of Fuller's Brigade had got across a floating bridge and then encountered marshy approaches to some Rebel breastworks bordering the swamp. While Tillson's Brigade was 'carrying on a brisk skirmish up ahead', Fuller's leading companies 'jumped from the far end of the pontoons into the quagmire'.

Anders recounts the following:

'Elias Perry found the water "very cold and thigh deep." So did Colonel Sheldon, [18th Mo Commander] whose bad luck it was "just as I neared the further shore, to fall over a cypress knee ... and take an involuntary plunge bath, and worse than all, soaking my overcoat, which I found frozen stiff when we returned from pursuing the enemy. Nor were my lacerated feelings at all soothed by the subdued cries of 'grab a root! grab a root, Colonel!' which could be heard on all sides.'

'Persimmon Knocker' is a strange one. Never heard it before, I had to look into it.

Whatever it is, it wasn't something nice to be called certainly during the war. There were several regiments or parts of regiments known as the 'Persimmon Knockers' - a Company of the 63rd Pa were the 'original Persimmon Knockers'.

The entire 116th Indiana, also joshed as 'a Six-Month Brigade' got the name because they were so new they hadn't been issued rifles and on a march with the Veterans of their Brigade were quick to rush and gather the fruit from persimmon trees, being unencumbered by firearms. Orlando B. Wilcox states 'Those Indiana boys of mine who were taunted along the march as 'Persimmon Knockers', have now assumed the sobriquet for their organisation as something to laugh about in their yearly gathering at Indianapolis.'

The 129th Ohio were known as the 'Persimmon Knockers' according to quotes in the National Tribune, and another Hoosier outfit the 86th Indiana, at one time or another had the nickname.

On the other hand, I found a reference to the phrase in an agricultural journal in 1894 where a letter to the editor praised the publication as a 'Persimmon Knocker' for getting a good response to his advert!

Persimmons are an unusual fruit.
As they hang on the tree, unripe, the fruit is so sour it makes your mouth draw up...bitter as gall. No one wants unripe persimmons.
But they ripen and fall, now so sweet that all the creatures and critters gather 'round to eat them. A ripe persimmon is perhaps the sweetest of all fruits! If a persimmon falls in the evening, it will be too late to pick up off the ground in the morning. A ripe fruit is very soft and only lasts a day or two before it is too ripe.
One method of collecting these is to shake the tree - you could call it "knocking" the tree - so the ripe persimmons would fall and you could collect them. Because ripe persimmons are so soft and delicate, if they hit the hard ground they may burst or bruise. If they fall onto a stretched sheet held under the tree as you shake the tree, the fruit will not get damaged in the fall.
Another reason to shake the tree is that persimmons ripen over many weeks, even months of time, and so each day a few more ripen and fall, day after day after day - this continual shedding is why folks in town or with manicured yards cut down persimmon trees because they don't like the continual mess on their lawns and all the hornets and bees the fallen fruit attracts. Unless you live close to that tree, what a task to check every day for weeks and months!
The is a rural thing, and I think those regiments were calling themselves, proudly, country boys who knew how to get things done.
Once I got a couple country neighbors with winches on the front of their trucks to help get my car out of a snowbank off the side of a hill. After a successful conclusion, they hollered as they packed up "Any more troubles, just CALL THE HILLBILLIES!" They took ownership of that "insult" just as the 'Persimmon knockers" and even the "Yankee Doodles" claimed insults.
 
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Belfoured

Sergeant Major
Joined
Aug 3, 2019
During my many trips to the UK, I have been fortunate to attend several of Shakespeare's plays performed at the Globe. During one such performance, a tall young American male wearing a backpack, a "groundling" standing in front of the stage, must have locked his knees because he passed out and fell backwards, and hit the ground, seemingly stiff as a board. A cloud of dust rose from the scene, A collective gasp went up and people seated stood up to see. For a moment the played stopped, or rather paused. Then one of the actors spontaneously said "Well, we are knocking them dead today." The audience laughed and the play continued as if nothing had happened.
Based on the college course I took, the groundling crowd at the Globe back in the day was from the "rougher" segments of London.
 

Zack

Corporal
Joined
Aug 20, 2017
Location
Los Angeles, California
egg-sucking hound

I did a little digging on this insult. It seems to be a roundabout way to call someone either useless or a scoundrel.

I saw two etymologies for the expression
1) If a hunting dog came across a bird's nest in the woods, it was supposed to indicate to the hunter where the eggs were. But some dogs would just eat the eggs instead (sucking eggs is a way to eat raw eggs)

2) It refers to dogs that develop a taste for fresh eggs and would raid the hen house to get them, thus depriving the family of eggs.
 

Zella

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
May 23, 2018
I think "egg-sucking" is still used as an insult in rural areas. I hear it occasionally.

It also pops up in Old Yeller because Old Yeller himself sucks eggs. (For shame!)

My favorite use of it as an insult in pop culture is in The Wild Bunch. Robert Ryan's character insults his worthless group of bounty hunters as "egg-sucking, chicken-stealing gutter trash." :bounce: :bounce: :bounce: :bounce: :bounce:
 

shooter too

Private
Joined
Mar 4, 2021
“Profanity, which heretofore was largely indulged in is now seldom heard, probably for the reason that there is now nothing to swear at. This abominable vice is endemic in its symptoms and character. Men who at home would shudder at the awful swearing which escapes their lips, scarcely open their mouths without letting fly an oath or two, and when their attention is called to it, they wonder how the practice could have grown upon them. And then too, men who have been quiet at their home work, not given to much talk, become noisy and full of tongue. This too, abates in course of time, and they resume their former quiet demeanor. All the good qualities will finally overcome the more pernicious ingredients of character, but it requires discipline and mental restraint, regularity of duty, and good example on the part of those in authority to effect the change.”


Like friggin H***. :wink:
 

shooter too

Private
Joined
Mar 4, 2021
Another reason to shake the tree is that persimmons ripen over many weeks, even months of time, and so each day a few more ripen and fall, day after day after day - this continual shedding is why folks in town or with manicured yards cut down persimmon trees because they don't like the continual mess on their lawns and all the hornets and bees the fallen fruit attracts. Unless you live close to that tree, what a task to check every day for weeks and months!
The is a rural thing, and I think those regiments were calling themselves, proudly, country boys who knew how to get things done.


Try a paw paw, Some say that they taste like a banana.

No... thanks.

https://statesymbolsusa.org/symbol-official-item/ohio/state-food-agriculture-symbol/pawpaw
 

Fairfield

First Sergeant
Joined
Dec 5, 2019
I did a little digging on this insult. It seems to be a roundabout way to call someone either useless or a scoundrel.

I saw two etymologies for the expression
1) If a hunting dog came across a bird's nest in the woods, it was supposed to indicate to the hunter where the eggs were. But some dogs would just eat the eggs instead (sucking eggs is a way to eat raw eggs)

2) It refers to dogs that develop a taste for fresh eggs and would raid the hen house to get them, thus depriving the family of eggs.
Raw eggs are supposed to be good for the complexion. Perhaps these dogs are simply motivated by vanity. ☺️
 

Zella

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
May 23, 2018
I certainly have learned a lot! I have a neighbor whom I dislike--and I am going to call him an "egg-sucking persimmon knocker" and (having never been south of Rhode Island) he'll have no idea how badly he has been insulted! 😂
Do it! :D

I've always wanted to steal that "egg-sucking, chicken-stealing gutter trash" insult, but I need the right target for it to really land. :roflmao::laugh::angel:
 

Jeff in Ohio

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 17, 2015

shooter too

Private
Joined
Mar 4, 2021
Paw Paws are good, and not nearly so fragile as ripe persimmons. They are about the size of mangos. There is a Paw Paw festival in southern Ohio, but the nickname for Paw Paw is "the Hoosier Banana."


I know, but I have never acquired the taste for paw paws. But if ya' want to talk hunting mushrooms/morels or squirrels??? We can talk. :wink:
 
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