None of us alive today has ever heard the screech of a rebel yell at the point of attack in the Civil War. But many veterans of those times recounted its effect.
For Confederate soldiers, while at a full forward sprint, the piercing yowl sounded more animal than human, enflaming their courage to do-or-die.
Southern Colonel Keller Anderson described it this way: “that maniacal maelstrom of sound; that penetrating, rasping, shrieking, blood-curdling noise that could be heard for miles and whose volume 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.”
On Union soldiers, the effect was truly terrifying, as attested by northern troops: “If you claim you heard it and weren’t scared that means you never heard it.”
Near the beginning of the Civil War, when rebel forces scattered federals at the First Battle of Bull Run, General “Stonewall” Jackson exhorted the 4th Virginia Infantry with this order: “When you charge, yell like furies.”
I can scarcely imagine the spine-tingling horror my great-grandfather, Abraham Van Orden, experienced the first time his ears were assaulted by the rebel yell.