The first comprehensive history of the fabled Confederate battle cry from its origins and myths through its use in American popular culture
No aspect of Civil War military lore has received less scholarly attention than the battle cry of the Southern soldier. In The Rebel Yell, Craig A. Warren brings together soldiers' memoirs, little-known articles, and recordings to create a fascinating and exhaustive exploration of the facts and myths about the “Southern screech.”
Through close readings of numerous accounts, Warren demonstrates that the Rebel yell was not a single, unchanging call, but rather it varied from place to place, evolved over time, and expressed nuanced shades of emotion. A multifunctional act, the flexible Rebel yell was immediately recognizable to friends and foes but acquired new forms and purposes as the epic struggle wore on. A Confederate regiment might deliver the yell in harrowing unison to taunt Union troops across the empty spaces of a battlefield. At other times, individual soldiers would call out solo or in call-and-response fashion to communicate with or secure the perimeters of their camps.
The Rebel yell could embody unity and valor, but could also become the voice of racism and hatred. Perhaps most surprising, The Rebel Yell reveals that from Reconstruction through the first half of the twentieth century, the Rebel yell—even more than the Confederate battle flag—served as the most prominent and potent symbol of white Southern defiance of Federal authority. With regard to the late-twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, Warren shows that the yell has served the needs of people the world over: soldiers and civilians, politicians and musicians, re-enactors and humorists, artists and businessmen. Warren dismantles popular assumptions about the Rebel yell as well as the notion that the yell was ever “lost to history.”
Both scholarly and accessible, The Rebel Yell contributes to our knowledge of Civil War history and public memory. It shows the centrality of voice and sound to any reckoning of Southern culture.
List of Illustrations
1. ‘A Very Peculiar Sound’: 1861
2. Yelling in Print: Veterans Remember
3. The Birth of a Scream: The Contested Origins of the Rebel Yell
4. Culture Wars: The Rebel Yell in a Reunited Nation
5. The Civil Rights Era and the Myth of the Lost Rebel Yell
6. “More, More, More”: The Rebel Yell in Popular Culture
Craig A. Warren is the author of Scars to Prove It: The Civil War Soldier and American Fiction.
“Because the [rebel] yell is a historical artifact that cannot be seen or memorialized in a statue or flag, Warren's task is difficult. Yet he takes on the mythmakers and slays them with his acute analysis.” —Journal of Southern History
“That the yell was sometimes uttered off the battlefield is only one of many surprises in Craig A. Warren’s fascinating foray into southern aural history.” —The Alabama Review
“Warren’s The Rebel Yell is a stellar book. It is a fast and interesting read and gives Civil War historians a new way to consider the yell as part of the 'long war,' a component of the enduring struggle to reclaim and stake the boundaries of the war’s memory.” —Civil War News
“Professor Warren has written the definitive story of the fabled Rebel yell. His exhaustive research covers many sources ranging from contemporary Confederate and Union accounts of the haunting scream and its impact on both Northern and Southern soldiers to the web and popular culture of the twenty-first century. The story he tells is fascinating, thoroughly documented, well organized, and clearly presented. I can’t imagine much else that could be said about this important cultural artifact of the Civil War.” —W. Stuart Towns, author of Enduring Legacy: Rhetoric and Ritual of the Lost Cause
“This is a wide-ranging work of cultural history backed by an extraordinary amount of research over one hundred and fifty years of American history. I was astonished at how much the author found in terms of evidence, showing a combination of elbow grease and judicious use of digitized sources. The Rebel Yell is also extraordinary in its smooth and accessible writing. It represents something new—the study of a sound, and it builds on cutting-edge scholarship in the field of sensory history.” —Wallace Hettle, author of Inventing Stonewall Jackson