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Johhny Reb and Billy Yank

Johnny Reb and Billy Yank

Johnny Reb and Billy Yank

Billy Yank meets Johnny Reb

The cover photo is of two men who represent southerner Johnny Reb and his Northern counter part Billy Yank. This image is of two older men who actually fought in the war between the States and decided to shake hand and move on after the Civil War ended. Worldwide all Americans may be considered as Yankees by some but a Billy Yank was the name Southern Americans gave to anyone residing above the Mason Dixon line. Billy Yank did not, however, evolve during the war between the states but came about when 20th Century journalists began coining the term. In photos Billy is most often pictured wearing a regulation U.S. Army blue wool Union uniform. This included a fatigue blouse, a light-weight wool coat with four brass buttons on the front and an inside pocket. In addition he is shown wearing a kept-style cap with a leather visor and a rounded flat top that is made of of wool broadcloth and a cotton lining. Sometimes people today might utter the words "Damn Yankees" which is also the title of a 1958 movie but Billy Yank is probably not known by most US citizens. Johnny Reb is usually pictured in a gray wool Confederate uniform with the typical kepi-style forage cap and like his Northern counterpart the cap is made of wool broadcloth or cotton jean cloth and has the rounded, flat top, cotton lining, and leather visor. Johnny is most often depicted with his weapons and or the Confederate flag.

Johnny Reb in uniform

Johnny Reb in uniform

Johnny Reb

When I was a child I heard my grandmother say of an older white male in our neighborhood that although he was cordial to blacks who shopped in his store he was really a "Johnny Reb." I assumed she was saying that deep down he was a racist and a sympathizer of the Rebel flag. After watching several Civil War movies I came away with the notion that calling a Confederate soldier "Johnny Reb" was the equivalent of using the N-word for an African American. In Southern culture, the Johnny Reb stereotype has been present in, poetry, photography, novels, art, written history, and public statuary. Bell I. Wiley, is a historian who wrote about the common soldiers of both the Northern and the Southern armies. He says the origin of the name the habit of seems to have come from the habit of Union soldiers calling out, "Hello, Johnny" or "Howdy, Reb" to the Confederate soldiers who were on the other side of the picket line. Johnny Reb has also been used as a nicname for Confederate soldiers, who are veterans as well as to refer to white natives of the southern states that formerly belonged to the Confederacy. The name is still commonly used in scholarly writing by authors who are Southern and Northern.

Little known facts

Robert N. Rosen, a Jewish South Carolina native wrote extensively about the roles Southern Jews played in the Confederate Army, and refers to them as "Jewish Johnny Rebs". This may be an eye opener for African Americans and others who were taught that all Jews sympathize with blacks and Civil Rights.The term Johnny Reb is still sometimes ustilized in the news media and also popular writings. In 2000, The Los Angeles Times published an article about Confederate President Jefferson Davis that was written by historian Eric Foner and the title was, Chief Johnny Reb. There was also a book written that was published in 1905 titled Johnny Reb and Billy Yank. This is a first hand account of the war by Alexander Hunter, a Confederate soldier who served in the 4th Virgina Calvary and the 17th Virginia Infantry from 1861 to 1865. The novel is the personal account of Hunter who kept diaries during his time as a soldier and the novel is still in print.

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Billy Yank in uniform

Billy Yank in uniform

Music in the midst

Johnny Horton wrote a song titled Johnny Reb which is indeed about Confederate soldiers. Mitch Miller sang a version of When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again but thius song is not about the Rebel forces. It was written for all soldiers from the North and the South who made it home from the Civil War. Gene Autry sang Johnny Reb and Billy Yank which was a salute to both stereotypes.

Billy Yank lives on

Although Johnny Reb is more widely known Billy Yank has been imortalized. There is a 17 foot tall bronze Union soldier bearing his name atop the Soldiers, Sailors, and Pioneer Monument in downtown Hamilton, Ohio. Billy’s official title is “Victory, the Jewel of the Soul,” he weighs more than 3,000 pounds and has one foot resting on an unexploded shell. This monument was planned and promoted in 1899 by the Butler County Civil War veterans and financed by a county levy according to the Ohio History Connection website. The monument is located near the center of the site where Fort Hamilton once stood.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Cheryl E Preston

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