Military Glossary

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Abbatis: A defence formed of felled trees with sharpened ends facing the enemy.

Approaches: Trenches built by attackers leading towards the place under attack.

Arquebus: An early form of matchlock firearm that preceded the musket.


Backs, breasts and pots: Contemporary term for cavalry armour, referring to the back-plate, breast-plate and helmet.

Bandolier: Leather shoulder-belt worn by musketeers that carried twelve powder charges (the "twelve apostles"), a bottle of fine-grained priming powder, a pouch containing bullets and a length of slow match.

Base-ring: The raised moulding around the circumference of the breech of an artillery piece often inscribed with the maker's name and the date on which the gun was cast.

Bastion: A symmetrical structure projecting outwards from a straight curtain wall or at corners and angles of fortifications to allow defenders to cover adjacent bastions and connecting walls. Normally with two forward and two flanking faces.

Battery: A fortified position for mounting artillery.

Beating up quarters: A surprise attack by cavalry or dragoons on an enemy's quarters, usually carried out at night or in the early hours of the morning.

Billeting or Free Quarter: The unpopular practice of placing soldiers in civilian households to be supplied with shelter, bed and board in exchange for a ticket that in theory could be redeemed for money later.

Breastwork: A low defensive mound or wall, usually of earth.

Buff-coat: A heavy leather coat thick enough to turn a sword blow, usually worn by cavalry.

Bulwark: A raised platform for artillery.

Burgonet: Originally a light, open-faced infantry helmet, by the mid-17th century burgonets were heavier, close-faced and specialised for use by cuirassiers and sappers.


Caliver: A matchlock firearm, midway in size between a musket and carbine.

Cannon: Heavy artillery piece used for sieges. A demi-cannon fired a shot weighing 27 pounds, a cannon fired a 47-pound shot, a cannon royal fired a 63-pound shot.

Caracole: Elaborate cavalry manoeuvre in which the front rank fired its pistols, trotted to the rear to reload and was replaced by the second and successive ranks. First used by German reiters in the sixteenth century, but made obsolete by Swedish cavalry tactics intitiated by Gustavus Adolphus.

Carbine: A short firearm carried by cavalry, usually of wheel-lock or flintlock pattern.

Cheval de frise: A portable frame covered with many long iron or wooden spikes, principally used as a defence against cavalry, but could also be moved quickly to help block a breach.

Circumvallation: The practice of surrounding a besieged town or city with a continuous system of entrenchments strengthened with small fortifications.

Clubmen: Bands of countrymen who organised themselves to protect their areas from the depredations of both sides towards the end of the First Civil War. Main article

Commanded shot : Musketeers temporarily attached to other units (usually horse) to provide firepower.

Commission of Array: Commission empowering lords-lieutenant of counties to mobilise the militia to fight for the King. Its legality was contested by Parliament. Main article

Contravallation: An outer line of siege works designed to defend against a relieving force.

Cornet: Officer who carried a cavalry standard, equivalent to an ensign in the infantry.

Corselet: Body armour worn by pikemen consisting of a breastplate and backplate.

Countermarch: Infantry tactic where the first rank of musketeers fires a volley then marches to the rear to reload while the second and successive ranks fire and march back in turn to maintain a continous fire.

Counterscarp: The outer face of a ditch.

Court of Guard: Guard of an army camp, derived from corps de garde.

Cuirassier: Heavy cavalry equipped with three-quarter length armour and armed with carbine, pistols and sword. Main article

Culverin: A heavy field artillery piece that fired a 15-pound shot. A demi-culverin fired a 9-pound shot.

Curtain: A run of wall or ramparts between the towers or bastions of a fortification.


Dragon: Short, smooth-bore matchlock firearm.

Dragoon: Mounted infantryman armed with musket or carbine and sword who rode into battle and usually fought on foot. Main article

Drake: Light field artillery piece that fired a 6-pound shot.

Dutch tactics: A system of battlefield tactics introduced by Prince Maurice of Nassau that was based upon classical Roman principles and was intended to maximise the use of infantry firepower. Main article


Enfilading fire: Gunfire directed along the longest axis of an enemy formation or position, e.g. down the length of a trench or along a line of troops (also known as "flanking fire").

Ensign: Commissioned officer in a company of foot who carried the company flag.

Escalade: The scaling of a defensive wall.


Fascine: A bundle of brushwood used for strengthening trenches or earthen ramparts, or for making a path across uneven or wet ground.

Firelock: Generic name for flintlock and wheel-lock firearms, which did not rely on slow-match to fire. Also applied to soldiers who used those weapons, such as artillery guards and special service units.

Fire-pike: A pike with a combustible and/or explosive head that was used to clear defenders from behind walls and barricades.

Flintlock: System of firearm ignition in which the priming powder is ignited by sparks struck from a piece of flint when the trigger is pressed.

Foot, Foote: Contemporary name for infantry. Main article

Forlorn Hope: A party of musketeers deployed to occupy a defensible position in advance of the main battle line in order to disrupt an enemy attack.

Fort: A detached stronghold.

Free quarter: See "billeting" above.

Fusil: A light flintlock gun carried by the escort to the artillery, who later aquired the name fusiliers.


Gabion: A wickerwork basket six feet tall and filled with earth that was used to supplement earthwork defences for siege artillery.

Gatloup: "Running the gatloup" meant running the gauntlet as punishment.

Granado: An explosive shell fired from a mortar.

Grenade: Explosive hand grenades were used for clearing defenders from buildings or from behind walls.


Halbard, Halberd, Halbert: Pole-arm with an axe blade tipped with a spike carried by sergeants as a badge of rank.

Half-moon: A defensive outwork, usually cresecent-shaped or with two faces to form a salient angle.

Half-pike: Short version of the pike, similar to the partizan.

Handspike: A stout bar used to lever the gun carriage or barrel of an artillery piece.

Harquebusier: Light cavalryman equipped with a harquebus or carbine, pair of pistols and sword. Most cavalry of the Civil Wars were equipped as harquebusiers. Main article

Horse: Contemporary name for cavalry. Main article


Ironsides: Nickname originally applied to Oliver Cromwell reputedly by Price Rupert, later extended to apply to the troopers under his command.


Leaguer: An army camp, usually the encampment of a besieging army.

Leather guns: Light artillery pieces made of thin metal bound with leather that could be drawn or carried by a single horse and were capable of firing a 1½ pound shot. First used by the Swedes, they were introduced into Sir William Waller's army by the artillery officer Colonel Wemyss at the attack on Alton in 1643.

Lines of communication: A circuit of fortifications.

Linstock, or portfire: A wooden pole to which a piece of burning slow-match was attached, usually by metal jaws, used for firing artillery.

Lobsters: Contemporary nickname for cuirassiers, especially Sir Arthur Hesilrige's regiment.

Lobster-tail helmet: Cavalry helmet named after its neck-guard of overlapping steel plates. There were several variations: the "English pot" had a three-bar guard covering the face, the "Dutch pot" had a single sliding noseguard.


Matchlock: The most common form of musket used in the Civil Wars. It was fired by touching off the priming charge with a piece of burning slow-match.

Matross: A gunner's assistant.

Militia Ordinance: Legislation passed by the Long Parliament in March 1642 to transfer command of the armed forces from the Crown to Parliament. Main article

Minion: Light field artillery piece that fired a four pound shot.

Montero: A type of military cap.

Morion: Open helmet with a high comb and a brim rising to peaks at the front and rear that originated in the 16th century but was often worn by pikemen during the Civil Wars.

Mortar: An artillery piece that fired explosive shells (granadoes) from a high trajectory into a beleagured garrison.

Mortuary Sword: Type of officer's sword unique to the British Isles with an iron hilt and bars to protect the hand. The hilt was often decorated with scroll work, a human head or grotesque design. They are named from an erroneous belief that the decoration commemorated the execution of Charles I.

Moss Troopers: Scottish soldiers who did not rejoin General Leslie's army after the battle of Dunbar (1650) but formed irregular bands to harrass the English invaders.

Musket, Musquet: A smooth-bore infantry firearm that began to replace the smaller, less powerful arquebus during the mid-16th century. Most muskets in use during the Civil Wars were of the matchlock pattern, loaded via the muzzle with gunpowder, ball and wadding (to prevent the ball rolling out) and were usually fired from a rest.

Musket rest: A wooden rest topped with a stirrup shaped metal head to steady the musket when aiming.


New Model Army: Professional Parliamentarian army with no regional affiliations, established in 1645 under the command of Sir Thomas Fairfax. Main article


Outwork: A fortification outside the main defences.

Oxford Army: The central Royalist army of the English Civil War, based around the King's headquarters at Oxford.


Palisade, Palisado: A defence of strong wooden stakes with sharpened ends, usually set upright, but sometimes set horizontallly in a ditch.

Partizan, Partisan: Pole-arm with a broad, symmetrical blade carried by infantry officers as a badge of rank.

Petard: An explosive, bell-shaped device that was fixed manually to a gate or door to blast a hole through it during a siege.

Petronel: A short cavalry carbine with a sharply down-curving butt that was held against the chest and supported by a shoulder sling so that it could be aimed and fired with one hand, leaving the bridle-hand free.

Piquet, Picket: A line of guards placed forward of an army's main position to warn of an enemy advance.

Pike: Pole-arm usually between fifteen and eighteen feet in length with an iron head that was leaf or diamond-shaped.

Pole-arm: A cutting or thrusting weapon mounted on a long handle or pole. Pikes, halberds, partisans and spontoons were all pole-arms.

Pole-axe, Poll-axe: A weapon similar to a small battle-axe, usually with an axe blade on one side and a hammer or spike on the other for piercing armour or a helmet. Mainly used by Royalist cavalry.

Pitfall: A concealed pit to hinder attacking forces.

Posse Comitatus: County militia comprising all able-bodied men that was raised in times of emergency under the command of the Sheriff.


Quoin: A triangular piece of wood placed under the breech of a gun to elevate or depress it.


Rampart: A raised defensive embankment, often surmounted by a wall or parapet.

Redan: A v-shaped defensive work projecting from a wall; a forerunner of the bastion.

Redoubt: A detached defensive outwork, usually rectangular and enclosed on all sides.

Reformado: An officer on full or half-pay but with no troops to command.

Refusing: Battle tactic of protecting a flank by stationing a unit at the rear of the flank.

Running-trench: An approach trench in siege warfare.


Saker: Field artillery piece that fired a six-pound shot.

Sap: A trench.

Sapper: Military engineer who excavated trenches to advance a besieging army's position towards an enemy fortress.

Sconce: A detached fort with bastions.

Shot, Shotte: Contemporary name for musketeers.

Snaphance or Snaphaunce: An early form of flintlock firearm invented towards the end of the sixteenth century.

Spontoon: Pole-arm with a broad, symmetrical blade that was carried by infantry officers.

Storm poles: Horizontal stakes projecting from a defensive work to deter scaling by an attacking force.

Swedish tactics: A system of battlefield tactics developed by King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden that improved upon the Dutch system and was characterised by maximized infantry firepower and aggressive cavalry tactics. Main article

Swine-feathers (or Swedish feathers): Double-ended pikes five or six feet in length that were planted in front of a body of musketeers to form a defensive palisade.


Tertia, Tercio, Tertio: A battlefield unit of several regiments grouped together under the command of a senior colonel (later known as a brigade). Derived from the 16th century Spanish practice of grouping three mixed pike and shot colunelas into a single large battlefield formation.

Tories: Renegade Irish soldiers who refused to surrender after the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland and continued to raid garrisons and settlements. From the Gaelic tóraidhe, "pursued man".

Trained bands: Militia organised on a county or urban basis, extensively used in the early days of the Civil War. Main article

Tuck: A cheap, straight-bladed sword used by pikemen and musketeers.

Twelve apostles: Wooden or leather flasks containing a measured charge of gunpowder suspended from a musketeer's bandolier, usually arranged with eight in front and four behind.


Wheel-lock: System of firearm ignition where a toothed wheel is cocked by turning a key or winding spanner. Pressing the trigger causes the wheel to spin and strike sparks from a piece of iron pyrites into the priming-pan. Mainly used for cavalry pistols and carbines.

Works, Workes: Contemporary term for fortifications.

Worm (or Wadhook): A wooden staff with twin spiral iron hooks on its end used to scour the inside of cannon barrels to remove burning embers or blockages.