Bummers and their caps
Pardon the duplication but I am cross posting this. A discussion came up on another site about exactly what a "bummer's cap" is. Lots of modern sutlers sell them to reenactors but we got to thinking: when did the phrase "bummer" come into use? Was it unique to Sherman's March to the Sea or was it used earlier? Was it also used for Rebels as well as Yankees?
The earliest reference in the ORs is an October 1862 message from Fort Churchill, NV, concerning "a number of rebel bummers at these places without any visible means of support, who have gone off somewhere, probably some had means given them to go east." The next are in December 1864 and later a refer to soldiers attached to Sherman's March.
I am posting below a definition from 1877 as a starting point.
Judy and Bob Huddleston
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"The rule is perfect: in all matters of opinion our adversaries are insane."
---Mark Twain, 1907
Bummer. An idle, worthless fellow without any visible means of support. A word much used by our soldiers during the late civil war. The "New York Herald," May 2, 1876, thus describes the individual: The army bummer is usually a "General" who has been in the Quartermaster's or Commissary Department, and whose rank represents influence about the War Office, and days and nights of hard duty about Willard's and the Arlington . Since the war, he has been very "loyal." He has "sustained" the Union , and "supported" the government. Unable to earn an honest living, without brains for any position higher than that of a car conductor, he lives by lobbying. He knows the inside of every office, the favorite wine of a secretary, and the kind of dinner fancied by this statesman or the other. So, in time, he finds himself in the enjoyment of a good income, for which he does nothing but eat and drink and  talk. He is a disgrace to the army, whose uniform he wears for his own gain.
When it was reported that the Federal government refused to recognize Confederate prisoners as "prisoners of war," General Jackson and myself advocated that the Confederate government should then proclaim a "war to the knife,” neither asking nor granting quarter. We thought that the war would thereby sooner come to an end, with less destruction of life; we thought also that such a mode of warfare would inspire terror to the armed invaders and reduce the number of army followers, bummers, &c, who were the curse of all armed invasions. —
Extract of Letter from General Beauregard to the Governor of Tennessee , N.Y. Herald, April 30, 1875.
So long as substantial citizens choose to leave politics to shoulder-hitters, rum-sellers, and bummers of every degree, so long will they be robbed at every turn. — N.Y. Commercial Adv., Sept. 9, 1874.
In speaking of the order of General Grant sending General Custer to his regiment, the "New York Herald," May 4, 1876, says: —
This action of the President in the case of General Custer is unfortunate. If he had any thing against the General, he should have ordered him before a Court of Inquiry. But because Custer has evidence of the corruption of certain army bummers, he is sent to his regiment under circumstances that amount to a humiliation.
A bill is before the Legislature of Illinois, with a view to control the operations of the bummer element in the primary meetings of political parties. — Boston Herald, April 8, 1877.
The Bar-tender's Story," portraying a frequenter of the barroom, says:—
For he got to incrcasin' his doses,
And took'em more often, he did;
And it growed on him faster and faster,
Till into a bummer he slid.
John Russell Bartlett, A Dictionary Of Americanisms: A Glossary Of Words And Phrase Usually Regarded As Peculiar To The United States . (4th Edition, Boston , 1877)
- In a message dated 9/2/2007 6:37:30 P.M. Central Daylight Time, huddleston.r@... writes:A discussion came up on another site about exactly what a "bummer's cap" is.Are we talking forage cap here? The taller floppy kepi big enough for a bucket? The headband of which could be used for a bail?Lots of modern sutlers sell them to reenactors but we got to thinking: when did the phrase "bummer" come into use? Was it unique to Sherman's March to the Sea or was it used earlier? Was it also used for Rebels as well as Yankees.I have to believe the name had been in existence for some time--like hookers. It fit Sherman's free-ranging foragers, so they picked it up and revelled in it.ken
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- I searched "bum" in
"dissolute loafer, tramp," 1864, Amer.Eng., from bummer "loafer, idle
person" (1855), possibly an extension of the British word for
"backside" (similar development took place in Scotland, 1540), but
more prob. from Ger. slang bummler "loafer," from bummeln "go slowly,
waste time." Bum first appears in a Ger.-Amer. context, and bummer was
popular in the slang of the North's army in Amer. Civil War (as many
as 216,000 Ger. immigrants in the ranks). Bum's rush "forcible
ejection" first recorded 1910. Bummer "bad experience" is 1960s slang.
So the claim here seems to be a direct ACW connection through the
Note that the last entry has to do with 'bummmer' again and comes from
the Sixties and means to have a bad experience, as in "that was a
bummer". Doing my etymology from my own memory of this, the
origination of that usage seemed to be from getting "bummed out" from
a "bad trip" on drugs. Thus there is still a link to the word "bum."
- From - "The Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology
The Origins of American English Words."
Page 92 - "Bum - n. 1864, in American English, possibly
identical with earlier Scottish bum, (1540) lazy, dirty
person ( a special use of bum rump, before 1387, perhaps
borrowed from Middle Dutch bonne, modern Dutch bom bung)
and fussing with a shortened form of earlier English, bummer
loafer, idle person (1855) apparently alteration of German
bummler, from bummeln, to loaf showing influence of German
immigrants at the time.
v. 1863, American English, perhaps back formation from
bummer loafer, or from the noun (reinforced by bumming n.
adj. of poor quality, 1859, American English, from the noun;
also in bum steer bad advice (1920's), and in bummer bad
experience or situation (1969)"
"The Civil War Word Book," by Darryl Lyman states:
page 30 -
"Bum - The modern senses of bum originated just before
and during the Civil War: the adjective meaning worthless;
the verb meaning to loaf, beg, or wander; and the noun
meaning tramp, loafer, or sponger. The Civil War caused
an explosion in the use of the word; the war uprooted many
men an got them use to a wandering camp life."
More from Lyman -
"Bummer - (1) A loafer or sponger. From German Bummler,
(loafer). This sense of the word originated just before the
war, perhaps in the Far West. (2) During the war, an independent
forager, especially a soldier who left his ranks and plundered,
often as part of a raiding force."
"Bummers cap - The Union army's regulation fatigue or forage
cap. The name reflected the popular association of the cap
with Sherman's bummers."
European use of "bum", or a form of it, seems to stretch
back into the 1300's. The verb and adjective use of the
word in America seems to appear just prior to the Civil War.
IMO, it would seem natural to develop a descriptive word
into the noun for someone "of poor quality" and a "loafer"
or "idle person." And that is what seems to have been done.
Regards, Dave Gorski
> A discussion came up onwere there any conclusions about what the bonified cap was supposed to
> another site about exactly what a "bummer's cap" is.
pretty good article at wikipedia on the kepi:
- --- In email@example.com, "Carl Williams" <carlw4514@...>
> > A discussion came up on
> > another site about exactly what a "bummer's cap" is.
> were there any conclusions about what the bonified cap was supposed
> look like?I thought a Bummers cap,was whatever they Stole,I mean foraged
> pretty good article at wikipedia on the kepi:
liberally on the road
- In a message dated 9/7/2007 9:50:34 A.M. Pacific Daylight Time, holywham@... writes:
I thought a Bummers cap,was whatever they Stole,I mean foraged
liberally on the road
BVTA friend always called it creatively procured.Susan
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