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Ever Heard a Real Rebel Yell?: August/September 2009

Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: August 01, 2009 
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Many Union soldiers wrote about the soul-chilling yells of attacking Confederates. Thanks to the Museum of the Confederacy, you can hear the real thing on a CD featuring the authentic yell as performed by two elderly Confederate veterans. The two voices have also been multiplied and blended to simulate the terrifying sound of a regiment or brigade on the attack. "When you hear it, it takes your breath away," said museum Executive Director S. Waite Rawls III.

The first recording is from J.B. Joye of Belmont, N.C., who had a 1935 recording of his grandfather, Thomas N. Alexander, giving his version of the yell for a radio station. The other re­cording was on a wax cylinder, held by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, made by Sampson Saunders Simmons on April 10, 1934. Rawls convinced the UDC to loan him the cylinder, then took it to a studio that could retrieve the original recording.

Available at mocstore.org, The Rebel Yell Lives! also includes several versions of the song "Dixie" as well as commentary.

Tour Shepherdstown Via 'Podcast' Technology
Five West Virginia University gradu­ate students under the direction of Dr. Peter Car­michael have teamed up on a preservation and interpretation project for the 1862 Shepherdstown battlefield. The team aims to bolster existing efforts to preserve and protect the primary lands associated with the fight through the nomination of the battlefield to the National Register of Historic Places. It also seeks to broaden public awareness about the battle and its historical significance through the development of walking trails and an interpretive "podcast tour" of the battlefield.

Portions of the 640-acre battlefield have already been lost to development, and the remaining 300-acre tract of the original battlefield is now threatened by a local builder seeking to begin construction of 152 houses on a 122-acre parcel.

The WVU team hopes to aid the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association in educating the public about the site's significance. Doing so would help the SBPA acquire funds and support to procure federal recognition of the site as well as purchase the threatened land.

Should the National Register and National Park Service deem the site "historically significant" according to Sena­tor Robert Byrd's 2009 Omnibus Public Land Management Act, nearby na­tional parks such as those at Har­pers Ferry and Antietam that interpret the battles of Robert E. Lee's 1862 Maryland Campaign may try to ac­quire the endangered portions of land, either from the SBPA or the local contractor before it is developed.

—Ashley Whitehead

 

Research Room Descriptive Lists: Gold Mine for Physical Details
Civil War volunteers were gen­erally docu­mented on a descriptive list, or roll—a form that included a recruit's name, age, height, complexion, color of eyes and hair, where born, and occupation, as well as when, where, by whom and for what period he enlisted. A "remarks" col­umn documented a man's character and worth, as well as his promotions and demotions, court-martial data, engagements, wounds and anything else deemed pertinent.

Descriptive information was penned in various places. A regimental de­scrip­tive book was issued, with preprinted headings and col­umns, into which details on each man in the unit would be entered. Each company within the regiment was also supposed to maintain a descriptive book. When a man was detached from his unit, a piece of paper with his descriptive information was supposed to accompany him. In theory a soldier's entries on each list would be identical, but that wasn't always the case.

Not all Union soldiers had their descriptive information recorded. For some regiments none was listed. Moreover, for commissioned Union officers, whose names, ranks and dates of commission might be included, rarely anything else was put down. And in the Confederate Army, details such as place of birth, occupation and complexion were rarely recorded. Still, descriptive lists can reveal fascinating details about thousands of common soldiers.

—Mike Musick

Mike Musick worked for 35 years at the National Archives (archives.gov) as the Subject Area Expert for the Civil War.

Bounty From Hurricane Ike
Contractors searching with sonar devices for debris from Hurricane Ike near Galveston, Texas, have apparently discovered the wreck of a Civil War–era ship. It may be Carolina, a merchant ship carrying cotton that tried to run the Federal blockade at Galveston in 1864.

Pursued by Union gunships, Carolina's crew decided to run the privately owned vessel aground and set fire to it rather than allow it to be captured. They reportedly scuttled the ship in shallow waters between Galveston and San Luis Pass.

A spokesman for the Texas Histori­cal Commission said divers will be investigating the wreck this summer, when the Gulf of Mexico's waters are calmer. They noted that shifting sand likely entombed the ship until Ike rolled through in September 2008 and uncovered the wreck.

—Linda Wheeler

 

Students Redo Palmito Diorama
Students from Highland High School in Gilbert, Arizona, are putting together an elaborate diorama of the Battle of Palmito (or Palmetto) Ranch, the last land battle of the war—for the second time. Funded by the Texas Civil War Museum, the diorama will soon be put on display at the Fort Worth-based facility.

The original diorama had been created at the behest of Brig. Gen. John C.L. Scribner, director of the Texas Armed Forces Museum at Camp Mabry in Austin. For Highland High history teacher Glen Frakes, director of the school's diorama program, the display was supposed to be his last such project before retirement. He supervised students working on the elaborate exhibit over a three-year period. But after Scribner died in May 2006, his successor at the Camp Mabry museum, Jeff Hunt, announced that he would not display the diorama because it contained inaccuracies. Hunt dismantled the display, then hastily made it over himself before exhibiting it.

When the Texas Civil War Museum heard about the controversy, museum officials offered to obtain the display and pay for repairs, but the Texas National Guard refused their request. It seemed a three-year project had come to a disappointing close.

Frakes eventually agreed to supervise the building of a replacement exhibit. "The loss of the diorama was devastating," said Alyssa Baxter, a senior who contributed to the original project. "I am excited about working on the new one." The new 5-by-10-foot exhibit, which includes 700 figures and 200 horses, is a huge undertaking. "I've had upwards of 200 students working on this second diorama," Frakes said. "They are even taking the work home with them. It should be finished by August."

The students' handiwork "will fit right in perfectly," said Cynthia Harriman, the Fort Worth museum's director of communication and education. "Our museum is the largest Civil War museum west of the Mississippi River, with about 25,000 visitors a year. I feel like this diorama will be seen by many more people."

—Donald L. Barnhart Jr.

 

New Perspectives at Gettysburg
Current projects to replant nu­merous orchards, as well as the ongoing efforts of groups such as Tourism Cares to clean up the newly acquired George Spangler Farm, where Confederate Brig. Gen. Lewis Armistead spent his last hours (see P. 27), help to keep the Gettysburg experience fresh for visitors of all ages. There's always something new to appreciate, whether it's an enhanced viewshed or a refurbished farmstead.

University of Akron students who traveled to Pennsylvania to make their second tour of Gettysburg this past spring gained a new understanding of their coursework thanks to the battlefield's historic integrity. History major Kayla Johnson, who visited with Professor Leslie Gordon, said: "We, as history students, pay to sit in a classroom and learn all about wars and battles, presidents and peoples, past and present; yet history becomes more real when racing up Little Round Top as opposed to reading a chapter on taking the high ground. There is no experience like standing on a battlefield to give one a better sense of history….Suddenly it was not just a cool class trip but an eye-opening experience to the realities of war."

 



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