Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Rebel Yell Revisited

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

For 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.



  1. The final product of this digital reconstruction -- layer upon layer upon layer of reconstructed yells, each of a slightly different pitch and timing -- is deeply, deeply unnerving. Wouldn't want to hear that coming at me through the black powder smoke.

  2. Can't recall where I saw it but it was very recently on the net-a vintage film of a Civil War veteran's reunion with several aged rebs giving the yell unison. It sounded just like the examples in this video. It set the hairs on my neck atwitter. It must have been an echo from hell to the Union soldiers in the path of the rebel onslaught!

  3. Sergeant Samuel Clear of the 116th Pennsylvania wrote in his diary several times of the Confederates' "womanlike scream." I never really understood how unsettling it must have been until hearing this reconstruction!