Nova Scotia Archives

The Royal Engineers in Halifax

Photographing the Garrison City, 1870-1885


The glossary provide below is taken from: The Evolution of the Halifax Fortress 1749-1928 / by Harry Piers; revised, edited and completed with appendices, bibliographies and index by G.M. Self; with the assistance of Phyllis Blakeley; under the direction of D.C. Harvey. Publication no. 7, Halifax, NS: Public Archives of Nova Scotia, 1947; 155 pp. Also available at: Our Roots

Glossary of Military and Other Terms Used

The definitions chiefly derived from The Shorter Oxford Dictionary

ballistic—a. 1775. of or pertaining to the throwing of missiles; projectile.

banquette. 1629. A raised way running along the inside of a parapet, or bottom of a trench, on which soldiers stand to fire at the enemy.

barbette—sb. 1772. A platform within a fortification on which guns are raised for firing over the parapet.

barbette battery—One with guns so mounted as to fire over the parapet. en berbete—(of guns) So mounted as to fire over the parapet.

bastideFortif., a small fort or a fortified house or tower.

bastion—1598. A projecting part of a fortification, consisting of an earthwork in the form of an irregular pentagon, having its base in the main line or at an angle of the fortification. Its "flanks" are the two sides which spring from the base, and are shorter than the "faces" which meet in the frontal angle. Hence, bastioned-furnished with or defended by bastions.

battery—1. A number of guns placed in juxtaposition for combined action. 2. The platform or fortified work, on or within which artillery is mounted. (Some- times including the artillery there mounted).

bed plate—(Mech). The foundation or support of any mechanical structure.

bench mark—1864. A surveyor's mark, cut in rock or other durable material, to indi- cate the starting or other point in a line of levels for the determination of altitudes over the face of a country. It consists of a broad arrow with a horizontal bar through its apex. When below sea-level the mark is inverted.

berm—A narrow space or ledge; esp. in Fortif. a space from 3 to 8 feet wide, sometimes left between the ditch and the base of the parapet.

blockhouse—1. orig. a detached fort blocking a strategical point. 2. later: An edifice constructed chiefly of timber, loopholed and embrasured for firing.

break ground—to commence the siege of a place by opening trenches, etc.

breastwork—A fieldwork thrown up breast-high for defence; a parapet.

breech—That part of a cannon, or other firearm, behind the bore. 1575.

capital—An imaginary line bisecting the salient angle of a work. 1706.

caponier (F. caponière)—A covered passage across a ditch, serving to shelter communi- cation with outworks, and affording a flanking fire to the ditch.

carronade [f. Carron in Scotland, where first cast.] A short piece of ordnance, usually of large calibre, having a chamber for the powder like a mortar; chiefly used on shipboard.

casemate—A vaulted chamber built in the thickness of the ramparts of a fortress, with embrasures for the defence of the place; used as a barrack, or a battery, or both. Hence: casemated provided with casemates, strongly fortified. Comb: casemate of defence; barrack casemate.

cavalier—A work generally raised higher than the rest of the works to command all the adjacent works and the country around. 1560.

contour—b. 1662. The outline of any figure, esp. the line separating the differently coloured parts of a design. v. 1871. To mark the contour lines

coping—sb. 1661. Archit. The uppermost course of masonry or brickwork in a wall, usually of a sloping form to throw off rain.

corbel—sb. M E Archit. A projection jutting out from the face of a wall to support a superincumbent weight.

cordon—A chain of military posts. 1758.

countermine—sb. 1648. A mine or subterranean excavation made by the defenders of a fortress, to intercept a mine made by the besiegers. v. 1580—to make a countermine.

counterscarp—sb. 1571. The outer wall or slope of the ditch which supports the covered way; sometimes the whole covered way within the glacis.

counter scarp gallery—no definition available.

couvere porte—no definition available.

cover—v. To stand in line with, from a point of sight. 1796.

covert—a. Hidden, disguised.

curtain—The part of the wall which connects two bastions, towers, gates etc. 1569.

demi-lune—See half-moon.

diverging—Proceding in different directions from a common point, so as to become more and more widely separate.

Doric—One of the three Greek styles of architecture, of which it is the oldest, strongest, and simplest.

embrasure—An opening, widening from within, made in an epaulement of parapet so that a gun can be fired through it. 1702.

enceinte—An enclosure, chiefly in Fortif.

enfilade—To rake (a line of works, or troops, a road etc.) from end to end with a fire in the direction of its length. 1706.

epaulement—A covering mass raised to protect from the fire of the enemy.

escarp—sb. 1688. A steep bank or wall immediately in front of and below the ramparts ...generally the inside of the ditch. v. 1728. To form into a steep slope or escarp.

face—(face of a place) the front that is comprehended between the flanked angles of two neighbouring bastions. 1489. (faces of a work) those parts which form a salient angle projecting towards the coun- try. 1676.

fairway—1584. A navigable channel in a river, or between rocks, sandbanks, etc.

fascine—1688. A long cylindrical faggot of brushwood or the like, firmly bound together, used in filling up ditches, constructing batteries etc. Used in plural.

fathom—The length of the outstretched arms; hence 6 feet; now chiefly used in taking soundings.

field-officer—1656. An officer above the rank of captain and under that of general.

fieldwork—A temporary fortification thrown up by troops operating in the field. 1819.

flankMil. The extreme left or right side of an army or body of men in military forma- tion; a wing, 1548. Fortif. Any part of a work so disposed as to defend another by a flanking fire; esp. the part of a bastion reaching from the curtain to the face and defending the opposite face. 1590.

fluteArch. A channel or furrow in a pillar, resembling the half of a flute split length- wise, with the concave side outwards.

fraise—sb. 1755. A palisade, made horizontal or slightly inclining to the horizon, placed for defence round a work near the berm.

freestone—Any fine-grained sandstone or limestone that can be cut or sawn easily.

garrison—A body of soldiers stationed in a place for its defence. Comb.: garrison- artillery, garrison-gun, etc.

glacis—1688. The parapet of the covered way extended in a long slope to meet the natural surface of the ground, so that every part of it shall be swept by the fire of the ramparts.

gorge—1669. The neck of a bastion or other outwork; the entrance from the rear to the platform or body of a work.

gudgeon—A pivot, usually of metal, fixed on or let into the end of a beam, spindle, axle, etc., and on which a wheel turns, a bell swings, or the like.

half moonFortif. Demilune 1642. An outwork resembling a bastion with a crescent shaped gorge, to protect a bastion or curtain. 1727.

handspike—A wooden bar, used as a lever or crow, chiefly on shipboard, and in artillery service.

hornwork—1641. An outwork, consisting of two demi-bastions connected by a curtain and joined to the main work by two parallel wings.

howitzer—1695. A short, comparatively light gun, which fires a heavy projectile at a high angle of elevation and low velocity.

ironstone—1522. The name given to various hard iron ores containing admixtures of silica, clay, etc.

keep—The innermost and strongest structure or central tower of a mediaeval castle, serving as a last defence.

laboratory—1716. A department of an arsenal for the manufacture and examination of ammunition and combustible stores.

lay—To set (a gun etc.) in the correct position for hitting a mark. 1480.

limber—The detachable fore part of a gun-carriage, consisting of two wheels and an axle, a pole for the horses, and a frame which holds one or two ammunition chests. 1497. v. mil. to attach the limber to (a gun), to fasten together the two parts of a gun- carriage, in order to move away.

loophole—1591. A narrow vertical opening, usually widening inwards, cut in a wall, etc., for shooting through.

lunette—1704. A work larger than a redan, consisting of two faces and two flanks.

machicolation—1788. Arch. An opening between the corbels which support a project- ing parapet, or in the floor of a gallery or in the roof of a portal, through which combustibles, molten lead, stones, etc., were dropped upon assailants. Also a pro- jecting structure containing such openings.

mete—A boundary, limit; a boundary stone or mark; esp. in phr. metes and bounds— common in legal use. 1471.

mine—a receptacle filled with dynamite or the like, moored beneath, or floating on or near the surface of the water to destroy an enemy vessel.

mortar—originally m-piece: A short piece of ordnance with a large bore and with trun- nions on its breech for throwing shells at high angles. 1558.

outwork—Any detached or advanced work forming part of the defence of a place.

offing—1627. The part of the visible sea distant from the shore or beyond the anchor- ing ground.

palisade—A strong pointed wooden stake of which a number are fixed deeply in the ground in a close row, as a defence. 1697.

palladian—a. 1731. Of, belonging to or according to the school of the Italian architect Andrea Palladio (1518-80), who imitated ancient Roman architecture without regard to architectural principles.

parade—sb. 1. A muster of troops for inspection or display. 2. A march or procession.

parapet—A defence of earth or stone to cover troops from the enemy's observation and fire.

park—v. 1526. To arrange compactly (artillery, wagons, etc.) in a park.

pediment—The triangular part, resembling a low gable, crowning the front of a building in the Grecian style of architecture, esp. over a portico.

portico—An ambulatory consisting of a roof supported by columns placed at regular intervals, usually attached as a porch to a building; a colonnade.

postern—a tunnel serving as a means of access to the ditch and outworks. 1704.

profile—a. A transverse vertical section of a fort. 1669. b. The comparative thickness of an earthwork or the like. 1810.

quoin—1. An external angle of a building or wall; also one of the stones or bricks serv- ing to form the angle; a corner stone. 2. A wedge or wedge-shaped block used variously as;...b. Gunnery, to raise or
     lower or fix the breech of a gun. 1627.

racer—A rail, forming a horizontal arc, on which the carriage or traversing-platform of a gun is moved. 1861.

rampart—sb. 1583. A mound of earth raised for the defence of a place, capable of resisting cannon-shot, wide enough on the top for the passage of troops, guns, etc. and usually surmounted by a stone parapet.

ravelin—1589. An outwork consisting of two faces which form a salient angle, con- structed beyond the main ditch and in front of the curtain.

recessed—Set in a niche or alcove.

redan—A simple form of field-work, having two notches which form a salient angle.

redoubt—1608. a. A small work made in a bastion or ravelin of a permanent fortification, or (detached r.) at some distance beyond the glacis, but within musket-shot from the covert-way. b. A species of out-work or field-work, usually of a square or polygonal shape, and with little or no means of flanking defense.

re-entrant—a. and sb. 1781. 1. adj. R. angle. An angle pointing inwards. 2. sb. A re-entrant angle in a fortification. 1900.

relief—The height to which works are raised above the bottom of the ditch.

Respective Officers—"In the later years of its [i.e. the Board of Ordnance's] existence a miniature counterpart of the Board was set up in every garrison, consisting of the Commanding Officers of Artillery and Engineers, with the Storekeeper. The powers of this Committee, known by the title of the Respective Officers, were on many points very extensive. They only recognized the Board as their masters, and reported direct to that body, without any reference to their own immediate chiefs. It may well be imagined that such a system, being as it was an imperium in imperio, worked badly, and was the source of constant irritation. The Honourable Board were, moreover, jealous of any interference with the powers of their subordinates, and supported them most energetically whenever they came into collision with their military superiors. 'The presence in every garrison of that band of conspirators known as the Respective Officers, who represented the obstructive Board, and whose opinion carried far more weight than that of the General commanding, was enough to irritate that unhappy officer into detestation of the Honourable Board and all connected with it (Duncan)'." Porter, Major-General Whitworth, RE, History of the Corps of Royal Engineers, London and New York, Longmans, Green and Com- pany, 1889, Volume II, page 90.

retaining-wall—A wall built to support a mass of earth or water.

revet—v. 1812. To face (an embankment or wall) with masonry or other material, esp. in fortification.

revetment—A retaining-wall (of masonry etc.) supporting the face of an earthen rampart or the side of a ditch.

rifle—sb. 1751. To form spiral grooves in the barrel of a gun or the bore of a cannon.

rifling—sb. the spiral grooving itself.

salient—a. and sb. Obs. or arch. 1672. Of an angle: Pointing outward, as an ordinary angle of a polygon (opp. to re-entrant); chiefly in Fortif, pointing away from the centre of the fortification. So. s. point etc. 1687.

sally port—1649. An opening in a fortified place for the passage of troops when making a sally, sometimes used for "postern."

screen—A partition of wood or stone pierced by one or more doors, dividing a room or building (e.g. a church) into two parts.

site—v. 1598 [f. the sb. or back formation from sited] 1. trans. To locate, to place. 2. intrans. To be situated or placed, to lie—1630.

sited—a. 1455. Of buildings, countries, etc. Having a (certain) site or situation; situated.

star-fort—A small fort having alternate salient and re-entrant angles.

talus—The sloping side of a wall or earthwork, which gradually increases in thickness from above downwards.

tambour—A small defensive work formed of palisades or earth, usu. in the form of a redan, to defend an entrance or passage. 1834.

terreplein—(f. terre earth plein full) 1591. 1. orig. The talus or sloping bank of earth behind a wall or rampart; hence, the sur- face of a rampart behind the parapet; and strictly, the level space on which the
     guns are mounted, between the banquette and in the inner talus. 2. The level base (above, on, or below the natural surface of the ground) on which a battery is placed in field fortification; sometimes, the natural surface of the ground. 1669.

torpedo-boat—1810. A vessel carrying one or more torpedoes (the original torpedo was a towed or drifting submarine mine).

trace—in Fortif., the ground-plan of a work. 1774.

traverse—A barrier or barricade thrown across an approach, the line of fire, etc. as a defence; spec. (pl.) parapets of earth raised at intervals across the terreplein of a rampart or the covered way of a fortress, to prevent its being enfiladed. 1599.

trunnion—chiefly in pl. 1625. Each of a pair of opposite gudgeons on the sides of a cannon, upon which it is pivoted upon its carriage. (Disused in large modern guns).