One of the Civil War’s most enduring legends is the rebel yell, a high-pitched screech used by Confederate troops during battle. The war cry’s unique sound has been categorized as a yaaaw or a yee-haw, appearing in westerns, novels such as “Gone with the Wind,” and even current music, from artists like eminem and Billy Idol. Ultimately, the rebel yell was a myth, a sound conjured from imagination, and lost in the past. But with the arrival of physical recordings from Confederate veterans of the war, the cry has new significance in more modern times.
The clip, posted below, is from the 1930s and is shot in black and white. Now in the Library Congress, made available by the Smithsonian, the film depicts rebel soldiers in their seventies uniting once more for a performance of the war yell. The video helps make the sounds of the battlefield audible for those who did not experience it, and shows the progression of wartime strategies and procedures from early American history to the present.
Whether it was used to strike fear in the heart’s of the enemy, or relinquish any fears held by the Confederate army, the rebel yell proved to create a stunning and terrifying experience for Union and Confederate troops alike.
Though a seemingly obscure element of the war, the rebel yell, but more importantly the recording of the yell, helps connect us to a time that is often corrupted by myths. This recording provides a real human connection instead of an endless flow of documents that can be troublesome to make sense of. The rebel yell allows us to endure the time period like the Union and the Confederacy once did.