Our Glorious War Cry: A Mississippian Gives the Rebel Yell

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.

James Dinkins was born on April 18, 1845, in Madison County, Mississippi. As a teenager, he was sent to the North Carolina Military Institute in Charlotte, North Carolina. While a student there, he sat for this photograph wearing his cadet uniform. When the war started, he returned to Mississippi and joined the “Confederates,” Company C, 18th Mississippi Infantry. After two years he received a lieutenant's commission and served in the 18th Mississippi Cavalry. Image from 1861 to 1865 by an Old Johnnie, by James Dinkins, 1897.

James Dinkins was born on April 18, 1845, in Madison County, Mississippi.
As a teenager, he was sent to the
North Carolina Military Institute
in Charlotte, North Carolina.
While a student there, he sat for
this photograph wearing his cadet
uniform. When the war started, he
returned to Mississippi and joined
the “Confederates,” Company C,
18th Mississippi Infantry. After two years he received a lieutenant’s commission and served in the 18th Mississippi Cavalry. Image from 1861 to 1865 by an Old
Johnnie, by James Dinkins, 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.

Picture postcard from the early 1900s of Camp Nicholls

Picture postcard from the early 1900s of Camp Nicholls

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:

The Times-Picayune, April 18, 1932

The Times-Picayune, February 14, 1932

This picture of Captain Dinkins and his wife was published in the Times-Picayune on February 17, 1932

This picture of Captain Dinkins and his wife was published in the Times-Picayune on February 17, 1932

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.”

The front page of the Times-Picayune included this picture of the Confederate veterans giving the Rebel Yell - February 21, 1932

The front page of the Times-Picayune included this picture of the Confederate veterans giving the Rebel Yell – February 21, 1932

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.

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19 thoughts on “Our Glorious War Cry: A Mississippian Gives the Rebel Yell

  1. Jim

    Excellent and interesting article!!

  2. Thanks for this very important post!

  3. Those old guys could really let loose, considering they were all in their 80s or 90s at that point. Great post and video.

  4. Pam

    This is very interesting, from the Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond VA.
    I enjoy your blog and have many ancestors from MS that served in the CSA.

  5. james dinkins

    i have heard of him but it,s great to read about him since im named after him. i think he,s a great uncle but anyway he was a great man. thanks jim dinkins

    • You are very welcome James! You may already be aware of it, but there are two good photographs of James Dinkins taken at a United Confederate Veterans reunion in the early 1900s on the Library of Congress website.

  6. james dinkins

    no i did not know that. my pop steve dinkins was the one who told me about jim dinkins. there is a jim in every geration.we knew we were from the south but are just now filling in the details. anyway thank you for the info i will look it up. p.s. he looks just like my pop.

  7. Kent Bein, Brookhaven Mississippi- Confederate

    Thank you so much for this. To actually hear the yell is priceless, and to see these men who were there sticks in my heart. Thank you so much for sharing.
    Kent

  8. From my Facebook link to this article: Shelby Foote’s The Civil War: A Narrative (aka “The Great American Novel”) has many glories, not the least of which are its many epilogues, any one of which could have stood on its own as the closing passage of a masterpiece — the C.S.S. Alabama’s final prize-taking world-wide voyage; Jefferson Davis’s imprisonment, release, and easy slide into adultery and self-hagiography (“tell the world I only loved America”; or bourbon-starved Kentuckian John C. Breckinridge’s bitter resentment that William Tecumseh Sherman shared only a single shot of whiskey during surrender negotiations.

    But for me the most evocative of the many codas is this description of the slowly dwindling reunions of Confederate veterans: “Time played its tricks, distorting and subtracting. The rebel yeel, for instance — ‘shrill, exultant, savage,’ a one-time blue infantryman recalled, ‘so different from the deep, manly generous shout of the Union soldiers’ — would presently be lost to all who had never heard it on the field of battle. Asked at the close of a U.D.C. banquet to reproduce it, a Tennessee veteran explained that the yell was ‘impossible unless made at a dead run in full charge against the enemy.’ Not only could it not be given in cold blood while standing still; it was ‘worse than folly to try to imitate it with a stomach full of food and mouth full of false teeth.’ So it perished from the sound waves. Wildcat screech, foxhunt yip, banshee squall, whatever it had been, it survived only in the fading memories and sometimes vivid dreams of old men sunning themselves on public benches, grouped together in resentment of the boredom they encountered when they spoke of the war to those who had not shared it with them.”

    So I was thrilled to stumble across this clip of old Confederate veterans trying to recreate (unsuccessfully) the Rebel Yell.

  9. Joseph D. Dinkins

    Thank you very much for sharing and preserving this history. Very respectfully, Joseph D. Dinkins, Lieutenant Colonel, US Army Retired

  10. Judge James W. Dinkins

    Very, very interesting. I bear a strong resemblance of him physically. May the south live on forever.

  11. james dinkins

    he looks like my dad also.his name is steve dinkins and mine is james m dinkins.

  12. Shelby Foote stated as well in the Ken Burns series that their was no known evidence existing of what it really sounded like, so it’s great to hear something finally!

  13. Kiki Newton-Moore

    I’m thrilled to see my great great grandfather, Dr Ernest Sidney Lewis, in the film above. He was in an article in a newspaper (New Orleans Times-Picayune I believe), titled “The Surgeon Who Battled Spoons Butler – and won”.

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