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Tuesday, March 13, 2007


The Rebel Yell

I decided to look up the legendary battle cry online, mostly because I've been reading Donna Tartt's The Little Friend and Florence King's Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady, both of which I'd highly recommend. It's one of those things that people talk about, but (in England at any rate), nobody knows what it sounds like.

Well, I found out. Sorta.

This links to a page that has playing over it what I think is some people doing an imitation of it. More excitingly, this is a recording of a genuine veteran, one Private Thomas N. Alexander of the 37th North Carolina Troops, doing it like they used to do it the war.

It's pretty creepy. Rather than being a deep roar of 'Listen to how big and manly we are, tremble in your Yankee boots!', it's shrill, animalistic, inhuman. It sounds something between a scream of pain and a barking fox. I can imagine that it would sound unnerving coming from lots of armed men. Sounding like an animal is a good way to scare your enemies, I'd say, and I also wondered also whether the fact that it sounds pained might also be scary. (On the logic that it's scary to hear someone being tortured, so sounding tortured sends the message 'There are frightening things around that cause pain'.) The writer Shelby Foote, I saw, has been attributed with the entertaining remark, 'If you claim to have heard the rebel yell and it didn't send a cold chill down your spine, then you ain't heard it.'

Finally, here's an interesting article about how some researchers took the veteran's solo recording and techno-tweaked it to make it sound like a whole battalion was doing it at once. I quote:

“The effect was startling, “said Don Bracken, Senior Editor of History Publishing and Civil War author( Times of the Civil War, ISBN -4208-0694-7). “It wasn’t a frightening sound in the nightmarish or fiendish sense. It was an audible sensation of being overwhelmed. It was like having a sonic tidal wave approach you. What might have unnerved the Union soldiers who reportedly fled from it was a sense of helplessness.”

I didn't find a recording of that, but if anyone does, let me know, I'd like to hear it.

Anyone know any other battle cries of interest? Wikipedia said that 'Ahoy' was originally a scary Viking yell...

I followed you over from Miss Snark- I do totally agree with you about S. King but I just have to laugh when writers agonize over stopping writing because of one line out of context in a book.
I will only stop writing when I'm dead! (and even that may be questionable if I find a co writer as someone suggested in an earlier post on Miss Snark!)
Your blog is great fun and your book sounds very cool.
Well, hello and welcome! :-)

click on the first link..
the chilling sound of the rebel yell.
The sound track on the first link of yours is taken from a genuine 1930s showing a reuinion of ACW vets. The people doing the yeklling and the guy who laughs and say "That's the Rebel yell" are all in their nineties.
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