What’s in a Name? Company Monikers at Stones River

     When our ancestors went off to participate in the Civil War as volunteers, nearly all of them went off to war as part of a specific company and in many ways, the company became the soldier’s new family away from home. Men signed their names to an enlistment roll under the authority of a captain or lieutenant and became part of that officer’s company serving alongside their family members and neighbors.

 Companies usually were raised in a defined geographical region, whether it be a city, town, or county and as such the men took a great deal of pride in belonging to Captain Stafford’s company or Captain McMahon’s company. The company took a soldier’s first claim to loyalty, quickly to be followed by membership in a regiment. Once a company was attached to a regiment, the regimental commander would designate a letter for each company, therefore assigning the company its place in the regimental line. Standard army practice called for the companies to be organized into line thus:

 Left Flank                                          Right Flank

                                 B- G- K- E- H   Colors   C- I- D- F- A

 

Generally speaking, date of seniority in rank of the various captains played an important role in this initial designation of company letter and as can be imagined, there was considerable politicking and jockeying among the company captains for the right to be designated as one of the flank companies (Co. A or Co. B), the top two spots in the regimental line. Besides establishing seniority (and placing them one step closer to promotion to field rank), the captains knew that the flank companies usually drew rifles instead of smoothbores and would receive additional training in skirmishing tactics, so the jockeying for position had some practical benefits to the volunteers. Failing to secure one of those coveted spots, the officers would turn their attention to securing the right to be either Co. C or Co. H, giving them a chance to be designated the color company.

In the early days of the war, many companies decided to adopt monikers to further distinguish their companies. While there certainly was nothing wrong with being a member of Co. E, it was far more satisfying to the men’s pride to state that they were members of Odin’s Rifles or the Red River Dixie Boys. The sheer variety of names the soldiers came up with to distinguish their companies is staggering and runs the gamut from the blunt and direct to the entirely whimsical.

C. Irvine Walker went to war as the adjutant for the 10th South Carolina Infantry whose companies had nicknames such as the Georgetown Rifle Guards, the Lake Swamp Volunteers, the Pee Dee Rangers, and the Horry Rough and Readys. 

Taking a representative sample, I studied the order of battle for both armies at the Battle of Stones River and took note of the company nicknames throughout the armies. In became clear that the practice was far more popular in the South than in the North and in some states (like Mississippi) it was well-nigh universal. It does appear that the later in the war that a regiment mustered into service, the less likely it became that its companies would have nicknames. The practice of naming companies seemed to have died out rather quickly in the North and whereas I had literally hundreds of nicknames associated with Confederate regiments, I could scarce come up with 30 names associated with Union regiments.

In a typical Southern infantry regiment like the 27th Mississippi (although not that typical as it had 11 companies instead of 10!), each of the companies had a nickname as denoted below:

 Company A- “Oktibbeha Rifles”

Company B- “Rosin Heels”

Company C- “Fredonia Hards”

Company D- “Rayburn Rifles”

Company E- “Leake Guards” or “Leake Rovers”

Company F- “Covington Fencibles”

Company G- “Kennedy Guards”

Company H- “Jasper Blues”

Company I- “Harris Rebels”

Company K- “Enfield Rifles” or “Enfield Riflemen”

Company L- “Twiggs Rifles”

          In the Union army, the 15th Wisconsin, an infantry regiment of Scandinavian volunteers (Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish) from Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois had some of the most colorful company names in the Army of the Cumberland as shown below:

 Company A- “St. Olaf’s Rifles”

Company B- “Wergeland Guards”

Company C- “Norway Bear Hunters”

Company D- “Norway Wolf Hunters”

Company E- “Odin’s Rifles”

Company F- “K.K.’s Protectors”

Company G- “Rock River Rangers”

Company H- “Heg’s Rifles”

Company I- “Scandinavian Mountaineers”

Company K- “Clausen’s Guards”

 

Second Lieutenant Milton Cowgill from Seneca County, Ohio went to war as a member of the Senecas and Wyandots, Co. D of the 49th Ohio. The company drew its name from the fact that its membership was a mix of Seneca and Wyandot County residents. Cowgill's regiment was amongst the first Federal regiments struck during the Confederate opening assault at Stones River and sustained a loss of 222 killed, wounded, and missing, Cowgill numbering amongst the wounded. He survived the wound and his subsequent time as a prisoner of war, passing away in Tiffin, Ohio in 1912 at the age of 76. 

          The nicknames chosen by the Confederate volunteers ran a very wide gamut; dozens of companies went off with the Rifles, Guards, or Grays appellation in their name. A quick study of the balance shows that the names fell into a series of themes including revenge-oriented names like the Zollicoffer Avengers or the Fishing Creek Avengers to testaments to the men’s toughness such as the Pickens Rough and Readys or the Fredonia Hards. Other companies chose names that sound like modern-day high school football teams such as the Hempstead Hornets or the Middleton Tigers.

The Southern cause closely associated itself with the Southern patriots of the Revolutionary War, so it is hardly surprising that some of the company nicknames reflected this association with names like the Sons of Liberty or the Swamp Fox Guards. Southern cultural and trade ties with Europe were strong and it was reflected in the company nicknames with monikers such as Clan McGregor or The Danes. The conflict at its heart was political in nature, so it is hardly surprising that companies went off to war as the Jefferson Davis Sharpshooters, the Calhoun Escopets, or the Barbour Yankee Haters.

So many of the volunteers were young men in the 20s (or younger) so its not surprising that they adopted nicknames like the Tuscaloosa Plough Boys, the Hawkins Boys, or the DeSoto Brothers. Nicknames mentioning firearms were popular leading to monikers such as the Pine Woods Sharpshooters, the Yell Rifles, or the Mulberry Riflemen. Some of the companies really let their imagination run wild, coming up with names such as the Moody True Blues, the Ouachita Voyageurs, the Obion Avalanche, and my personal favorite, Little George Mathew’s Friends.

That said, knowing how popular top 10 lists are and just to have a bit of fun with the topic, here are my top 10 company nicknames for units that took part in the Battle of Stones River.

 

Private Knut Larson Gjermo went to war as a member of Heg's Rifles, Co. H of the 15th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry. Struck in the left hip during his regiment's fight on the morning of December 31, 1862, Gjermo was removed to the Harding House hospital during the battle but died of his wound on January 18, 1863. 

Top 10 Union Company Names at Stones River

The Reapers- Co. I, 75th Illinois

Norway Bear Hunters- Co. C, 15th Wisconsin

Senecas and Wyandots- Co. D, 49th Ohio

Cowling Videttes- Co. K, 26th Ohio

Hibernian Guards- Co. F, 1st Ohio Infantry

Young America Guards- Co. C, 36th Illinois

Ripley Rovers- Co. D, 37th Indiana

Sanilac Pioneers- Co. D, 10th Michigan

Garibaldi Rifles- Co. H, 24th Ohio

Fort Meigs Rifles- Co. C, 21st Ohio

 

Lieutenant Augustus O. McDonnell went to war from Escambia County with the Pensacola Guards, Co. K of the 1st Florida Infantry. Other companies of the 1st Florida included the Leon Rifles (Co. A), the Jackson Rifles (Co. E), and the Young Guards (Co. G). The 1st Florida fought as part of a consolidated regiment with the 3rd Florida at Stones River and sustained a total loss of 137 men. McDonnell's own company lost five men, three of whom were killed including First Lieutenant William Holmes Collier. 

Top 10 Confederate Company Names at Stones River

Southern Rejectors of Old Abe- Co. B, 41st Mississippi

Little George Mathew’s Friends- Co. I, 25th Alabama

Barbour Yankee Haters- Co. A, 45th Alabama

Sunny South Guards- Co. K, 4th Florida

Beauregard Relief- Co. K, 10th Mississippi

Cedar Snags- Co. K, 4th Tennessee Cavalry (Smith’s)

Fredonia Hards- Co. C, 27th Mississippi

Dougherty Hussars- Co. B, 2nd Georgia Cavalry

Tuscaloosa Plough Boys- Co. G, 38th Tennessee

Obion Avalanche- Co. H, 9th Tennessee

 

 

 Study of Confederate company nicknames:

Beauregard-themed

The Beauregards- Co. G, 154th Tennessee

Beauregard Relief- Co. K, 10th Mississippi

 

Political-themed

Jefferson Davis Sharpshooters- Co. D, 7th Mississippi

Southern Rejectors of Old Abe- Co. B, 41st Mississippi

Calhoun Escopets- Co. A, 4th Arkansas

True Mississippians- Co. B, 30th Mississippi

 

Revenge-Oriented

Zollicoffer Avengers- Co. I, 33rd Alabama

Donelson’s Avengers- Co. C, 38th Tennessee

Fishing Creek Avengers- Co. D, 29th Mississippi

Jackson Avengers- Co. F, 3rd Georgia Battalion

Yankee Terrors- Co. A, 8th Mississippi

Barbour Yankee Haters- Co. A, 45th Alabama

 

RevWar Related

Sons of Liberty- Co. K, 154th Tennessee

Swamp Fox Guards- Co. I, 10th South Carolina

 

Stars

Dixie Stars- Co. I, 3rd Florida

The Western Stars- Co. A, 31st Tennessee

 

Guards

Sunny South Guards- Co. K, 4th Florida

Hermitage Guards- Co. I, 20th Tennessee

 

Roughs & Toughs

Walker Roughs- Co. D, 16th Louisiana

Pickens Rough and Readys- Co. A, 19th Alabama

Fredonia Hards- Co. C, 27th Mississippi

Lauderdale Invincibles- Co. G, 4th Tennessee Infantry

Insurgents- Co. B, 45th Mississippi

 

Rangers

Bogue Chitto Rangers- Co. B, 5th Mississippi

Floyd Bush Rangers- Co. G, 3rd Alabama Cavalry

Creole Chargers- Co. G, 1st Louisiana Cavalry

 

Animal-Related

Hempstead Hornets- Co. B, 4th Arkansas

Middleton Tigers- Co. F, 9th Tennessee

Buena Vista Hornets- Co. H, 24th Mississippi

The Forked Deer Volunteers- Co. I, 13th Tennessee

 

European-Related

Clan McGregor- Co. D, 1st Arkansas

Dougherty Hussars- Co. B, 2nd Georgia Cavalry

The Danes- Co. K, 6th Tennessee Infantry

Gotten Zouaves- Co. B, 6th Tennessee Infantry

 

Gun-Related

Pine Woods Sharpshooters- Co. G, 16th Louisiana

Yell Rifles- Co. C, 15th Arkansas

The Mulberry Riflemen- Co. K, 8th Tennessee Infantry

Enfield Rifles- Co. K, 27th Mississippi

 

Just with the Boys

Red River Dixie Boys- Co. E, 11th Texas Cavalry

The Tuscaloosa Plough Boys- Co. G, 38th Tennessee

The Hawkins Boys- Co. K, 19th Tennessee

The Railroad Boys- Co. F, 1st Tennessee Infantry

DeSoto Brothers- Co. I, 29th Mississippi

 

Whimsical

Moody True Blues- Co. D, 8th Mississippi

Ouachita Voyageurs- Co. D, 6th Arkansas

The Forest Rovers- Co. D, 33rd Tennessee

Obion Avalanche- Co. H, 9th Tennessee

Little George Mathew’s Friends- Co. I, 25th Alabama

The Deyampert Warriors- Co. E, 28th Alabama

Cedar Snags- Co. K, 4th Tennessee Cavalry (Smith’s)

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