The Plain Folk

Another impressive quality of the plain folk was their ability to give colorful and forceful expression to their thoughts, and this despite the serious deficiencies of most of them in grammar and spelling. Some of their figures of speech were pungent and vivid. One Reb commented that "the Yankees were thicker (th)an lise on a hen and a dam site ornraier," while another reported that his comrades were "pitching around like a blind dog in a meat haus," and a third wrote that it was raining "like poring peas on a rawhide." An Ohioan reported that Rebel dwellings near Fredericksburg looked like "the latter end of original sin and hard times," and another Yank wrote from Chattanooga that he was so hungry he "could eat a rider off his horse and snap at the stirrups."

Yanks registered comments even more pungent in denouncing their officers. Private Hezekiah Stibbs of Iowa wrote his brother in 1863: "We have got a good many officers in this regiment that never had a square meal until they came into the service." Another Yank characterized those who commanded him as "woss than worthless." A Massachusetts soldier who seems to have been a prototype of Bill Mauldin wrote: "The officers consider themselves as made of a different material from the low fellows in the ranks... They get all the glory and most of the pay and don't earn ten cents apiece on the average the drunken rascals." Private George Gray Hunter of Pennsylvania declared: "If there is one thing that I hate more than another it is the Sight of a Shoulder Strap, For I am well convinced in My own Mind that had it not been for officers this war would have Ended long ago." But the peak of denunciatory expressiveness on either side was attained by the Yank who wrote: "I wish to God one half of our officers were knocked in the head by slinging them against a part of those still Left."

(from The Common Soldier of the Civil War)