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.