What is the Trail?

What is the Trail? > War of 1812 Glossary

Baltimore clipper
A colloquial name for fast-sailing twomasted schooners and brigantines built at Fells Point and other shipyards in Baltimore, Maryland. Similar ships used for privateering were also built in other locations of the Chesapeake Bay, such as St. Michaels, Maryland.
 
bivouac
A temporary encampment, often in an unsheltered area.
 
block sloop
Essentially a floating battery where speed was sacrificed to carry heavy guns. They typically had high bulwarks to provide protection to crew and to resist boarders. The Chesapeake Flotilla block sloop was approximately 50 feet in length, had an 18-foot beam, and was outfitted with one mast and two sails.
 
bomb (or bombshell)
Hollow spherical cast iron projectile principally used in mortars. Gunpowder was inserted into a tapered filling fuse hole. The fuse was ignited by the gun blast. A thirteen-inch shell weighed 207 pounds when fully charged; a ten-inch shell weighed 96 pounds. Cast lug eyes next to the fuse hole enabled a tackle fitted with a special tong to hoist the shell from below deck to the gun’s muzzle and deposit it in the gun bore.
 
bomb ship
A small, ship-rigged sloop-of-war primarily armed with one thirteen-inch and one ten-inch bore mortar placed in tandem directly upon separate massive wooden structures located just below the gun deck to absorb the massive shock of the mortars when fired.
 
brig
Type of sailing vessel with two square-rigged masts considered fast and maneuverable and used as both naval warships and merchant vessels.
 
broadside
The firing of all guns on one side of a vessel as nearly simultaneously as possible.
 
canister
Anti-personnel scatter-shot for cannon consisting of musket balls packed into a sheet metal cylinder closed at each end by a tight-fitting iron disc held in place by crimped tabs at the ends of the cylinder. Chain links, scraps of metal, shards of glass, rocks, etc. were also sometimes used. On firing, the balls spread out from the muzzle at high velocity, giving an effect similar to a shotgun, but scaled up to cannon size.
 
carronade
A type of short, light-weight cannon capable of firing a relatively heavy-caliber shot. Typically carried on the upper deck of a ship for short-range use. Named after Carron Ironworks, Scotland, where it was first made in the 1780s.
 
cartridge
Packaged powder charge: for cannon, contained in a flannel bag sized to fit snugly into the main bore or chamber; for portable firearms, wrapped in paper, which usually contained the ball and a felt wad.
 
Congreve rocket
Self-propelled projectile invented by William Congreve consisting of a cylindrical sheet-iron chamber filled with black powder, capped with a warhead, and strapped to a long wooden staff that helped to provide stability during flight. Propulsion gases were exhausted through a nozzle in the rear and could also ignite a fuse to detonate an optional explosive warhead, which could contain musket balls or combustible materials. Available in several sizes with ranges up to two miles. Launched from rocket ships or on land by portable copper tubes supported by a tripod.
 
corvette
A small, maneuverable, lightly armed warship smaller than a frigate and larger than a sloop-of-war, usually with a single gun deck. Used mostly for coastal patrol.
 
cossack
Lightly armored troops mounted on horses used primarily for reconnaissance, skirmishing, raiding, and, most importantly, communications. Usually armed with pistols and swords. The Old East Slavic origin of the word meant “itinerant laborer, vagabond, adventurer.”
 
dragoon
Mounted infantry who were trained in horse riding as well as infantry fighting skills. Over time, dragoons evolved into conventional light cavalry units. The name is possibly derived from a type of firearm called a dragon carried by dragoons of the French Army.
 
earthworks
Fortifications constructed from soil that, when made thick enough, could provide adequate protection from weapons. Because soil was usually readily available in huge quantities it was often used to construct defenses such as gun emplacements, trenches, and bastions.
 
ensign
A flag to indicate nationality.
 
fagot
A bundle of twigs, sticks, or branches bound together.
 
feint
Maneuver or diversion designed to distract or mislead. Done by giving the impression that a certain action is planned, while in fact another, or even none, will take place. fencibles. Generally mariners by trade who were employed for the defense of the ports and harbors of the United States. At Baltimore they manned the barges and guns at Fort McHenry’s water batteries and stood guard duty.
 
fire globe
See globe match
 
firelock
The lock on the outside of a firearm is the system used to ignite the propellant (e.g., flintlock, matchlock, wheellock, and percussion lock). A complete firearm often consists of lock, stock, and barrel.
 
flank speed
A nautical term referring to a ship’s maximum speed. Flank speed is usually reserved for situations in which a ship finds itself in imminent danger, such as when it is about to come under attack.
 
flatboat
A rectangular, flat-bottomed, shallow draft boat usually with square ends. It was generally poled or rowed to transport freight.
 
flotilla
A squadron of boats or small vessels. frigate. A vessel of war, three-masted, fully rigged, in size between a corvette and a ship-of-the-line. Frigates had a full-length gun deck that, in the Chesapeake battles, typically carried 36 or 38 long guns in the Royal Navy and 38 or 44 in the U.S. Navy. When carronades were introduced, the 38-gun class frigates carried 44 or more large-caliber guns and the 44-gun class frigates carried 56 or more guns.
 
globe match (or fire globe)
These portable fire makers were used to set fire to an enemy’s town or defensive works, etc. They were created from paper mâché laid upon a wooden bowl and made perfectly round. The globe was then perforated in several places and filled with a flammable composition so that, when lit, a lively fire issued out of the several holes.
 
grapeshot
Grapeshot consisted of nine large metal balls, packed in tiers of three around a center post on a circular iron tray called a stool, and contained by a cinched canvas bag or netting, resembling a cluster of grapes (hence the name). Larger than canister shot, grapeshot had a greater range and penetration and was used to disable ships’ sails and rigging.
 
gun barge
A new class of gunboat designed in 1812 with shallow draft and double-ended (sharp bow and stern) hulls somewhat resembling a large whaleboat. The 50-foot version carried one mast; the 75-foot version two masts, both lateen-rigged. They usually carried a long gun aft and carronade forward. Most of the vessels employed in the Chesapeake Flotilla were gun barges.
 
gunboat
A small vessel of shallow draft carrying one or more cannon of large caliber; or any small vessels fitted for carrying cannon. A total of 177 gunboats were built for the U.S. Navy prior to 1809. Two of these, No. 137 and No. 138, each 60 feet 5 inches long and built in Baltimore, were part of the Chesapeake Flotilla.
 
hogshead
A tobacco hogshead was a large wooden cask used to transport and store tobacco. A standardized hogshead measured 48 inches long and 30 inches in diameter at the head and was capable of holding approximately 1200 pounds of cured tobacco, worth about £12 or approximately $52.44.
 
hulled
A ship’s hull pierced with a cannonball. impressment. The act of taking men into a navy by force and without notice.
 
impressment
          The act of taking men into a navy by force and without notice.
 
kedge anchor
A light anchor used for warping a vessel. lateen-rig. A triangular sail set on a long yard mounted at an angle on the mast and running in a fore-and-aft direction.
 
Letter of Marque
A government license authorizing a privateer to attack and capture enemy vessels.
 
light infantry
Lightly armed and equipped mobile soldiers whose job was to provide a skirmishing screen ahead of the main body of infantry.
 
limber
A two-wheeled cart generally pulled by horses accommodating an ammunition chest and attachable in tandem to a carriage for field cannon.
 
long gun
In historical navy usage, a long gun was the standard type of cannon mounted by a sailing vessel, called such to distinguish it from the shorter carronade. In informal usage, the length was combined with the weight of shot, yielding terms like “long 9s,” referring to full-length cannons firing a 9-pound round shot.
 
man-of-war
Three-masted warship up to 200 feet long with as many as 124 guns, requiring three cannon decks to hold them—one more than any earlier ship.
 
minute gun
A gun that is discharged once every minute, usually as part of a military funeral.
 
mosquito fleet
Squadron of small gunboats or barges.
 
packet ship
A vessel employed to carry mail packets to and from British embassies, colonies, and outposts. In sea transport, a packet service is a regular, scheduled service, carrying freight and passengers. The ships used for this service are called packet ships or packet boats. portfire. A hand-held fuse used for firing cannons, rockets, igniting explosives, etc.
 
privateer
An armed private vessel possessing a Letter of Marque and operated to capture enemy vessels and profit from the sale of the vessels and their cargo.
 
Quasi-War
An undeclared war fought mostly at sea between the United States and the French Republic from 1798 to 1800.
 
razee
A sailing ship that has been cut down (razeed) to reduce the number of decks. The word is derived from the French vaisseau rasé, meaning a razeed (in the sense of shaved down) ship.
 
ropewalk
A long, straight, narrow building or covered pathway where long strands of material were laid before being twisted into rope.
 
schooner
Type of sailing vessel characterized by the use of fore-and-aft (as opposed to square) sails on two or more masts with the forward mast being no taller than the rear mast. During the War of 1812 era, schooners were two masted. scion. A descendant of a notable family, usually a son or daughter.
 
ship-of-the-line
A type of naval warship constructed from the seventeenth through the mid-nineteenth centuries to take part in the naval tactic known as the line of battle, in which two columns of opposing warships would maneuver to bring the greatest weight of broadside guns to bear. Since these engagements were almost invariably won by the heaviest ships carrying the most powerful guns, the natural progression was to build sailing vessels that were the largest and most powerful of their time. Ships-of-theline normally carried 74 guns but the number could range between 60 and 120.
 
sloop-of-war
A warship smaller than a frigate with a single gun deck that carried up to 18 guns.
 
Society of Cincinnati
A historical organization with branches in the United States and France founded in 1783 to preserve the ideals and fellowship of the Revolutionary War officers and to pressure the government to honor pledges it had made to officers who fought for American independence. The society is named after a Roman general who refused to become a dictator after a war and who, like George Washington, returned to his plow and life as a farmer. Members often proudly wore their Society medals when they had their portraits painted. Now in its third century, the Society is a nonprofit historical and educational organization that promotes public interest in the American Revolution through its library and museum collections, exhibitions, programs, publications, and other activities.
 
squadron
A division of a fleet forming one body under the command of a flag officer. Also a detachment of warships on some special duty.
 
tar
A common English term used to refer to seamen of the Merchant or Royal Navy. In the days before the invention of waterproof fabrics, sailors would coat their clothes with tar to make them repel water. Later sailors frequently wore coats and hats made from a waterproof fabric called tarpaulin. This may have been shortened to “tar” at some point.
 
tender
A boat used to service a ship, generally by transporting people and/or supplies to and from shore or another ship.
 
torpedo
During the War of 1812, a floating device called a torpedo was used to attack ships with an explosive charge.
 
Treaty of Ghent
Signed on December 24, 1814, in Ghent (modern-day Belgium), this treaty ended the War of 1812 between the United States of America and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The terms of the treaty were called “status quo ante bellum,” meaning everything was taken back to the same condition prior to war; there were no territorial gains by either side. The U.S. Senate unanimously approved the treaty on February 16, 1815, and President James Madison exchanged ratification papers with a British diplomat in Washington on February 17, officially ending the war. The treaty was proclaimed on February 18, 1815.
 
vedette
From Latin videre, meaning “to see,” also spelled vidette, it refers to a mounted sentry or outpost with the function of bringing information, giving signals or warnings of danger, etc., to a main body of troops.
 
warp (or warping)
To haul a vessel forward by using a boat to deploy a kedge anchor ahead and then taking in the line using the vessel’s capstan or winch, thus moving the vessel in the desired direction, often against wind and/or currents but also sometimes over shallow waters.
 
Whiskey Rebellion
A resistance movement in the 1790s. It was rooted in western dissatisfaction with various policies of the eastern-based national government. The name of the uprising comes from a 1791 excise tax on whiskey that was a central grievance of the westerners. The tax was part of Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton’s program to centralize and pay off the national debt.
 
Yankee
The first recorded use of the term by the British to refer to Americans in general appears in the 1780s, in a letter by Lord Horatio Nelson. Around the same time it began to be abbreviated to Yank. During the American Revolution, American soldiers adopted Yankee Doodle not as a term of derision but as an expression of national pride. The derisive use nonetheless remained alive and even intensified in the South during the Civil War, when it referred not to all Americans but to those loyal to the Union.

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