With a Rebel Yell

Confederate veterans sounding the rebel yell (circa 1930).

As today marks the 150 anniversary of Lincoln’s delivery of the Gettysburg address, here now a novel bit of American Civil War minutiae. The battle cry of Confederate soldiers was known as the rebel yell, a name more recently associated with Billy Idol’s single of the same name, released November 1983 (in fact the song title references a rot-gut spirit). Union soldiers would describe the call as a “rabbit’s scream,” a cross between an “Indian whoop and wolf-howl,” and “a foxhunt yip mixed up with sort of a banshee squall.”

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)

As no audio recordings of the rebel yell exist from the Civil War, historians have used various onomatopoeiae to describe its sound including:

  • Yee-haw/yee-ha
  • Wa-woo-woohoo, wa-woo woohoo
  • Yay-hoo
  • Woh-who-ey! who-ey! who-ey! Woh-who-ey! who-ey!

Via Ken Burns’ The Civil War.

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Conscripted and Conjoined

After traveling the world, exhibiting their intertwined bodies, Chang and Eng Bunker settled down in Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina to farm their land and raise families with their wives (sisters to boot). Chang and Eng became quite wealthy — amassing large estates, tended to by some 33 slaves, and large families. In 1865, the throes of the American Civil War, Union General George Stoneman raided the state and set up a lottery to draft all able-bodied men over the age of 18.  Whether Chang and Eng Bunker would be considered “able-bodied” for purposes of the Selective Service System is another question (the regulations require that even disabled men who live at home must register with Selective Service if they can reasonably leavetheir homes and move about independently).

According to Clint Johnson’s 2011 travel companion, Touring the Carolinas’ Civil War Sites, the names of the men were put into a lottery wheel. Eng’s name was chosen for conscription but not that of his brother Chang. Besides the fact that both Chang and Eng were ardent Southern sympathizers, Stoneman would have had a hell of a time trying to enlist one brother without the other due to the fusion of the conjoined twins’ livers.

As Rebekah Brooks concludes the story: “Neither brother ended up fighting in the war although both of their eldest sons, Christopher Wren Bunker and Stephen Bunker, joined and fought for the Confederacy. Both Christopher and Stephen survived the war but Christopher was captured and spent nearly a year as a prisoner of war at Camp Chase in Ohio in August of 1864.”

Via Civil War Days and the Smithsonian.