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The Smithsonian Museum asks: What did the Rebel Yell sound like?

Sounds of the South

The Library of Congress teamed up with the Smithsonian Museum to attempt to discover what the famous Confederate “Rebel Yell” might have sounded like. From the 1900’s to the 1940’s, Confederate veterans were asked to record the distinctive yell that sent shockwaves of fear into their Northern brothers they sought to kill. Northern troops reported that it gave them “a peculiar corkscrew sensation that went up your spine when you heard it”. No one knows the real origin of the yell, but it may have come from Native American or Scottish war cries. Many Native Americans sided with the South in the war.

Some ‘Johnny Reb’s’ that told the tale said that the yell sounded like a “rabbit’s scream”. Ken Burn‘s documentary on The Civil War claimed that it might have been a “foxhunt yip mixed with some sort of a banshee squall.”

One historian described the reasoning for the war cry:

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.”


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