Most of the time I have to hunt for material that I use in my blog, but the information for this particular post came to me, which I must say is a nice change of pace. My last blog entry concerned the filming of a group of Confederate veterans giving the Rebel Yell in 1932. The first veteran that was filmed was James Dinkins, who served in Company C, “Confederates,” 18th Mississippi Infantry.
One of my readers, who wishes to remain anonymous, contacted me after reading the blog, and told me that he had in his possession an original piece of sheet music dedicated to the “Confederates,” which was purchased by his ancestor in Vicksburg during the Civil War.
The original owner of the sheet music was William Oliver, who lived in Ouachita Parish, Louisiana. The front page even has a pencil notation on the cover, “Oliver, May 3, 1862.” William Oliver enlisted in the 31st Louisiana Infantry on July 2, 1862, serving as captain & quartermaster in the regiment.
The “Confederates” mustered into state service at Canton on April 22, 1861. The first captain of the company was Otho R. Singleton, who was a Mississippi representative to the United States Congress when the Civil War started. When the conflict began he explained why Mississippi had made the decision to leave the Union, saying: “Submission to such dictation and insult is not a term to be found in her vocabulary. To her vision there floats in the breeze but two banners – Upon the one is inscribed ‘Disunion,’ upon the other ‘Dishonor.’ Under the former she has ranged herself, prepared to take the consequences.”
William Oliver purchased the sheet music from Moody & Kuner in Vicksburg, who owned a jewelry store on Washington Street in Vicksburg. Both of these men are well known to me; Daniel N. Moody joined the 21st Mississippi Infantry in 1861, starting out as the captain of Company A, the “Volunteer Southrons.” He quickly showed his aptitude for the military, moving up to major, lieutenant colonel, and eventually colonel of the 21st Mississippi. He was wounded three times during the war, but survived the conflict and returned home to Vicksburg in 1865. Max Kuner was born in Bavaria in 1824, and he eventually immigrated to the United States and settled in Vicksburg. He lost everything he owned during he war, but he survived and began to rebuild in 1865. He left Vicksburg in the 1870s, and by the 1880s he had moved to Colorado, where he founded the Kuner Pickle Company and became a very successful businessman.
I can just imagine the Confederates marching out of Canton, Captain Singleton at their head, to the strains of the “Confederates Grand March.” The only problem is that I don’t want to just imagine it, I want to hear what the music sounded like. If one of the readers has some musical talent, and a camera, please contact me. I can send you high resolution scans of the music, and hopefully we can get a video of someone playing it on piano that we can upload to Youtube.
This week I was looking on the internet to see if I could find some film footage of the 193o National United Confederate Veterans reunion, which was held in Biloxi. I was able to confirm that the film still exists, but I could not find it posted online. I did, however, find another film that really excited me, as it shows a Confederate veteran from Mississippi giving the “Rebel Yell.”
The video is in the collections of the Library of Congress, and was posted on the internet in 2011 by the Smithsonian. While looking for my Biloxi footage, I found this four-minute film on Youtube, and as recordings of Confederate veterans giving the Rebel Yell are very rare, I decided to invest four minutes and watch it, and boy am I ever glad I did. The film was not identified as to where or when it was taken, other than it was from the 1930s and was “Rare footage of Civil War veterans doing the Rebel Yell.”
Fortunately for history, the old veterans were introduced by name as each was filmed giving the Rebel Yell, and imagine my surprise when the first man up to the microphone was announced as “Captain James Dinkins,” a name I instantly recognized. He served in both the 18th Mississippi Infantry and the 18th Mississippi Cavalry, and was a prolific author after the war, writing many articles for Confederate Veteran magazine about his wartime experiences. He also wrote a book, 1861 to 1865: Personal Recollections & Experiences in the Confederate Army, which was published in 1897.
Without any further ado, I will let you watch the video:
After seeing this amazing video, which I believe is the only known film footage of a Mississippi Civil War veteran giving the “Rebel Yell,” I wanted to know more about how it came to be created, and who the other men were in the movie giving the famous war cry. After doing a little research online in a newspaper database, I had the answer to where and when the film was made: It was shot on February 20, 1932, at Camp Nicholls, in Louisiana. Located in New Orleans, Camp Nicholls was established in the 1880s as a veteran’s home for former Confederate soldiers.
The filming of the old veterans giving the Rebel Yell was the brainchild of the Times-Picayune newspaper. In the February 11, 1932, issue they explained why the movie was needed:
Few members of the ‘younger generation’ have heard the ‘Rebel Yell,’ and even fewer of these remember the definite sound of this battlecry. During the past few years the veterans’ ranks have been rapidly thinned by death. Immediate steps must therefore be taken to preserve the yell, which children of the South will see mentioned in records of the War Between the States and will hear mentioned in the tales of the war handed down through generations. Making of a talking picture was suggested by the Times-Picayune to officers of the U.D.C. as the best way to preserve the battlecry.
The Times-Picayune arranged for Harcol Motion Picture Industries to film the Rebel Yell, and with the publicity the newspaper was able to give the project, Confederate veterans residing at Camp Nicholls, and others living in the area, quickly pledged to be part of the project. One of those veterans who agreed to participate was James Dinkins, who had moved to New Orleans about 1900. The newspaper gave the event plenty of publicity, writing numerous articles about the upcoming filming, and including pictures of the veterans who would participate:
In the February 17, 1932, edition of the Times-Picayune, the paper wrote that Captain Dinkins thought the idea to record the Rebel Yell “Is a splendid idea.” He went on to say that “When the fast-thinning ranks are gone, left behind us in Memorial Hall will be a record of our songs and of our glorious war cry.”
On the day of the filming, a large crowd turned out to see the Confederate veterans give the Rebel Yell. A reporter for the Times-Picayune wrote: “The group turned down leaves of the calendar and prepared for the future a glimpse into the past – so much more intense in the making than in the telling…Spontaneous applause broke from all corners of the grounds as veterans of the Soldiers’ Home marched out. They wore Confederate jackets of gray and ‘rebel’ caps. Their coats were burdened with medals that brought queries and stories of where they were won…the crowd heard them give the ‘rebel yell.’ Its members suddenly were reminded that this was the cry that had sent soldiers and their families through blood and starvation to see the war through.”
I was eager to find out who the other men were that gave the Rebel Yell, and fortunately all of them are identified by name on the film and in the Times-Picayune. By going through Confederate service records and the pension records from the state of Louisiana, I believe I have correctly identified the units in which these men fought:
The first speaker on the film is Dr. Ernest S. Lewis, who was president of the board of directors of Camp Nicholls and had served as a surgeon in the 3rd Georgia Cavalry; he introduces Superintendent Robert H. Hackney, who was in charge of the Camp Nicholls veterans home. Hackney served in Company D, 30th Louisiana Infantry during the war. The first to give the Rebel Yell was James Dinkins, who served in the 18th Mississippi Infantry and 18th Mississippi Cavalry. Dinkins was followed by Leonard Waller Stephens, who was commander in chief of the United Confederate Veterans; during the war he was a member of Company E, 27th Louisiana Infantry. Next was Charles P. Jones, who served in the 25th Tennessee Infantry. After Jones came Paul Villavaso, who served in Gaudet’s Company, St. James Regiment, Louisiana Militia. I believe he also served in the Pelican Light Artillery of Louisiana. Next came Cyrus LaGrange, who was a member of the 7th Louisiana Cavalry, Company B. After LaGrange came J.W. Manney, who was a member of Company A, 2nd Louisiana Cavalry, and may have served in Morgan’s Cavalry as well. Next came James M. Blount, who I believe served in Company A, 13th Louisiana Infantry. After Blunt came Frank E. Powell, who was a member of Companies A/E, 10th Louisiana Infantry in the Army of Northern Virginia. And last but not least was James Augustus Pierce, who fought with Company D, 7th Alabama Cavalry during the war.
James Dinkins lived another seven years after the movie was made, dying on July 19, 1939, in Saluda, North Carolina, while on a visit to his daughter. He was brought back to New Orleans and interred at Metairie Cemetery. The Times-Picayune noted in the July 20, 1939 edition that Dinkins would “Be attired in an officer’s uniform which, with a Confederate battle flag for the exterior of the coffin.”
The Times-Picayune planned to have a copy of the film deposited at Confederate Memorial Hall in New Orleans, and I plan to check and see if that institution does indeed have the film in their collections. The version on Youtube is only half of the footage that was originally shot, and the other four minutes consisted of older women of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, those that had actually lived through the war, singing a number of wartime songs such as “The Bonnie Blue Flag.”
The version of the film that is shown above, which is in the collections of the Library of Congress, was donated by New Orleans resident Don Perry, who worked for the local NBC affiliate in the city in the 1960s. According to one comment about the film on the Smithsonian website, the film was rescued from the trash by Perry, who realized its historical significance and had it remastered at his own expense. If this is true, Mr. Perry has done us a tremendous favor by saving this small slice of Civil War history that otherwise would have been lost.
I found the following article in the Louisiana Times-Picayune some time back, and I am finally getting around to writing about it. It concerns Captain William T. Ratliff, a Confederate veteran, giving tours of the Champion Hill battlefield to Union veterans who
fought there on May 16, 1863. A lieutenant in Company A, 1st Mississippi Light Artillery, Ratliff”s unit was in the thickest of the fight, suffering 8 killed, 2 wounded, and 8 captured. Among the dead was the battery commander, Captain Samuel J. Ridley, shot down while trying to serve one of his cannon by himself after its crew was lost.
By a quirk of fate, Ratliff was not with his unit when it made its heroic stand at Champion Hill; 10 days prior to the battle he had been detailed to serve as the temporary commander of Battery C, 1st Mississippi Light Artillery, which was stationed at Snyder’s Bluff north of Vicksburg.
Jackson, Miss., Dec. 18, 1904
Captain W.T. Ratliff, one of Hinds County’s prominent citizens, who served with distinction in the Civil War, has received from two soldiers of the Northern Army letters which breathe the spirit of brotherly love. Captain Ratliff has given these letters to the press. They are as follows:
Cincinnati, Ohio, Nov. 27, 1904
Dear Captain Ratliff: I take the first opportunity following a busy week to thank you for your great courtesy in being my guide over to the left (your right) of the line occupied during the Champion Hill battle of May 16, 1863. It was a visit I have longed to make ever since the war, and it would have been impossible to have seen the ground under more favorable auspices or with better company.
As our three companies of the Eighty-Third Ohio were about all the infantry employed on the left, and as we had it so hot from your batteries all the afternoon, it made it all the more a day to be remembered by me – one of the fortunate ones. I would have liked to have hunted up the old piano at Edwards Station, where Champion says it now is, and seen whether its tone was as good as when we played it that evening, but perhaps another time will come.
The Coker House was as we left it and the surroundings little different, and if our regiment comes to the dedication next May at Vicksburg we shall try to make an expedition to the Coker house, if no further. Again tendering you my thanks and assurances of my appreciation of your kindness, I am, sincerely yours,
William M. Davis.
The other letter is from an Indiana man, as is as follows:
Fountain City, Ind., November 29, 1904.
Captain W.T. Ratliff, Raymond, Miss.: My Dear Friend – I am extremely sorry that we found it impossible to accept your kind invitation to visit you at your home, but in the language of the Rooseveltian period, we found our life a very strenuous one while in your state. The Sunday following our Champion Hill visit we visited the Chickasaw battle field, and on Monday we put in the day with Captain Rigby getting some matters in shape on the battle line around Vicksburg, and on Monday night we left for home.
General McGinnis is the Postmaster at Indianapolis, and had a ten-day leave of absence and had to get home or be mustered out as a deserter. Major Hill and myself did not like to let him go home by himself. I am sure that we, not you, were the losers in not visiting you at your home. I know we should have enjoyed it very much. I think I heard General McGinnis tell a dozen times about his trading knives with Captain Ratliff, and each time he showed the knife and said he would not take $50 for it. (Captain Ratliff says he got the best of Major McGinnis in the trade.) The fact is that we all came home completely in love with the people of the South, who each and every one treated us so splendidly. This is not to be wondered at. After all, we are all American citizens, and to the people belongs the whole country, and no class of people understands this so well as the ex-soldiers of both armies. There has been no fight between them and has not been since April 1865. I brought the ‘whole armada’ story home with me, and have had the satisfaction of telling to many times, and it universally brings down the house. I think it the best army story I ever heard, and especially coming from the source it did. With every good wish for you and Mrs. Ratliff and those you love, believe me, sincerely yours,
It has been the policy of this grand old man of Hinds County to pilot quite a number of former Federal soldiers over the old battle field of Champion Hill, and he has quite a number of warm personal friends among those who were formerly arrayed against him in deadly conflict.
I found a very good write-up about William T. Ratliff on the Mississippi Department of Archives and History website – the man had quite a career after the Civil War:
William Thomas Ratliff was born in Raymond, Mississippi, on September 16, 1835. His parents were William Ratliff of Pike County, Mississippi, and Jane Davis of Belfast, Ireland. Orphaned as a child, Ratliff was raised by his grandmother, Isabella Spencer, of Clinton, Mississippi. He attended Mississippi College at Clinton from 1852 to 1856. While there, he organized the Hermenian Society and served as its first president. Ratliff married Mary Olive Cook of Edwards, Mississippi, on June 18, 1856. The Ratliffs were the parents of William Davis, Alma, Percy Cook, McKinney Cook, Thomas Wilson, Mary, Paul D., Jeannette, Clifton, and Isabella. They settled at Edwards in the western part of Hinds County, where Ratliff studied law and worked as a teacher and farmer from 1859 to 1860.
Ratliff first served in the Confederate infantry in Kentucky during the winter of 1861 and in 1862. He later served in Company A, First Regiment, Mississippi Light Artillery. Ratliff commanded a battery of 360 men in General Louis Hebert’s brigade of Major General William H. Forney’s division during the engagements around Vicksburg, Mississippi, and during the siege of that city in July of 1863. He was promoted to captain after the fall of Vicksburg, and he remained in the Confederate army until his parole in Jackson, Mississippi, on May 12, 1865.
After the Civil War, Ratliff operated a military school at his home in Raymond, Mississippi. Ratliff was elected probate clerk of Hinds County, Mississippi, in 1865, and he remained in office until his removal by Governor Adelbert Ames in 1869. He was also chairman of the Hinds County Democratic Committee during Reconstruction. In 1874, Ratliff was active in the Taxpayers’ League, an organization that hastened the demise of the carpetbaggers in Mississippi. He was elected as Hinds County chancery clerk in 1875, an office he held for twelve years, and afterwards served as Hinds County sheriff for four years. Ratliff served as Hinds County administrator in 1900. He was a member of the board of trustees of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, serving from 1910 to 1916. He was unanimously elected to serve as vice-president of the board in 1913, succeeding board member Stephen D. Lee.
Ratliff served as a deacon of the Raymond Baptist Church. He also served as president of the board of trustees of Mississippi College for forty-five years. Ratliff was president of the Mississippi Baptist Convention in 1906. He was an honored guest at the October 19, 1916, wedding of his grandson and namesake, William T. Ratliff, Jr., to Minnie Money Vardaman, youngest child of James K. Vardaman. Ratliff died on January 20, 1918.