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Wisconsin in the Civil War

Soldiers Have Fun with Nicknames for Top Leaders

Lieutenant Colonel Michael Fitch of Milwaukee commanded the 21st Wisconsin Infantry during General William T. Sherman's famous March to the Sea in 1864.

Four decades later he devoted an entire chapter of his memoir to soldiers' humor. Here he recalls soldiers' nicknames for the Union's top generals, and how Sherman was greeted outside Savannah, Georgia, at the end of the long march.

The way in which the whole army fastened upon certain officers descriptive nicknames that cling to them yet, has in it a grim humor, highly inspiring. The Army of the Potomac always called General McClellan, "Little Mac." General Grant was "Unconditional Surrender." General Thomas was called by the Army of the Cumberland, "Pap Thomas," and General Rosecrans, "Old Rosy," General Sheridan, "Little Phil," and General Sherman was "Uncle Billy." These are terms of affection.

Before Savannah, at the close of the luxurious march across Georgia, the army had nothing but rice in the straw from which to draw rations. An hour before each meal every soldier would be pounding a little sack filled with unhulled rice, to prepare it for cooking.

While a whole regiment was thus engaged at noon one day, General Sherman rode along. The general stopped to look at them. The sight was picturesque. Every man was sitting on the ground with his sack on a board before him, pounding it with a club. His head was bent down. The general said, "What regiment is this?"

Without looking up, and not knowing who it was, the men shouted out in concert, "The same old regiment, only got new clothes." The general laughed and rode on. The fact was, they were ragged, and had on the same clothes worn during the march from Atlanta.

Source: Fitch, Michael H.. "Echoes of the Civil War as I Hear Them" (N.Y.: R.F. Fenno & Co., 1905), pages 330-331

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Union generals
Union generals

WHI 10760
Savanah River, near Savanah, GA
Savanah River, near Savanah, GA

WHI 78958
General Sherman and his horse
General Sherman and his horse
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