Battles and Leaders – Imboden asks, “What is Up?”

14 02 2010

In John Imboden’s Battles and Leaders article, Incidents of the First Bull Run, he offers up this:

After midnight of July 17th, General Bee, my brigade commander, sent for me to go with him to headquarters, whither he had been summoned. Several brigade commanders were assembled in a room with General Johnston, and a conference of one or two hours was held. When General Bee joined me on the porch to return to our quarters, I saw he was excited, and I asked him, “What is up?”

“What is up?”  No, no, no…it can’t be.  Surely he must have said:

My compiments, General Bee, sir.  May I be so bold as to inquire regarding your assessment of the tactical situation at present?  My sincere and heartfelt apologies if I have overstepped my position.

As we know from films like Gettysburg and Gods and Generals, people in 1860s America spoke exactly as they wrote – no umms, no ahhs, no slang, certainly no profanity, just fully formed thoughts with perfect grammar, diction, and decorum.  Well, of course they didn’t.  But for some reason, many today are convinced they did.  It carries over into the writings of modern historians, who apparently become so immersed in the documents of the era that they lose perspective, and use archaic terms in their narratives without exposition.  What happened in the 70 years separating our incredibly stilted impression of 1860s conversational speech and the witty repartee of Miller’s Crossing

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3 responses

14 02 2010
Craig Swain

Imboden: “Yo, Bee… what’s going down?”

Bee: “Idonno. Y you buggin’?”

Imboden: ” ‘cauz the heat is all over this hood. C’mon lets jet.”

Bee: “Let me lay it out so you can play it out.”

Imboden: “Yo, Bee, make it real. Bring that 411”

Bee: “Don’t punk out on me, dog! Wez gona hang with Jack and get phat ‘cauz he got game.”

Imboden: “True dat!”

Bee: “Get strapped and start stuntin’ ”

Imboden: “Word up!”


14 02 2010
Chris Evans

Interesting post.

As is mentioned on the website Jonahworld:
“Ephraim Anderson of the First Missouri Brigade wrote of an incident that occured in June of 1863 while he and his pards were in Vicksburg: “There was a considerable quantity of rice in the town, owned by a private party, from whom we were in the habit of purchasing a supply to fill out our rations; and one morning, a pot of it having been boiled, several of the boys were sitting round eating it, When John Hanger’s spoon was struck while just in the act of putting it into his mouth, by a small piece of shell, which tore a hole through the spoon and splattered the rice all over his face. John quietly observed ‘That was cool,’ and continued to finish his breakfast.” From Memoirs of the First Missouri Confederate Brigade, by Ephraim Anderson, 1868.

(By the way, the term “far out” was in use as early as the 1890’s, and was used by Stephen Crane in his Maggie–A Girl of the Streets.)”


16 02 2010
Will Hickox

The term “hang out” (as in “where do you hang out?”) sounds modern, but was common in the 19th century. Back in March I collected references on my blog that go back as far as 1811.


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