Understanding the line from Civil War song - "Dressed up in his unicorn"

Nov 2018
22
USA
Hey! I'm trying to understand what can mean a line "Dressed up in his unicorn " from Civil War song "Grafted him into the army". I couldn't find out what kind of clothes is referred to as this, maybe somebody knows?
 

redcoat

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
7,949
Stockport Cheshire UK
Hey! I'm trying to understand what can mean a line "Dressed up in his unicorn " from Civil War song "Grafted him into the army". I couldn't find out what kind of clothes is referred to as this, maybe somebody knows?
I suspect it's a play on the word, uniform, a reference to the army uniform soldiers are issued with.
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,995
Dispargum
It's called a malapropism - the intentional use of a wrong but similar-sounding word. Grafted is probably another malapropism for drafted. The song also references a place called Alabarmy so that it could rhyme with army.
 
Jun 2017
734
maine
Do you mean the ditty by HC Work? I've seen the term used in reference to the Civil War in several instances. It was term associated with blacksmithing (a forge, a type of wheel, and--I think--a rifle). It was also a term used for black Confederate soldiers. But only one makes any sense here: one of the Pennsylvania cavalry units used a unicorn rampant as its symbol (from heraldry). The entire poem/song is done in dialect (e.g., "dressed" is "drest") so Chlodio's thoughts are probably correct--and "unicorn" means "uniform".
 

betgo

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
6,688
There was probably some meaning to "unicorn", as well as it being a malapropism for "uniform". "Grafted" is clearly a reference to the practices by which you could avoid the draft by hiring a substitute, paying a $300 fee, or perhaps less in pay offs. Those drafted were generally poor and uneducated, as the language of the song implies.

Issues like the $300 fee were a big part of what sparked the draft riots by mostly poor, mostly Irish in NYC. The Confederacy put in a more effective draft earlier. It didn't allow provisions to buy your way out, but included the infamous "20 slave rule", or 20 something else rule, giving one exemption for every 20 slaves held by the household.

In Vietnam, very few from prep schools or top colleges served in combat. However, the exemptions based on wealth etc. were not as blatant as in the Civil War.