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Civil War Terms

Battle: The military engagements themselves if conducted with large enough numbers of men and units to be significant.  Small brushes with an opponent took the name skirmishes.

Blockade:  The use of the navy to restrict trade or movement through ports or other facilities.

Campaign: Series of maneuvers and battles designed to accomplish the broader strategic vision.

Cooperationists:  advocates of Southern secession who believed it would be best if the region acted collectively or in concert rather than individually, state-by-state.

Cordon Defense: The use of contiguous departments or positions to delineate and defend territory.

Defense: Receiving an attack or protecting a position by attempting to hold onto it forcefully.

Fire-eaters:  figures in the American South who held extreme views on the ability of their section to remain in the Union and therefore urged separation or secession as the only recourse for redressing the region’s grievances.  Most prominent in this number were the agronomist Edmund Ruffin and journalist Roger Atkinson Pryor of Virginia, and the politicians William Lowndes Yancey of Alabama (born in Ga.), Robert Barnwell Rhett of South Carolina, and Louis Trezevant Wigfall of Texas (born in S.C.)

Flank: Either end of a line of battle or military position.  Attacking one or both of these often enhanced the chances of success for the attacker.  Attacking both, while holding a force in place was a tactic used in Ancient times and was called a double envelopment.

Free Labor ideology:  term for the belief system or common set of ideas that operated in the North prior to the American Civil War and is most closely associated with the rising Republican Party of the mid and later 1850s.  The adherents to such a world-view held that the most important traits of a society should be progress, upward mobility and the incentives of laboring for wages that would enable citizens to carve out an independent existence for themselves and their families.  Free labor ideologues championed education, advancement, democracy and other values that would constitute a good society and that they contrasted negatively with Southern regional characteristics.  Such individuals strongly opposed the expansion, if not the existence, of slavery as dangerous and threatening to their own “way of life”

Interior Lines: The ability to move forces within a geographical area.

Offense:  Attacking an opponent or initiating the action.

Peculiar Institution:  name given to the institution of slavery to reflect the distinctive nature of the system and its particular association with the South.  Peculiar was not meant to suggest strange or odd in any sense

Rear:  The area behind a force from which an attack, if delivered, could prove devastating.

Siege: The attempt to take/secure a point through prolonged actions that frequently included the use of extensive earthwork fortifications and heavy artillery.

Strategy: Plan implemented on a large scale.  If on the largest (i.e. national) then it is Grand Strategy.  The plan set in place the manner in which a commander wanted to employ troops and assets to achieve overall success in a war/campaign.

Confederate Strategy“Offensive-Defensive” (or Offensive-Defense”)

Union Strategies“On to Richmond” and Anaconda Plan

Tactics: The movements of men and resources on the battlefield itself.  In the case of the Civil War these were most often linear tactics or the movement of forces in lines of battle.  Armies would be brought to battles in marches and then deployed for fighting with the enemy.  In some instances, unconventional tactics occurred on battlefields such as the use of columns or attacks in depth.

Theaters of Operation:  In the Civil War there are three main theaters or areas generally designated for military action.

The East (or Eastern) was along the coast and over to the Appalachian Mountains, north of Georgia.

The West (or Western) encompassed all of the Deep South (including Georgia) and everything west of the mountains over to the Mississippi River.

The Trans-Mississippi covered the vast expanse beyond the Mississippi River.