The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down

“The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down” is a beautiful ballad by The Band, a famous canadian rock band, composed and recorded in 1969. The lyrics tell of the last...

“The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down” is a beautiful ballad by The Band, a famous canadian rock band, composed and recorded in 1969.

The lyrics tell of the last days of the American Civil War and the suffering of the (almost) defeated South: in fact, Dixie is the nickname used in those times for the Southern Confederate states.

The main character, Virgil Caine, is a Confederate soldier who serves on the Denville train during those hard times, suffering from the continuous attacks from the Union’s cavalry aimed at hampering and preventing the movements of men and materials to the front.

The song’s lyric refers to conditions in the Southern states in the winter of early 1865 (“We were hungry / Just barely alive“); the Confederate states are starving and defeated. Reference is made to the date May 10, 1865, by which time the Confederate capital of Richmond had long since fallen (in April); May 10 marked the capture of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and the definitive end of the Confederacy.

Robbie Robertson, author of the song, claimed that he had the music to the song in his head but had no idea what it was to be about:

“At some point [the concept] blurted out to me. Then I went and I did some research and I wrote the lyrics to the song.”

Robertson continued:

“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.”

The result is a wonderful, sad and historically accurate ballad which remember us that in every war there is sufferance; and often the one of the looser is forgotten or justified as deserved or necessary.

The version we are posting is the wonderful cover rendered by Joan Baez and her angelic voice. This version has a few different lyrics. She covered this in 1971. It was her biggest hit.

 

Virgil Caine is my name and I drove 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 all the bells were ringing,
The night they drove old Dixie down
And all the people were singing
They went, “Na,na,na.na,
Na na na na na na na na na.”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 I’m choppin’ wood, and I don’t care if the money’s no good.
You take what you need and leave the rest,
But they should never have taken the very best.The night they drove old Dixie down
And all the bells were ringing,
The night they drove old Dixie down
And all the people were singing.
They went, “Na,na,na na
‘Na,na,na.na na na na na na..’Like my father before me, I will work the land,
And like my brother before me, I took a rebel stand.
He was just eighteen, proud and brave,
but a Yankee laid him in his grave.
I swear by the blood below my feet
You can’t raise a Caine back up when he’s in defeatThe night they drove old Dixie down
And all the bells were ringing,
The night they drove old Dixie down
And all the people were singing
They went, “Na, na, na na … “The night they drove old Dixie down
And all the bells were ringing.
The night they drove old Dixie down
And all the people were singing.
They went, “Na, na, na na …”

The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down
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Sounds from the Bucket
Marco Principia

Born in Rome, his beloved city. Graduated with honors in Political Science and International Relations at Università degli Studi "Roma Tre". Expert of current affairs and United Nations. Recently attended a course in Humanitarian Emergency at INTERSOS. Currently employed at CIES - ONLUS in the Coordination and Organization Office for Interpreting and Translation Service for Territorial Commissions for the Recognition of International Protection. Huge fan of A.S. Roma.
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