What State’s Troops Were Called Tarheels During the Civil War?

by Brett Schulte on July 14, 2009 · 9 comments

That’s an easy one, and I’d guess most of TOCWOC’s readers either a) know the story of this derisive nickname Virginians gave to North Carolina’s soldiers during  the war or b) deduced it was North Carolina due to the University of North Carolina’s Tarheel moniker.  This topic came up recently when TOCWOC reader Wayne sent in the following message via the Contact Us form:

My father recently visired the Confederate Museum in Va. and he saw a listing for nicknames of the troops from different states. i.e. Fl. Gophers, Ga. Goobers S.C. Tarheels. There was a long list of these and I was wondering if you had them also? He really liked them and wants the complete list. If you could help or send a link I would be very greatful. Thanks and have a great day!

Wayne

Now while I’ve heard the Tarheels story about North Carolina’s troops numerous times, I didn’t realize a lot of soldiers hailing from other Confederate states had nicknames as well.  Some are probably obvious, such as “Volunteers” for Tennessee, but I really don’t have a good answer for Wayne’s question.  So TOCWOC readers, let’s see what kind of knowledge you have on this subject.  What were some common nicknames for soldiers from various states?

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

P. Swan July 14, 2009 at 9:46 am

So, did Wayne’s message really say S.C. Tarheels?
South Carolina??

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Coly Hope July 14, 2009 at 1:28 pm

Some that I know of:

1. 8th Michigan Infantry was called the Wandering Regiment because they fought battles all over. They fought in the Carolinas then went East during Antietam then went to Tennessee in 1863 and back to Virginia in 1864.

2. 1st Indiana Artillery was called the Jackass Regiment.

3. 20th Massachusetts was called the Harvard Regiment because of the number of Harvard students and graduates who were officers in the regiment.

4. 1st Colorado was called the Pikes Peakers.

5. 2nd Missouri was called the Minutemen.

6. 1st Maine Cavalry was called the Puritans. Not sure how a fighting unit got that name.

Coly

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Dan July 14, 2009 at 6:02 pm

Some are fairly obvious, and tend to fit with the states’ collegiate athletics names:

Indiana Hoosiers
Ohio Buckeyes
Iowa Hawkeyes
Nebraska Cornhuskers
Massachussetts Bay Staters
Connecticut Nutmeggers
Michigan Wolverines
Wisconsin Badgers
Tennessee Volunteers
North Carolina Tarheels
Arkansas Razorbacks

Others don’t. For instance, Illinois State is The Prairie State, yet I don’t believe I’ve ever read of Illinois troops being referred to as “Prairie Staters”. Usually they’re called “Suckers” in Civil War literature (another of Illinois’ state nicknames).

Still other states’ nicknames are seemingly never referenced when discussing their troops. Ever read about New York “Empire Staters”, Pennsylvania “Keystone Staters”, Kentucky “Bluegrass Staters”, Louisiana “Pelicans”, Maine “Pine Tree Staters”, or Minnesota “Gophers” in Civil War books? Neither have I. These states’ troops are hardly ever nicknamed; they’re just referred to as New Yorkers, Pennsylvanians, Kentuckians, etc.

Maybe someone ought to break the mold and use some of these seldom-used nicknames in the context of CW books…?

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Greg Rowe July 14, 2009 at 9:31 pm

I know the 8th Texas Cavalry was called “Terry’s Texas Rangers.” Col. Benjamin F. Terry was the commander. Ironically, most of these soldiers, who are usually associated with Hood’s Brigade, had never officially served in a ranger company before the war.

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Robert Welch July 14, 2009 at 10:56 pm

It’s actually Hawk Eyes or Hawk-Eyes for the Iowans. Illinois, as stated, were Suckers; Missourians were Pukes or Pukers.

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elektratig July 15, 2009 at 12:57 pm

Illinois “Suckers”? Yikes. That’s a new one on me. Is it true? Were they really called that? Where did the name come from?

P.S. I was born in Illinois (though I had the good sense to get out before I could crawl).

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admin July 15, 2009 at 6:49 pm

All,

Thanks for the interesting comments! I’ve learned of several new nicknames as a result.

Yes, the Illinois troops were called “Suckers”. If I recall correctly, a book from the 50s or 60s was called “Arming the Suckers”.

Brett

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Robert Welch July 16, 2009 at 9:51 am

I’ve heard a couple of stories about the origins of the Sucker nickname. One apparently has something to do with the number of sucker fish in Illinois waters. The other, which I give a little more credence to, had people in Indiana and Ohio calling settlers traveling to Illinois suckers for moving to the treeless prairie. Prior to heavy settlement in the region, the prairies were thought to be infertile grasslands that could not support agriculture. The infertility was linked to the lack of trees, trees being a harbinger of soil fertility in the heavily wooded east.

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Wayne July 21, 2009 at 11:48 am

I was able to get through to Robert F. Hancock the Director of Collections at the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Va. which is where my Dad saw the names. According to Bromfield L. Ridley an Aide-de -Camp on General Alexander Stewarts staff the following nicknames were given to soldiers from a particular state.

AL “Yaller Hammers”
AR “Toothpicks”
FL “Gophers”
GA “Goober Grabbers”
KY “Corn Crackers”
LA “Tigers”
MS “Sandlappers”
MO ” Border Ruffians”
NC ” Tarheels”
SC ” Rice Birds”
TN “Hog Drivers”
TX “Cowboys”
VA ” Tobacco Worms”

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