Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Hearing the Rebel Yell

Posted in Media, Memory, Technology by Andy Hall on November 7, 2011

One of my readers points to this Smithsonian article on motion picture and audio recordings of old Civil War soldiers, shot in the early 20th century. In particular, this is a great video showing a group of old Confederate veterans recreating the famous “rebel yell.” Waite Rawls and the folks at the Museum of the Confederacy made their own effort at recreating the rebel yell, using a couple of recordings like the one above, remastered and remixed into a multitude of voices.

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  1. corkingiron said, on November 7, 2011 at 7:42 pm

    OK – that was cool. Was there any Northern counterpart to this famous yell?

  2. Nora Carrington said, on November 7, 2011 at 10:15 pm

    I’m assuming this is all “real.” But seriously, all the recordings sound like the cartoon white woman leaping onto a chair when she sees a mouse in her kitchen. “Eek!” in other words, writ loud.

    Whatever else, that ain’t no “yell,” it’s a shriek, a scream, but not a yell.

    Also, in the first clip, there are small children in the first scene holding toy-sized versions of what I’ve always understood to be “Confederate flags;” a bit later there’s a full-sized version held, also to the right of the screen, by a grown man. I thought these had been essentially extinct/invisible from the end of the war up until the 1950’s. Is that common rejoinder to the “heritage” folks not precisely correct?

    • Andy Hall said, on November 7, 2011 at 10:42 pm

      That flag has always been seen/used in conjunction with Confederate reunions/memorials. It was from the late 1940s on that it had a resurgence with a much more explicit, modern political meaning, as a symbol of “massive resistance” to desegregation and Civil Rights initiatives — all in the name of “states rights.” The “heritage, not hate” folks like to dismiss that use of the Confederate flag as being by fringe hate groups like the Klan, but in fact the opposite was true; it was used as a symbol of intolerance and intimidation by all sorts of ostensibly “respectable” people. And not so long ago.

      Original caption:11/16/1960-New Orleans, LA- Waving Confederate flags, two small children stand on chairs as they join adults in attending a meeting of the White Citizens Council of Greater New Orleans, 11/15. The meeting was called to protest the integration of two local elementary schools. On 11/16, a crowd of 5000 screaming mothers and teenagers converged on the local school board offices to protest the integration decision. Police used fire hoses and a flying wedge of motorcycles to halt demonstrators.

      Original caption:11/16/1960-New Orleans, LA- Waving Confederate flags, two small children stand on chairs as they join adults in attending a meeting of the White Citizens Council of Greater New Orleans, 11/15. The meeting was called to protest the integration of two local elementary schools. On 11/16, a crowd of 5000 screaming mothers and teenagers converged on the local school board offices to protest the integration decision. Police used fire hoses and a flying wedge of motorcycles to halt demonstrators.

      This is the best book on the subject — very balanced and authoritative.

  3. Isaac said, on November 8, 2011 at 1:48 am

    I actuallyI found the newsreel to be quite funny. I think those old guys were having quite some fun with the crowd and each other. In fact, if you listen closely, after one of the gents gives his yell, the other guy tells him to “go put on his dress”. Ha, what a hoot.

  4. Brainz said, on November 8, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    I found it hilarious, up to the point where I imagined 10,000 heavily armed men coming at me to do me harm, all of them making that noise.

    • Andy Hall said, on November 8, 2011 at 4:32 pm

      . . . and whom you likely couldn’t SEE, behind billows of gunpowder smoke. Seriously scary stuff, I think. Unearthly.

  5. Rob Baker said, on November 9, 2011 at 10:41 am

    Truly fascinating. I passed this on to my reenactor friends.

    • Andy Hall said, on November 9, 2011 at 6:42 pm

      Those old newsreels and recording have been around for a long time — just waiting for someone to think beyond them as simple recordings, and as a way to recapture something long thought lost.

  6. Woodrowfan said, on November 10, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    But didn’t Ken Burns in “The Civil War” say that no one knew what it sounded like?

  7. Woodrowfan said, on November 10, 2011 at 5:00 pm

    seriously, that was interesting, thank you Andy

  8. Dave Tatum said, on November 18, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    Good job Andy ! (don’t tell anybody at SHPG i said so )

  9. Ken Noe said, on November 19, 2011 at 10:56 am

    As I tell my students, I heard the Rebel Yell all through my youth…you could just as easily be listening to my grandfather calling in cattle in the evening in southwest Virginia.


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