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The Rebel Yell. (Confederate Veterans Magazine, 1897, Volume 1, No. 1)


THE REBEL YELL.

Many people think of the three measured huzzas given now and then as "the rebel yell." It is shocking to an old Confederate to consider such deception. The venerable widow of Hear Admiral Raphael Semmes, in attending a Confederate reunion at Memphis a couple of years ago, modestly expressed her wish to hear "the rebel yell." Something of an old time cheer came from the throats of men who gladly tried to compliment the wife of the eminent naval commander. Kellar Anderson, who was of the Kentucky Orphan Brigade and had heard the yell, wrote a reminiscence for the Memphis Appeal. It is this saint Anderson, called Captain and again Gen. Anderson, who honored his native Kentucky, his adopted Tennessee and American heroism some months ago at Coal Creek, in defying the miners who had captured him and demanded ransom for his head, when it seemed but madness to refuse their demands. One thing is sure, he had heard "the rebel yell."

"There is a Southern mother on this stand who says she wants to hear the rebel yell once more."

" The announcement transforms, and in an instant I find myself acting the humble part of file-closer to Company I. Fifth Kentucky Infantry, with pieces at the right shoulder, the brigade in route column. With the active, strong, swinging stride of the enthusiastic trained soldier, they hold the double quick over rocks, logs, gullies, undergrowth, hill and vale, until amid the foliage of the trees above them, the hulling shell and hissing shot from the enemy's field guns gives notice that if retreating they have missed the way. Yet, there is no command to halt. Direct, on unchanged course, this battle-scarred and glory mantled battalion of Kentucky youths continues, and as they reach the open woods, in clarion tones comes the order, 'Change front, forward on first company," etc. The order executed found them formed on ground but recently occupied by a battalion of their foes, and few of these had left their positions. The battalion of Kentuckians were in battle array where once were they, but now the ground was almost literally covered with the Federal dead, the entire length of our regiment of 700 men. Men, did I say? Soldiers is the word; there were few men among them, they being youths, but soldiers indeed. The increasing spat, whirl and hiss of the minnie balls hurrying by, left no doubt of the fact among these soldiers. They are about to enter the action again and forward is the order. 'Steady, men, steady; hold your fire; not a shot without orders. It is hard to stand, but you must not return it. We have friends in our front yet. They are being hard pressed, and their ammunition is almost expended, but they are of our proudest and best, and Humphries' Mississippians will hold that ridge while they have a cartridge.

"It is nearing sunset, and after two days of fearful carnage—aye, one of the best contested battles of the times, the enemy has been driven pell-mell from many parts of the field. Our losses are numbered by thousands, and we are now advancing in battle array, the little red flag with blue cross dancing gaily in the air over heads of those who were there to defend it. The last rays of the setting sun had kissed the autumn foil ige when we stepped into open ground and found that we were amid the wreck of what a few short minutes ago bad been a superb six-gun battery! The uniform of the dead artillerymen and the gaily caparisoned bodies of the many dead horses, proclaimed this destruction the work of our friends. We look upon the dead, pull our cartridge boxes a little more to the front and resolve once more to face the destruction we are now entering. The boom of artillery increases. The rattle of musketry is steady —aye, incessant and deadly. The sulphurous smoke has' increased until almost stifling. Only fifty yards of space separates us from the gallant Mississippians, we are there to support. They have clung to the ridge with a death-like grip, but their last cartridge has been fired at the enemy, and their support being at hand these sturdy soldiers of Longstreet's corps are ordered to retire.

"Simultaneously the support was ordered forward. As the Mississippians retired, the deep-volumed shouts of the enemy told us plainer than could words that the enemy thought they had routed them. Oh, how differently we regarded the situation! If they could have seen them as we—halting, kneeling, lying down, ranging themselves in columns of files behind the large trees to enable us to get at the enemy with an unbroken front, each man as we passed throwing cap high into the overhanging foliage in honor of our presence—then I imagine their shouts would have been suppressed. 'Steady in the center! Hold your fire! Hold the colors back! The center advanced too rapidly. We are clear of our friends now, only the enemy in front, and we meet face to face on a spur of Mission Ridge, which extends through the Snodgrass farm, and we are separated by eighty yards. Thud! and down goes Private Robertson. He turned, smiled and died. Thud! Corporal Gray shot through the neck. 'Get to the rear! Said I. Thud! Thud! Thud! Wolf, Michael, the gallant Thompson. Thud! Thud! Thud! Courageous Oxley, the knightly Desha, and duty-loving Cummings. And thus it goes. The fallen increase, and are to be counted by the hundreds. The pressure is fearful, but the 'sand-digger' is there to stay. 'Forward! Forward!' rang out along the line. We move slowly to the front. 

"There is now sixty yards between us. The enemy scorn to fly; he gives back a few paces; he retires a little more but still faces us, and loads as he backs away. We are now in the midst of his dead and dying, but he stands as do the sturdy oaks about him. We have all that is possible for human to bear; our losses are fearful, and each moment some comrade passes to the unknown. At last Humphries' Mississippians have replenished boxes and are working around our right. Trigg's Virginians are uncovering to our left. I feel a shock about my left breast, spin like a top in the air, and come down in a heap. I know not how long before came the sounds 'Forward! Forward! Forward!' I rise on my elbow. Look! Look! There they go, all at breakneck speed, the bayonet at charge. The firing appears to suddenly cease for about five seconds. Then arose that do-or-die expression, that maniacal maelstrom of sound; that penetrating, rasping, shrieking, blood-curdling noise, that could be heard for miles on earth, and whose volumes reached the heavens; such an expression as never yet came from the throats of sane men but from men whom the seething blast of an imaginary hell would not check while the sound lasted.

"The battle of Chickamauga is won.

"Dear Southern mother, that was the Rebel yell, and only such scenes ever did or ever will produce it. "Even when engaged, that expression from the Confederate soldier always made my hair stand on end. The young nun and youths who composed this unearthly music were lusty, jolly, clear voiced, hardened soldiers, full of courage, and proud to march in rags, barefoot, dirty and hungry, with head erect to meet the plethoric ranks of the best equipped and best fed army of modern times. Alas' now many of them are decrepit from ailment and age, and although we will never grow mid enough to cease being proud of the record of the Confederate soldier, and the dear old mothers who bore them, we can never again, even at your bidding, dear, dear mother, produce the Rebel yell. Never again: never, never, never."

S. A. Cunningham, Confederate Veterans, Volume 1, No. 1 (Nashville, January, 1893), 14-15.

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