Skip to main content

The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down

"These old men would say, 'One of these days the South is going to rise again.' I didn't take it as a joke. I thought it was really touching, that these people lived this world from the standpoint of a rocking chair."


"The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" by The Band was released by Capitol Records on September 22, 1969 as the B side to, "Up on Cripple Creek," which was the title track on their second album by the same name. It was written by the group's guitarist, Robbie Robertson.

The lyrics tell of the last days of the American Civil War, the winter of 1865, and the suffering of white Southerners. The Confederate states are starving and defeated. Confederate soldier Virgil Caine served on the Danville train (the Richmond and Danville Railroad, a main supply line into the Confederate capital of Richmond). Union cavalry regularly tore up Confederate rail lines to prevent the movement of men and material to the front where Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia was overtaken at the Siege of Petersburg. As part of the offensive campaign, Union Army General George Stoneman's forces tore up the track again. The May 10th date refers to the date Confederate President Jefferson Davis was captured, the definitive end of the Confederacy.

Robertson claimed that he had the music to the song in his head but had no idea what it was to be about. Band mate Levon Helm took him to a public library and he began researching the civil war, and that is where the song was born.
"When I first went down South, I remember that a quite common expression would be, "Well don't worry, the South's gonna rise again." At one point when I heard it I thought it was kind of a funny statement and then I heard it another time and I was really touched by it. I thought, "God, because I keep hearing this, there's pain here, there is a sadness here." In Americana land, it's a kind of a beautiful sadness."

"I went from Toronto to the Mississippi Delta, and...I liked the way people talked, I liked the way they moved. I liked being in a place that had rhythm in the air. I thought 'No wonder they invented rock 'n' roll here. Everything sounds like music...and I got to come into this world, a cold outsider - cold literally from Canada...and because I didn't take it for granted, it made me write something like "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." These old men would say, 'One of these days the South is going to rise again.' I didn't take it as a joke. I thought it was really touching, that these people lived this world from the standpoint of a rocking chair." (Copyright, Peter Viney)

In 1969, Ralph J. Gleason wrote in Rolling Stone magazine: "Nothing I have read has brought home the overwhelming human sense of history that this song does."

Virgil Caine is the name
And I served on the Danville train
Til Stoneman's cavalry came
And tore up the tracks again
In the winter of '65
We were hungry, just barely alive
By May the 10th, Richmond had fell
It's a time I remember, oh so well

The night they drove old Dixie down
And the bells were ringing
The night they drove old Dixie down
And the people were singin'
They went la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la

Back with my wife in Tennessee
When one day she called to me
"Virgil, quick, come see
There goes Robert E. Lee!"
Now I don't mind choppin' wood
And I don't care if the money's no good
Ya take what ya need and ya leave the rest
But they should never have taken
The very best

Like my father before me
I will work the land
Like my brother above me
Who took a rebel stand
He was just eighteen, proud and brave
But a Yankee laid him in his grave
I swear by the mud below my feet
You can't raise a Caine back up
When he's in defeat





Story #500

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Tornado at Beaty Swamps

Shortly after midnight on Wednesday, May 10, 1933, Beatty Swamps, TN ( also known as Bethsaida), a small rural community located in Overton County, Tennessee, approximately 6.7 miles from Livingston, was struck by an F4 tornado that completely devastated the community. The funnel, anywhere from one-half to three-quarters of a mile wide, destroyed every home in the community, and killed or injured virtually every single resident. Much of the area was swept clean of debris. This is the second deadliest tornado ever to strike Middle Tennessee.

There have been tornadoes that have gained greater notoriety, such as the Super Outbreak of April 3, 1974, but never has a tornado affected a community as completely as the one that struck Beatty Swamps.

According to the National Weather Service, it had been a humid evening in the rural Cumberland Plateau community. In nearby Allardt, the temperature that Tuesday afternoon had climaxed at 82 degrees, a warmer-than-normal reading for early May. …

Ode To A Mule

James Arness died today. Gunsmoke was every one's favorite TV show back when I was a kid. For years, at my house, we watched every single episode that came on the TV. There's isn't any need to explain the show because I am sure that most of you have seen an episode of Gunsmoke at one time or another.

When I heard that Mr. Arness has passed away, I went online, because I wanted to read some quotes from the TV show - more specifically, I wanted to read some dialogue between Festus, played by singer Ken Curtis (Sons of the Pioneers), and the rest of the cast. Festus had a way of speaking, but he always spoke the truth and what he said always made sense, well in a Festus-sort-of way, I guess.

So, I went online to do that, and well, one click led to another click, and then another and another, and before I knew it, I found myself on YouTube, and that's when I heard, for the first time in many years, this beautiful story that I want to share with you.

If you paid close atte…

Long Live The Goat Man

(This photo was made in the 1950's as the Goat Man passed through my town)
Charles McCartney was born on July 6, 1901. In 1915, at age 14, he ran away from his family's Iowa farm. He eventually wound up in New York, and was soon married to a Spanish knife-thrower. When she got pregnant they tried to make it as farmers, but bad weather and the Great Depression wiped them out. About the same time, he experienced a religious awakening. A man on a mission, he hitched up his team of goats to a wagon and took to the open road with his wife and son. His wife made goatskin clothes for him and his son to wear as a gimmick during their travels, but she quickly grew tired of the road and returned to Iowa, taking their son with her.

Charles McCartney looked like a goat. He smelled like one, too because he rarely took a bath. You take a fellow who looks like a goat, travels around with goats, eats with goats, lies down among goats and smells like a goat and it won't be long before peop…