Saturday, June 14, 2014

What did the Rebel yell sound like?


To most of us, perhaps, the men who fought the Civil War (sic) may seem like the inhabitants of a sort of cinematic prehistory, quaintly memorialized in Currier & Ives prints, old newspaper engravings and the photographs of Mathew Brady. But here they are, like living ghosts in the flesh, the survivors of Bull Run and Antietam, Shiloh and Chickamauga, who saw Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee with their own eyes, and cheered their comrades into battle with these very voices that we now hear.

Thousands of (these) veterans lived far into the 20th century. In 1913, 54,000 Union and Confederate veterans gathered at Gettysburg for the battle's 50th anniversary, and an astonishing 2,000 were still alive to show up for the battle's 75th anniversary in 1938. (Both events are represented in the library's film and audio collections.) The last verified Union veteran died only in 1956, and the last Confederate in 1951. From the early 1900s through the 1940s, they were filmed, recorded and interviewed at reunions, parades and other patriotic events where, as the century advanced, they came increasingly to seem like ambulatory trophies from some distant age of heroes.

In one newsreel, ancient but still frisky vets dance hoedown-style with a bevy of young women at a Confederate reunion in Biloxi, Mississippi. In another, also dating from the 1930s, old Confederates decked out in gray uniforms step up to a microphone and, one after another – their eyes flaring for a moment with the ferocity of their youth – let loose with the howling yelp that was once known as the fearsome "Rebel yell."  One of them, stooped with the years, shrills, a bit unnervingly even now, "Go for 'em boys! Give 'em hell."

Read more:

Side note:  The Smithsonian is not immune from (take your pick) either ignorance or bias, e.g., "No black volunteers served with the Confederacy,…"    Rather surprisingly, the magazine then goes on to announce, " Ironically, however, the most surprising film of African American "veterans," a few minutes of silent footage made at a Confederate reunion in 1930, shows a dozen elderly black men wearing fragments of gray uniforms, flourishing miniature battle flags and wearing lapel buttons representing Robert E. Lee."  Of course, these men are dismissed as having been "(e)nslaved body servants, or perhaps laborers who had been pressed into service by Confederate armies,…presumably served up to newsmen as "proof" that slaves were so loyal and happy in their servitude that they fought to retain it."

From the very beginning of the War for Southern Independence, the Confederate armies had black soldiers (both free and slave).  Furthermore, there is ample evidence that many Confederate armies were fully integrated units.  By contrast,  the Union army would not even allow blacks to serve until 1863 — fully two years into the War, and the U.S. Army remained segregated until 1948 — three years after the end of World War II.