The Revolutionary War in Rhode Island: Glossary

Absence CertificatesDocumentA piece of paper with a note indicating that the named soldier on the paper is allowed to be absent from camp, garrison or unit for the stated specific purpose. These were important for identifying who was away with leave and who was deserting. The rules for both situations were outlined in the Continental Articles of War.
AdjutantRankThe staff officer in a regiment that supervised guards, work parties, and administrative paperwork.
ArtilleryArmamentA general term for weapons that fire large ammunitions. These include: cannon, mortar, and howitzer types which were named by size of ammunition in pounds or by size of the barrel diameter in inches. 
ArtilleryUnitA company of officers and Matross that are trained in the sciences of advanced mathematics like trigonometry, geometry, and physics like laws of motion and gravity.
Artillery BrigadeUnitA brigade that specialized in artillery, usually the size of a company or slightly more men. Usually had eight or ten artillery guns: cannon, mortar, howitzer; and the necessary officers and men to operate them. Artillery brigades also had many horses to move the artillery, extra carriages for the artillery, and many wagons to carry the ammunitions.
Artillery MagazineUnitA dug out underground structure, supported by wood planks and has a plank roof and door. The artillery magazine is constructed behind the battery, with a trench or tunnel from it to the battery for moving the powder, loaded shells, etc. stored there to the battery for use.
BattalionUnitA military organization unit, commanded by a lieutenant colonel (in the field). Battalions were made up of a group of companies, and most regiments had one battalion. During the war, battalion and regiment were used in interchangeably on documents.
BatteryUnitTerm used to describe a location where cannon or mortars are mounted for defense or attack. There are different types of batteries: gun battery, mortar battery, direct battery (opposite a target), cross battery, sunk battery. 
BayonetArmamentA long iron spike designed to be attached to the end of a musket or rifle.
Black Regiment (10)The 1st Rhode Island Regiment (also known as the Black Regiment) was one of the few units in the Continental Army to serve through the entire war, from the siege of Boston to the disbanding of the Continental Army on November 3, 1783.
BombardierRankA specialist rank for an artillery company private. Bombardiers were responsible for preparing ammunition and for firing mortars. This rank entitled the private to higher pay.
BrigadierRankA commissioned commanding officer in charge of a brigade. This rank is in between lieutenant colonel and colonel. This rank was held by British Army during the war, and the Rhode Island State Brigade.
Calvary or HorseUnitA company the serves on horseback.
Cannon, fieldArmamentLightweight and made of cast bronze or iron, field cannon fired three types of ammunition: grapeshot, canister and solid shot in basically a straight line forward. Field cannon were mounted on carriages and traveled with artillery companies. 
Cannon, shipArmamentCast bronze cannon, mounted on wheels and fired from ships. These cannons fired extra heated cannon balls at other ships to set them on fire. Ship cannon also fired chain shot, two half cannon balls attached with a chain, and bar shot, two half cannon balls attached with a metal bar. These were used to destroy ship masts and rigging.
Cannon, siegeArmamentHeavy, cast bronze or iron cannon, fired solid shot. Used to attack forts, earthworks, buildings and other solid obstacles. 
CaptainRankThe commissioned commanding officer in charge of a company. Companies in the Rhode Island militia and continental army lines were often named after their captains.
Captain-lieutenantRankA commissioned officer in artillery and infantry companies. The officer in command under the top-ranking officer in an artillery company. The officer in command of the colonel’s company in a regiment of infantry (foot) or cavalry (horse). They were the top-ranking lieutenant in a regiment.
CartridgeArmamentA wrapper made of strong paper, parchment or flannel that contains a charge of powder for a specific type of musket or pistol. Cannon and howitzer charges are usually wrapped in flannel. 30 to 40 cartridges for muskets could be made from 1 pound of powder
Cartridge boxArmamentA piece of wood the size to be easily carried by a soldier with holes drilled into it at regular spacing. Each hole held one cartridge, each box held 24 cartridges. The box was carried in a specially made leather bag with a shoulder strap or belt. Cartridge boxes worn on a belt were curved.
CasualtiesDocumentA document that recorded the soldiers not present or available to participate in battle. The reasons indicated could be: death, desertion, wounded, sick, on command elsewhere. Casualties were also indicated in the “Remarks” section of rolls.
ChaplainRankA commissioned officer who tended to the spiritual / religious needs of the men in a regiment or brigade.
ColonelRankA commissioned officer in command of a regiment. The colonel in a Continental Army regiment lead their regiment in tactical maneuvers and oversaw the administration of the regiment. British colonels were just administrators and did not command in the field.
CommissaryRankA civilian officer that provisioned army units with supplies and performed the logistics of moving provisions.
CommissionsDocumentA document signed by a government to a particular person stating their assigned rank and term of service.
CompanyUnitA company was the smallest unit in an infantry regiment or artillery. A company could also operate on its own, like the independent companies of Rhode Island that were charted by the R. I. General Assembly. From the start of the war until 1778, eight companies made up a regiment. Each company had: 1 captain, 2 lieutenants, 1 ensign, 4 sergeants, 4 corporals, 2 fifers or drummers and 76 privates.
ConductorRankA civilian officer in charge of ammunition magazines, weapons depots, wagons, etc. 
Continental ArmyUnitThe military force under the authority of the Continental Congress, which commissioned officers, accepted regiments from the states, and paid the soldiers. This was the primary fighting force against the British during the war. 1776 the Continental Congress organized the 1775 army into 88 regiments each contained 728 men. They also raised 16 more infantry regiments. 1778 the army is reduced by the Continental Congress to 80 regiments with 585 men. 1781 The army is reduced again to 58 regiments. In 1784 the Continental Congress ordered the army discharged. **also called the Grand Army.
Continental Articles of WarUnitContinental Congress adopted the articles of discipline and articles for administering justice within the Continental Army. These articles laid out the crimes, legal procedures, forms, regulations and appropriate punishments. Minor crimes were dealt with by the regiment commander, medium crimes were dealt with by court martial, serious crimes by a general court martial. Punishments were monetary fines, corporal punishment (lashes), removal of rank and death penalty. Only desertion during combat and aiding the enemy reached the death penalty level of punishment.
CornetRankA commissioned officer specific to cavalry troops (troops of horse). Held the same rank position as ensign in infantry companies (company of foot).
CorrespondenceDocumentA formal letter or note or words written on a scrap of paper used to communicate between people.
County Militia RegimentsThe roots of the various militia systems that developed in the North American English colonies reached far back to Anglo-Saxon Britain. All able-bodied freemen could, in theory, be called up for temporary service by the governing authority to defend their community.
Court MartialUnitA legal court appointed to hear cases of offences of officers and soldiers to make judgement and issue punishments. The rules for forming a court-martial are laid out in the Continental Articles of War. Court martials were held at the regiment level, general court martials were held at the brigade or army level.
Delinquent Lists
EnsignRankA commissioned officer specific to infantry companies. Ensign was the lowest rank of the commissioned officers in a regiment. Ensigns carried the regimental colors (flags). They were responsible for the dress of the company and the company’s cleanliness (or not so cleanliness).
Fifer / DrummerRankA noncommissioned staff officer in a company responsible for signals to troops by fife notes or drum beats. These signals were used in battle to issue orders to troops and in camp to signal different parts of the day or specific activities like mustering. They were also responsible for corporal punishment sentenced by the court martial. In addition to these two responsibilities they also helped the surgeon and surgeon’s mates move casualties from battle fields.
FireworkerRankA specific rank to artillery units, the fireworker was usually the youngest lieutenant in the unit. They prepared ammunition.
FortUnitA place that is protected by walls, ditches, and parapets. Used to protect high ground, defend ports, or defend encamped regiments.
GeneralRankA commissioned officer in command of a large unit or department, usually made up of several brigades and regiments. Brigadier general and major general were the two types of general rank in use by the Continental Army. Only George Washington held the rank of General and Commander-in-Chief.
General OrdersA published directive with the force of law, issued by a commander and binding upon all personnel under their command. Its purpose is to enforce a policy or procedure not otherwise addressed in regulations or laws.
GrenadeArmamentMade of iron, a small (2.5-inch diameter) ball with a hollow inside and filled with fine powder. A fuse made out of a piece of very dry wood and inserted into the powder through a hole in the iron.
GrenadierRankA particular type of infantry / foot soldier. Often distinguished from the rest of a regiment by their uniforms, and their high peaked cap “grenadier’s cap.” In addition to a musket or rifle, bayonet and hanger, they also carried a pouch filled with grenades and a cartridge box with 24 pre-made cartridges. Grenadiers were formed into companies, and there was usually one grenadier company in a regiment. 
GuardUnitA type of duty performed by soldiers in a company, regiment or brigade. Guard duty is set for the protection of the army or place (camp, garrison, etc.) on a rotating schedule. Soldiers on guard duty are indicated on weekly and monthly returns. Some examples of guard duties: advanced guard (go before marching army), artillery guard (secure the artillery in the field), grand guard (posted on roads near camp), forage guard (protect the foragers), baggage guard, rear guard (march behind the army to protect from attack)
GunnerRankA specialist rank for an artillery company private. Gunners were responsible for loading and aiming artillery (cannon, mortar, howitzer). This rank entitled the private to higher pay.
Hospital RecordsDocumentTypes of documents compiled by hospital staff about patients, casualties, supplies, etc.
HowitzerArmamentCast bronze and mounted on a carriage for transport, howitzers could fire straight like field cannon or arced like mortars. They fired cannon balls and bombs. Howitzers were categorized by the diameter of the interior opening of the barrel: 8, 10, 12- and 13-inch sizes.
Independent CompaniesCompanies formed from higher social ranks than those organized by colony, county, city, or town.
Infantry or FootUnitA company that serves on foot.
Kentish Guards (6)A military organization chartered by the Colony of Rhode Island on October 29, 1774, initially to protect the town of East Greenwich, which served with distinction in the American Revolution and continued through the Civil War.
KnapsackGearA cloth or leather bag to hold the soldier’s things, worn on the soldier’s back or across the body.
Lance corporalRankNot used by the Continental Army, but used in Europe to indicate an acting corporal. The Continental Army used “cadet” and “volunteer” to distinguish privates that they wanted to train into commissioned officer, but they weren’t commissioned yet.
LieutenantRankA commissioned officer in command of a company under the captain. Companies that had more than one lieutenant gave them ranking numbers: 1st Lieutenant, 2nd Lieutenant and 3rdLieutenant.
Lieutenant colonelRankA commissioned officer in command of a regiment below colonel. When a lieutenant colonel was in command of a regiment as the top-ranking officer (colonel died or removed) then commandant was added to their lieutenant colonel rank until advanced to colonel by the Continental Congress or State government.
LineUnitThe combined units of a particular state in the Continental Army. Or the combined units of light dragoon regiments or the artillery regiments. 
MagazineUnitA location where items are stored for armies. Usually a large building within a fortification. Stores, ammunitions, small arms (rifles, muskets) and artillery are stored for use of the soldiers and towns people.
MajorRankA commissioned field officer in a regiment. Infantry regiment major’s rode horses into battle, in charge of keeping the battlefield lines of soldiers unbroken.
MatrossRankAn enlisted soldier in artillery units, the same rank as private in infantry units. They helped fire cannon.
MilitiaUnitA military unit, under the authority of the state government even when the units served in the Continental Army. The militia units were made up of men capable of bearing arms. 
MinutemenUnitA unit of state militia in 1775 and 1776, raised by the state and trained more than standing militia units. 
Monthly / Weekly ReturnDocumentA document compiled by the command of a regiment weekly or monthly to record its commissioned and noncommissioned officers and privates, their status on that date in several categories, depending on the commander the list was organized by rank or by company. These were sent to General Washington for planning. 
MortarArmamentMortars were large artillery weapons mounted at a 45-degree angle and had a chamber for powder and a chamber for shell. They were two types: land mortar and sea mortar, both were made of bronze or iron. They fired exploding shells called “bombs” over enemy earthworks. Mortars were categorized by the diameter of the bore (or barrel opening): 8, 10, 12- and 13-inch sizes. Mortars were fired by specialist artillery company privates called “Bombardiers.”
MusketArmamentA firearm used by soldiers, over three feet long, with a flintlock (a triggered mechanism that held a piece of flint rock) to ignite the powder in the barrel. Muskets were not very accurate and weighed over ten pounds. Flints wore out after twenty uses. Soldiers were required to have flints, powder, cartridges, shot and the assorted items for carrying them, in addition to a bayonet that fit their musket. A well-trained soldier could fire and reload a musket three times in a minute at the start of battle. 
Muster RollDocumentA document compiled by a company commander, usually a captain for a company or a colonel for a regiment, that listed all the commissioned officers, noncommissioned officers, enlisted men in that unit. The purpose of the muster roll was to record the names of the men, their rank, enlistment date, length of enlistment (15-months, 1 year, for the war, etc.), and their status on the date the muster roll was compiled. The status categories that were recorded for each man: sick present, sick absent, on command, advanced (given higher rank), deceased, deserted, and transferred. Muster rolls helped regiment, brigade and army commands know the strength of their forces in the field on a particular date, essential for planning. Muster rolls had to be checked by a muster master and signed by the captain and the master.
North Providence Rangers One of the town militia companies authorized in October, 1774. A ranger is specially trained to act in small groups that scout and raid.
OathsDocumentA document with standard wording signed by the enlisting soldier or by a commissioned officer to bind their oath to a state or to the Continental Congress. Commissioned officers who did not sign the oath were listed as ‘refused’ in the R.I. General Assembly minutes. 
Officers, commissionedRankType of officer that received their rank and authority in the form of an official commission from a form of government. The Continental Congress and the Rhode Island General Assembly commissioned officers from the rank of ensign to general. The King of England’s government supervised the British commissions which were treated like property and were paid for and sold.
Officers, companyRankThe commissioned officers of a company or unit the size of a company, in order by highest rank: captain, captain-lieutenant, lieutenant, ensign, cornet.
Officers, fieldRankThe commissioned officers, part of the command of a regiment, in order from highest rank: colonel, lieutenant colonel, major. They commanded the regiment’s operations (in the field of battle, etc.)
Officers, noncommissionedRankAn officer designated by a colonel or lieutenant colonel commandant in a regiment to have a rank above and in command of privates. The noncommissioned officers in order from highest ranking: sergeant, corporal, drum major, fife major
Officers, staffRankThe staff officers assisted the commander of the unit: adjutant, paymaster, commissary, quartermaster
Orderly BookDocumentA volume used by a commanding officer to record orders given by their commanding officer to them. Each commanding officer in a brigade was to keep one: general, colonel, captain. Rules for recording orders were defined in the Continental Articles of War.
OrdinanceUnitA term used instead of artillery for indicating all things connected with artillery units, the master general of a brigade is called the master general of the ordinance.
Pawtuxet Rangers One of the town militia companies authorized in October, 1774. A ranger is specially trained to act in small groups that scout and raid.
Pay ReceiptsDocumentA document compiled by a regiment’s pay master, listed each man’s name, rank and amount paid, the soldier signed next to their name to acknowledge that they were paid. 
Pay RollDocumentA document compiled by a company, listed men’s names, rank, days or months worked, amount of money owed them in wages, and notations of any changes in rank or casualties. The pay roll was submitted to the pay master of the regiment/brigade, who then distributed the money. 
Pay Roll and Abstractsno definition needed–Pay Roll is defined and abstract is an obvious term
PaymasterRankA commissioned officer (usually) who had the additional staff officer rank of paymaster and the task of distributing pay to the rest of the men in the regiment.
PlatoonUnitAnother term for company, the smallest in size unit in the Continental Army.
PowderArmamentPowder was made of up of sulfur, charcoal, saltpeter ground in a powder mill with stone wheels, wetted and mixed into a paste, and pressed through a sieve. The size of the sieve and the ‘grain’ it made from the paste determined the size of powder: fine, coarse, medium. The type of powder was controlled by the amounts of each ingredient to make musket, pistol, etc. powders. Powder was added to artillery and set on fire to create a controlled explosion which propelled the shot out at a high speed. Only dry powder could be set on fire. 
Powder MagazineUnitA structure, specially built to house large amounts of powder, in a fort or in a town.
QuartermasterRankA commissioned staff officer, this rank was often additional to a commissioned officer’s field or company rank for militias, and a permanent rank in the Continental Army. In command of shelter, food, provisions, arms and ammunition and getting units to their ordered locations.
Rank and FileRankA unit’s noncommissioned corporals and enlisted privates. The number of men in these ranks were also known as the “bayonet strength” on weekly and monthly strength returns.
Ration BillsRation bills list ailing soldiers along with an indication of what type of diet they were on, for instance, “half diet” or “fever.”
ReceiptsDocumentA signed document to record that a signer has received the item indicated on the document. Common types were: pay receipts, clothing receipts, arms receipts, provisions receipts, etc.
Redesignate / RenameUnitA change to the name of a regiment. company or brigade, often due to changes to the command of that unit. The rest of the unit remains the same.
RegimentUnitA unit of companies under the command of the same field officers. See also battalion. The Continental Congress standardized the regiment in 1775 and revised the size in 1778. In 1776 1 regiment had 728 men organized into 8 companies. In 1778 1 regiment had 585 men.
ResignationsDocumentA document indicating the request or intention of a soldier to be released from their commission or enlistment. 
Returns of the SickRegular returns listing the soldiers’ name, their company or regiment, medical condition, and duty status, such as “convalescent”, “discharged”, or “absent without leave.” 
Rhode Island Continental 1st RegimentThe Continental Army was reorganized in 1777, and the 9th Continental Regiment was re-designated as the 1st Rhode Island Regiment under colonel Christopher Greene.
RosterDocumentA document list of men in a particular guard, division, or command.
SergeantsRankA noncommissioned officer in a company (sometimes in command of a division within the company) in charge of punishments, discipline. Had an addition weapon in the field, a halberd.
Shell or BombArmamentA hollow projectile filled with powder, the “bomb” was designed to exploded in mid-air into shrapnel.
ShotArmamentA type of projectile that when fired scatters. Types of shot: cannister shot (metal cylinder filled with iron balls), case shot (metal cylinder filled with musket balls), grape shot (canvas bag with iron balls arranged around a rod and tied together), split shot (two sold half balls arranged to separate when fired), chain shot (split shot or whole cannonballs connected by chain), bar shot (split shot or whole cannonballs connected by a bar), hot shot (superheated iron shot) 
Smithfield and Cumberland Rangers (8)Among the town militia companies authorized in October, 1774. A ranger is specially trained to act in small groups that scout and raid.
Specialized RollDocumentA roll compiled for recording personnel, supplies or finances. Personnel Rolls, Supply Rolls, Finance Rolls were all compiled at the company and regiment levels. 
State troopsUnitForces, troops, units, militia, etc. Raised solely by the state’s government (R.I. General Assembly, Recess Committee, Council of War) and under its authority. These units operated with the Continental Army under their command structure as assigned by General Washington. These units were part time, defined service time (3-month regiment) or full time.
StoreUnitA term used to describe the provisions, forage, hay, oats, etc. held within a magazine. Maintained by a store-keeper.
Strength RollDocumentA document compiled by a brigade, corps, division, army or navy commander to indicate the number of available men, arms, horses, supplies, etc. for a certain date. The strength rolls were sent to General Washington for planning purposes and were made weekly and monthly.
SubalternRankA noncommissioned officer who holds the rank in a company below the captain. Lieutenant, ensign, cornet are all subaltern ranks.
Supply and Pay Requests[self explanatory, no definition needed]
SurgeonRankA commissioned officer who provided medical care of the men in a regiment. 
Surgeon’s CertificatesDocumentUsed by the surgeon and surgeon’s mates to notify commands of a particular soldier’s presence in the hospital, and their condition or the release of a soldier back to duty.
Surgeon’s MateRankA commissioned officer who assisted the surgeon in providing medical care in a regiment.