This week in the Civil War for March 2, 1864

The Rebel Yell!

Tumblr_n1zx1tTSU61rd3evlo1_500Origins Of The Rebel Yell- Co. E, 35th Battalion Virginia Cavalry, 1919 Reunion-

“They Came with Barbarian Yells and Smoking Pistols” Units were nicknamed for their apparent ability to yell during battle. The 35th Battalion of Virginia Cavalry ”White’s Cavalry” were given the nom de guerre of “Comanches” for the way they sounded during battle.

The Confederate yell was intended to help control fear. As one soldier explained: "I always said if I ever went into a charge, I wouldn’t holler! But the very first time I fired off my gun I hollered as loud as I could and I hollered every breath till we stopped." Jubal Early once told some troops who hesitated to charge because they were out of ammunition: “Damn it, holler them across.” ” — Historian Grady McWhiney (1965) Origins: The yell has often been linked to Native American cries. Confederate soldiers may have imitated or learned the yell from Native Americans, many of whom sided with the Confederacy.

Some Texas units mingled Comanche war whoops into their version of the yell. The yell has also been associated with hunting cries. Possibly Confederate soldiers imitated the cries of their hunting dogs. Another plausible source of the rebel yell, advanced by historian Grady McWhiney, is that it derived from the screams traditionally made by Scottish Highlanders when they made a Highland charge during battle. At the Battle of Killiecrankie “Dundee and the Chiefs chose to employ perhaps the most effective pre-battle weapon in the traditional (highland) arsenal - the eerie and disconcerting howl,” also “The terror was heightened by their wild plaided appearance and the distinctive war-cry of the Gael - a high, savage whooping sound….”

Another interesting reference in a book by Lord Frederic Hamilton: “By the way, Irish cheering is a thing sui generis. In place of the deep-throated, reverberating English cheer, it is a long, shrill, sustained note, usually, very usually, very high-pitched.” The notion that the rebel yell was Celtic in origin is further supported by James Hill. “The first United States census in 1790 revealed a well defined ethnic division between the Northern and Southern states. In New England 75 percent of the people were Anglo-Saxons in origin, while Celts outnumbered Anglo-Saxons in the South two to one.” “A decade before the American Civil War the South - from Virginia to Texas was probably three-quarters Celtic.” This evidence is also supported by McDonald & McWhiney’s research into the Celtic nature of the Southern States. A final explanation, with special reference to the rebel yells uttered by the Army of Northern Virginia is that the rebel yell was partly adapted from the specialized cries used by men experienced in fox hunting. Sidney Lanier, the poet and Confederate veteran, described his unit’s yell as "a single long cry as from the leader of a pack of hounds."Considering the existence of many differing versions of the yell, it probably had multiple origins.

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