Office Hours Shorts – Episode Two: Passenger Pigeons

Screen shot 2014-03-25 at 11.04.02 AMPlease take a few moments and have a look at the latest episode of Office Hours Shorts. My obsession of late with these birds has inspired me to dedicate an episode to birds that once numbered in the billions but have long since passed into history. As you may or may not know – 2014 marks the centennial of the extinction of the passenger pigeon. Seriously, I think a moment of silence is in order.

With compliments,
Keith

The Real Rebel Yell

Screen shot 2014-03-24 at 9.43.49 AMThe other day I posted videos capturing the recreation of and the story behind the recreation of the infamous Rebel yell. I think that all in all this was a laudable effort to resuscitate a war cry that had long ago faded into history. Several people on the usual social media suspects commented their approval. But at least one person seemed incensed by this recreation. This individual suggested that it is quite impossible to recreate the yell out of the context of actual war. In many ways I must agree – the gentlemen reenacting the yell during a modern-day bayonet charge are out for a good time. No one is shooting at them, no one is dying. Fair enough. But I think that the reenactors provided a close approximation. Another reader pointed me to a film clip of actual Confederate veterans (now quite elderly) yelling their hearts out.  Take note that the authentic yells are eerily similar to the modern day version. Of course, no one is shooting at the veterans either – these old timers seem to be having a fine time entertaining their audience. What do you think?

 


With compliments,
Keith

PS – I think it’s funny when people put clips up on Youtube and call them “rare.” Umm….it’s on Youtube. How rare can it be?

The Rebel Yell Revisited

Screen shot 2014-03-22 at 9.48.27 AMFor decades, we thought we knew what the Rebel yell sounded like. We figured it was somewhere between a blood-curdling scream and an extended YEEEEEEEEEHHHHHAAAAAAAA in The Dukes of Hazzard fashion.

But reports from Union soldiers who heard it in battle don’t exactly match up to the popular understanding of the infamous war cry. Federal soldier Ambrose Bierce said of the yell…”It was the ugliest sound that any mortal ever heard — even a mortal exhausted and unnerved by two days of hard fighting, without sleep, without rest, without food and without hope.” And a New York Times war correspondent remarked “..the Southern soldiers cannot cheer, and what passes muster for that jubilant sound is a shrill ringing scream with a touch of the Indian war-whoop in it.” Shelby Foote – who seems to be the master of all things Civil War, stated in Ken Burns’s The Civil War, that is was most likely some sort of “a foxhunt yip mixed up with sort of a banshee squall.”

Has the sound been lost to history? Well, thanks to the Museum of the Confederacy, maybe not. Have a quick look at these two short videos and see how the MOC pieced together what sounds haunting and just plain scary – just like the Union soldiers described.

The yips, barks and yelps generated in the studio as Waite Rawls, president of the MOC describe and the yell reproduced by Henry Kidd and the other Confederate reenactors may very well be the closest thing we have to the real deal. Sometimes I imagine myself hearing this from a thousand or more voices. Yes – I am a dork.

With compliments,
Keith

The Emancipation Memorial

Screen shot 2014-03-20 at 7.49.19 AMI was reading a little about this statue yesterday so I thought I would pitch in with my two cents today.

The Emancipation Memorial in Washington D.C. – aka the Freedman’s Memorial – aka the Lincoln Statue has had its share of supporters and detractors since its dedication back in 1876. Designed by Thomas Ball, and depicting Abraham Lincoln as the great emancipator as well as a shirtless shackled slave rising from is knees, the statue is indeed a spot-on target for controversy.

At the dedication, none other than Fredrick Douglass advised the crowd (which included Ulysses S. Grant) that it “showed the Negro on his knees when a more manly attitude would have been indicative of freedom.” And if you really want to push the issue. Historian Kirk Savage has condemned it as “a monument entrenched in and perpetuating racist ideology.”

Well…..I suppose that is open for debate. But one thing is for sure. Memorials like this one are sure to get a conversation going about who really freed the slaves. There are a lot of people out there who think of Lincoln as the great emancipator to be sure. But on the other hand….what about self emancipation? It is without question that when slaves had the chance, they made for the Union lines…in essence – freeing themselves. There is an enormous literature on this. For starters I would check out Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, edited by Ira Berlin, Barbara Fields, and other prominent historians.

But I ask this…what about the Union army? Didn’t they have something to do with it? I mean….really. Without the Union army in the field no proclamations would have amounted to anything – and there would have been no place to escape to. So we can talk about Lincoln the emancipator and self emancipation all day. Both are profoundly significant in terms of the history of freedom on the broader scale. But we must remember that there was a war gong on – and that the army played a crucial role in making emancipation a reality. This is a fact that seems sadly forgotten these days.

I think Robert Gould Shaw said it best in a letter to his mother shortly after he heard of Lincoln’s announcement: “So the Proclamation has come at last, or rather its forerunner. I suppose you are all very much excited about it. For my part, I can’t see what practical good it can do now. Wherever our army has been there remain no slaves, and the Proclamation will not free them where we don’t go.”

With compliments,

Keith