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