Civil War Words

Here at Taylor Studios, we work on a lot of museums that want to cover the Civil War in their messaging.

I have had the pleasure of researching, writing, and proofing label copy for many of these projects, and now know more about the Kansas-Nebraska Act than I ever thought I would. In doing so, I’ve noticed the following commonly misspelled/misused Civil War words:

Correct Civil War Word: Cavalry
Dictionary Definition:

  • the part of a military force composed of troops that serve on horseback.
  • mounted soldiers collectively.
  • the motorized, armored units of a military force organized for maximum mobility.
  • horsemen, horses, etc., collectively.

Used in a sentence: The cavalry charged.

Not to be confused with: Calvary
Dictionary Definition:

  • Golgotha, the place where Jesus was crucified. Luke 23:33.
  • (often lowercase) a sculptured representation of the Crucifixion, usually erected in the open air.
  • (lowercase) an experience or occasion of extreme suffering, especially mental suffering.

Used in a sentence: This painting depicts Calvary.

Correct Civil War Word: Cannon
Dictionary Definition:

  • a mounted gun for firing heavy projectiles; a gun, howitzer, or mortar.

Used in a sentence: Soldiers fired the cannon.

Not to be confused with: Canon
Dictionary Definition:

  • an ecclesiastical rule or law enacted by a council or other competent authority and, in the Roman Catholic Church, approved by the pope.
  • the body of ecclesiastical law.
  • the body of rules, principles, or standards accepted as axiomatic and universally binding in a field of study or art: the neoclassical canon.
  • a fundamental principle or general rule: the canons of good behavior.
  • a standard; criterion: the canons of taste.

Used in a sentence: The Odyssey is in the Western canon.

Correct Civil War Word: Guerrilla
Dictionary Definition:

  • a member of a band of irregular soldiers that uses guerrilla warfare, harassing the enemy by surprise raids, sabotaging communication and supply lines, etc.

Not to be confused with: Gorilla

Used in a sentence: The gorillas engaged in guerrilla warfare.

Correct Civil War Word: Bushwhacker
Dictionary Definition:

  • a person or thing that bushwhacks.
  • (in the American Civil War) a guerrilla, especially a Confederate.
  • any guerrilla or outlaw.

Not “bushwacker”. The “h” is often overlooked.

Used in a sentence: Confederate Bushwhacker Bloody Bill Anderson terrorized Unionist villages.

Correct Civil War Word: Jayhawker

  • a native or inhabitant of Kansas (used as a nickname).
  • (sometimes lowercase) a plundering marauder, especially one of the antislavery guerrillas in Kansas, Missouri, and other border states before and during the Civil War.

Not “jayhocker”.

Used in a sentence: Jayhawkers fought slavery in the border states.

So, the next time the need arises for you to write about Jayhawkers and Bushwhackers engaging in guerrilla warfare alongside the cavalry with their cannons, you will be in luck! What is your favorite Civil War word?


Touche. Outstanding arguments. Keep up the great work.


I like bummer and juggernaut. Bummer: A term used to describe marauding or foraging soldiers. Although armies on both sides often had rules against foraging or stealing from private residences, some soldiers often found ways to do so. Juggernaut: (pronounced juhg-er-nawt) An overwhelming, advancing force that crushes or seems to crush everything in its path.