The Rebel Yell haunted the dreams of many Union soldiers during the Civil War. It wasn’t scary or fearsome on its own, but it was rarely if ever heard on its own. Usually, the listener heard a mass of voices raising from the din of battle. Everyone knew what was coming next, which was more often than not, a bayonet charge from a bunch of gray uniforms worn by troops with nothing to lose.
The Library of Congress has released video of “ol’ Confeds” who “haven’t got much but will give you what we got left.”
At the end of the Civil War, there were hundreds of thousands of veterans on both sides of the war. Many enlisted while they were young, others when they were adults. For the decades that came after, veterans from all walks of life would meet up and share their experiences. With the advent of television and film, these meetups were filmed, and certain cultural notes that might have been lost to history were preserved forever, like the famed Rebel Yell.
The video above was taken in the 1930s, as the men in it are visibly aged but still seem to be in relatively good health. Their original uniforms in the backdrop of the post-World War I world stand in dramatic contrast, marking their emergence from a bygone era of American history. Civil War vets from North and South would meet up through the 1940s, as they began to die off in droves in the 1950s.
The Library has also released a trove of other amazing historical videos, including African-American Civil War veterans from the North and South, proudly wearing their uniforms to members of the Army and the Grand Army of the Republic (a Civil War Veterans’ political group) escorting the casket of Hiram Cronk, the last surviving veteran of the War of 1812, down the streets of New York City in 1905.
When Civil War veterans came together in later years, especially in the pre-war and interwar years, people were less inclined toward national divisions of decades past than they were coming together to confront the threats against the country coming from overseas.
There’s nothing that can bring Americans together like a common enemy.