Author: S. Waite Rawls

president of the American Civil War Museum Foundation

Rebel Yell

The Rebel yell was the war cry of Confederate soldiers during the American Civil War (1861–1865). Distinctive noises made by soldiers were identified from the very beginning of the war, but the yell’s first appearance in combat may have come at the First Battle of Manassas, on July 21, 1861, and is strongly associated with the Confederate general Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. Observers understood the noises made by Confederates to be different from Union yells, although it’s not clear that all Confederate soldiers yelled in precisely the same way. Still, these yells were almost always described as shrill and associated with animals, hunting, and Indians. Many observers, North and South, suggested that Rebel yelling struck fear in Union soldiers and gave courage to Confederates. It may have been especially fierce in fights against black soldiers. By the war’s end, a number of different sounds had begun to fuse, in popular perception, into a single noise that was widely described as the Rebel yell. In the postwar years, when the Confederate battle flag was largely invisible, the yell served as a potent symbol of Confederate heritage. In veteran memoirs, which often hewed closely to Lost Cause conventions, it represented Confederate heroism and pluck, and a number of veteran-made recordings still exist. By the mid-twentieth century, however, the Rebel yell had lost much of its original resonance or connection to the Civil War.