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The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down by The Band

Album: The BandReleased: 1969
  • Robbie Robertson wrote this song, which is about the American Civil War - "Dixie" is a term indicating the old American South, which was defeated by the Union army. The song is not related to his heritage, as Robertson is half-Mohawk Indian, half-Jewish Canadian.
  • Robertson came up with the music for this song, and then got the idea for the lyrics when he thought about the saying "The South will rise again," which he heard the first time he visited the American South. This led him to research the Civil War. (thanks, Edna - Madrid, Spain, for above 2)
  • This was recorded in Sammy Davis Jr.'s house in Los Angeles. The Band rented it and converted a poolhouse into a studio to record their second album.
  • The vocals featured the 3-part harmonies of Levon Helm, Richard Manuel, and Rick Danko.
  • Joan Baez covered this in 1971. It was her biggest hit, reaching US #3 and UK #6.

    Her version was recorded at Quad Studios in Nashville with producer Norman Putnam, who gathered about 20 people from around the studio to sing on the chorus. One of those voices belongs to Jimmy Buffett, who Putnam would later work with on his album Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes.
  • Baez changed some of the lyrics on her version. For example, she sings, "Virgil Cain is my name and I drove on the Danville train. 'Til so much cavalry came and tore up the tracks again." The original lyrics are, "Virgil Cain is THE name and I SERVED on the Danville train. 'Til STONEMAN'S cavalry came and tore up the tracks again" referring to George Stoneman, who was a general in the Union army). There are several other inconsistencies between her version and The Band's original, including changing the line, "There goes Robert E. Lee" to "There goes THE Robert E. Lee" (which is a boat). (thanks, Geoffrey - Fort Collins, CO)
  • This was used as the B-side to "Up On Cripple Creek."
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Comments: 70

Easily one of the all-time greatest ballads ever composed, even though it was originally a funeral dirge for the defeated South until the Baez version made it actually more musical. It has a Gone With the Wind-type of loss and disillusionment to it. This should have made it into the PBS series 'The Civil War' especially the part about the Petersburg seige.W - Hollywood, Vatican City
Just a comment about the reference to Richmond falling by May 10. As others have pointed out, that's the date of Confederate President Jefferson Davis' capture. I've always thought the reference to "Richmond" in this context was to the rebel government, not the city proper. Just as we refer to "Washington" today.Kevin - Sacramento, Ca
Great tune, great writer, great "Band" performing it. I seriously doubt Diane is from Alabama. More likely a troll from the othersphere, manipulating the willing.....J - Athens, Al
I'm sure it must have been suggested before, but I wonder if the song writer choose Virgil's last name as "Caine" to be a bit of a play on words in regards to "Cain and Abel" of the Bible? The symbolic "brother vs brother" of the Civil War can be seen in the story of Cain and Abel. The brother who started the family conflict (Cain and Caine of the South) became cursed/defeated by God for killing his brother (slaves or northerns?), but his punishment for "killing his brother/starting the war" is to toil in the field, to wander - to be banished (and as Cain was "defeated/punished" by God, so the old South will not rise again because of its sins) "you can't raise the Caine back up when it's in defeat". Very symbolic.

"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"
Mark - Whitman, Ma
And furthermore Diane, your argument: "without our slaves we could not tend our fields" would be downright silly except that it's such an awful statement of what horrible things you and your ilk would be capable of if you were ever again in a position of power.Deborah - Manvel, Tx
To Diane in Alabama: It's amazing how your misspelling spoke the TRUTH you so dearly love about how the "Union took away our lively hoods." You probably THOUGHT you were writing about livelihoods, or jobs, but subconsciously you were probably referring to the lively little white hoods that your forebears wore when they were out wishing well to the black folks who better NOT leave the plantation if they valued their lives. Please try, with a straight face, to explain to a black person what a great life slavery was and how they'd be lucky to be living that life right now.Deborah - Manvel, Tx
You can feel the pain, loss and defeat in Levon Helm's voice as he sings this song. Very moving. It's unusual subject matter for a 'rock band' to sing about; I think that's one reason it's so memorable. It surprises me how many have posted some passionate opinions here of their interpretation of the song. I agree, the drums add so much to the feel of the soldier limping along to a type of military march. When Helm's sings about "they never should have taken the very best", I think it means that along with all the material goods, they took the heart and soul from the Confederates.Camille - Toronto, Oh
Gosh, Diane from Alabama makes a good argument for slavery TODAY even. Diane, I am really, really rich up here on Wall Street and I'm wondering if you and your entire family would like to come up here and let me OWN you. I promise I'll be nice and only have sex with the pretty girls to make more humans to mow my lawn and stuff. You'll be like my family. But you'll live in separate quarters and I'll treat you like dogs. Up here in New York we pick up our dog's poop after it comes out of their butts: that's how much we love them! I thought your argument about Thomas Jefferson was brilliant. He was just like that Bernie Madoff guy. All those people WANTED to give Bernie their money and he bought yachts and stuff and that must have helped the economy. Seriously, I'm so impressed with you, Diane. Could you clean my toilets? Would you be my slave? Can I just take possession of your entire being and literally own all--what do you weigh, 250?--of you. I think your family would be a lot better off if a really rich man owned them. I would even teach you to read and I wouldn't trade you for "nouthing."Jerry - New York, Ny
Two points must be made:

First, as others have pointed out Stoneman was a Union Cavalry commander who raided into South Central Virginia (from Eastern Tennesee) in the winter of 1865 for the specific purpose of cutting the Danville rail connection to Richmond. At this time, Robert E. Lee and the remnants of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia had been under seige in front of Richmond and Petersburg since the summer of 1864 and the Danville line was one of the few remaining connections between Richmond and the rest of the Confederacy. Stoneman's raid was one of (several) final hammer blows that forced Lee to abandon Richmond in the Spring of 1865 and, in a matter of days, surrender at Appomattox Courthouse.

As for the larger question regarding the cause of the American Civil War, do not kid yourselves. THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR WAS FOUGHT OVER SLAVERY! All of the other issues raised by Southerners, back then and today, eventually point back to concerns that the more populated northern states would eventually gain the political power and the political will to force rich Southerners to give up their slaves. To be sure, the average Southerner, who was neither rich nor a slave owner, didn't fight so that a couple of rich landowners could keep their "property". This is where the issues of States' rights and freedom and inequity and the like come into play. They needed to motivate the troops somehow, and, of course, in the years after the war, when it became increasingly apparent just how wrong and horrific human slavery really was, those convenient motivational tools also became a convenient means to create the mythology of the noble "Lost Cause", etc., etc., etc. Southerners lost the war, but they won the public relations campaign that followed over the next 150 years (and counting.
Ken - Philadelphia, Pa
In the Last Waltz, Robertson states that he was inspired to write the song after a late night conversation with Levon Helms' Father, who told him at one point "You know, one of these days the South is gonna rise again."Jim - Woodland Park, Nj
History: according to Maldwyn Jones' History of the U.S. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Limits_of_Liberty:_American_History_1607-1980), the main motivation of the Civil War was economical and regarded the expansion of slavery into western territories. In that time many US citizens were moving west and creating "western territories"; each of them could officially become a new States as its population grew big enough. Allowing slavery into those new states would have meant a great advantage for the economy of southern states while of course not allowing it would have meant the opposite. Northern states' citizens and politicians had more power and influence in the Federal State than Southerners and this is the reason why things went the way they went. These are not my opinions but the competent english historian Maldwyn Jones'. It is a great book and I suggest its reading. Now, MY opinion: both Northeners and Southerners were racist (this is proved by the fact that those former slaves who moved to the North were immediately segregated). Someone wrote here that many slaves suffered more after the abolition of slavey than before it. It is perfectly true, but why is it true? Because they were set to freedom for the wrong reasons (economical) and in the wrong way (by war, all of a sudden and without the surrounding society's inner consent). This fact should remind those who are now "bringing Democracy" around the World with their weapons that they should be ashamed of what they've done and of what they're still doing. About the song: good melody, good rhythm, good performance, but the lyrics are so nationlly self-centered - it looks like thay have been written by someone who can only think in terms of "we" ("me vs. you", americans, southerners vs. northerners) and forgets about the "other", millions of africans without a name, a date of birth, a personal identity and dignity. To the proud "rebels" who wrote in this page: go, get an education, then (and only then) tell your opinon to the world. The northeners were just as racist as you were, but that doesn't make the "rebels" of the Civil War any better on that matter. No doubt that all this people had good qualities as well, bravery, dignity etc.; humans are full of contradictions and we all know it. Just don't be nostalgic about people who treated other humans as animals, please.Alberto - Roma, Italy
I just heard a great cover, by Ritchie Havens, recorded live. I've always liked Ritchie's work, but he sings this song with such sensitivity, and his version is so powerful by the irony of his being a black man singing a song that is clearly about a confederate. I think its my favorite cover, but I've never heard Johnny Cash's cover. There's a version of Ritchie Havens' cover on youtube with photos from the war. BTW, to correct my earlier post, it is only a myth that Jeff Davis was captured dressed as a woman.John - Bemidji, Mn
Beautiful song... I do think Joan Baez's version sounds even more heart felt, but all the gratitude to Robbie Robertson for composing this terrific ballad. No one is making any comments about the last verse, "He was just 18, proud and brave; But a Yankee laid him in his grave; I swear by the mud below my feet; You can't raise a Kane back up when he's in defeat." I can't piece that together because it sounds as though Virgil is making a pledge on his brother's grave, but what pledge? The "when he's in defeat line" kind of throws me. ............. Anyway, as supplement to this song, the only other modern day civil war song I can greatly appreciate that rivals this song for feeling and sadness is Gene Pitney's "I'm Afraid to Go Home" but recorded and sung by Brian Hyland. Absolutely beautiful and moving! Hope you agree if you ever get a chance to hear the studio version.Jim - St. Paul, Mn
And as an aside, not to further a controversy, but something that I feel needs responding to, the entire issue of "States Rights" referred to property rights. And that property was...slaves. It is disingenous to say slavery was not the fundamental cause of the civil war. The issue of slavery (and the desire of some to hold human beings as chattel) was the cancer that had been eating away at the country since the Revolution, with various compromises made to appease the Southern states where slavery had become economically important since the invention of the cotton gin. The recent prelude to the Civil War (Missouri compromise, the Border State Wars. "Bleeding Kansas") amptly demonstrates that the perpetuation of slavery was the driving cause behind seucession, at least on the Southern side. It is true that in the North, the war was initially framed in preserving the Union, but it is clear that Lincoln was elected on an abolitionist platform. While not condemning the thousands upon thousands of brave Confederate soldiers (who, in reality fought for their homelands, not for the slave holders who led their states), their cause was corrupt and evil.John - Bemidji, Mn
This song is one of my favorites. I believe, however, that it refers (quite accurately) to the fall of Petersburg and Richmond, Virginia which occurred in April of 1865. From the early summer of 1864 into the spring of 1865, the entire state of Virgina was the scene of some of the heaviest and bloodiest fighting in the whole war. The object of the Union commander, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, was to surround and capture the capital of the Confederacy, Richmond. Richmond, however, was heavily and effectively fortified. Its southern defenses were around the town of Petersburg, Va., and the various railroads (including the Danville line) were what supplied Richmond with food, arms and reinforcements. Grant realized that a direct attack and siege of Richmond would be too costly and uncertain; he chose to establish a seige of Petersburg, beginning around June of 1864. Danville is just south of Petersburg and was primarily a rail town. The seige was stalmated until April 1, when Union cavalry and troops turned the south west flank of the Petersburg defenders at the Battle of Five Forks. Grant, realizing that the endurance of teh Petersburg defenders was stretched beyond endurance, cancelled all passes for the Army of the Potomac and ordered a general attack through the trenches and defensed of Petersburg. The attack succeeded and Union troops were in the city on April 2. Meanwhile, in Richmond, panic set in and the Confederate hierarchy, inculding President Jefferson Davis, along with the remanants of the rebel army, fled the city on April 2-3, first putting munitons factories and parts of the torch. Robert E Lee, the Confederate commander, fled with his Army of Virginia northwest. Union troops immediately entered Richmond and President Abraham Lincoln entered and toured Richmond on April 4. Lee's Army of Virginia was soon halted near Appomattox Courthouse, and he surrendered on April 9. In early May, Jefferson Davis was captured, despite the fact that he was dressed as a woman. Grant had indeed "drove Ole Dixie down." Cavalry from both sides routinely ripped up rail tracks; the Union cavalry was noted for heaping the iron rails on top of bonfires to warp and twist the rails and make what the Confederates referred to as "Lincoln's (or Sherman's) neckties." Robbie Robertson must have had a comprehensive grasp of the American Civil War, and may have been a "Civil War boor" himself!John - Bemidji, Mn
Levon Helm sings "Back with my wife in Tennessee, when one day she called to me,"
"Virgil, quick, come see, there goes THE Robert E. Lee!" I think it is after the war is over and he sees the RIVERBOAT called THE Robert E Lee. Riverboats used wood to fire the steamboilers, perhaps he was struggleing to survive by selling wood to the Riverboats and he is remembering the looting that both armies did during the war.
Don - B G, Ky
It is my understanding that the vocal back-up to Levon Helm on this song is by the late Rick Danko and the late Richard Manuel.Though it appears that Robbie Robertson is also singing, apparently his vocal microphone was not turned on, for some reason.
I believe I heard this during an interviev with Martin Scorcese.
Martin - Toronto, On
"The Night they drove old Dixie down" - does this not refer to Sherman's scorched earth policy and specifically the burning of Atlanta? Just a thought from Africa.
Still one of the most emotive of songs
Colin - Johannesburg, South Africa
I am from the south, so this song is a reference to my history. Without a doubt, this song would not have the impact that it does on the listener, if it were not for the vocal delivery of Levon Helm. This song puts chills up and down my spine!Christy - Morristown, Tn
Robert from Arlington, VA? You've just about nailed it. The Southerners Cause was correct (States Rights), but the rallying point (slavery) was AWFUL. I am definitely opposed to a centralized government telling me and my state how I should live and what I can be taxed on. Our recent Health Care Bill is a perfect example. Why not leave it up to the individual states to provide healthcare to their citizens? Or not as the case may be?

And Diane? What do you mean most of the Yanks can't speak the truth? Have you been smoking Spanish Moss again? The reason most of the slaves stayed put is...where else would they go? They HAD no other place to go. No education. NOTHING.

Back to the song....GREAT song. Best version is on "The Last Waltz" as has been pointed out.
Mike - Matawan, Nj
(The Brit's must have really enjoyed watching our "family feud.")

i think you'll find that the confederate army had the backing of all the cotton barons in the north west of england,im from liverpool and no that during your civil war my city gave much backing to the south ranging from weapons money food and we also built the css alabama and most of the crew were from liverpool,we also have what i believe to be the only confederate embassy outside the usa which is still standing
Charlie - Liverpool, United Kingdom
I am a huge fan of The Band and this is my favorite song of theirs. I was born in Detroit in '71 but have lived in Northern Virginia since '74. I like to tell people I'm a Yankee by the grace of God, and Southern due to "time served". Virginia is a very interesting state in many ways. Now that tobacco is starting to fade a bit as a cash crop, the financial power in the state is clearly in Northern VA, while because our capital is still Richmond, the political power is in Southern VA. And this is a very good thing for Virginia. It insures that more of the states' population is served financially and politically. My wife is from Buffalo, NY. Whenever we visit her family, they always remark at our license plates and say, "The Rebels are here! The Rebels are here!" By comparison, we have friends in NC whom when we visit say, "Well, I believe this is a fine Southern day until our Yankee friends came a-callin'!" Nevermind that I've spent nearly 34 years in Robert E. Lee's home state. On the subject of the Civil War, or "The Late Unpleasantness" as we prefer to call it in Dixie, let's be clear as to its cause. The cause was NOT the North trying to abolish slavery. The cause was about STATE'S RIGHTS. Up until the Civil War, individual states could largely govern themselves as they saw fit without interference from the Federal government. The country was less than 100 years old at this time and we were still figuring out how much power to "give" to centralized government. Lincoln's government decided that slavery was going to be the point at which the Federals would attempt to limit or restrict how an individual state could decide for itself what was best. Our fear in the South was, "Ok, you're here for our slaves today...what're you coming for tomorrow?" You may now consider yourself properly educated on the Civil War. Of course, that's just my opinion...I could be wrong.Robert - Arlington, Va
Robert E Lee was AGAINST Slavery and believed in the Union. He was just too loyal to his home state.Clint - Lower 48, Ct
This song was recorded at Sammy Davis Jr. House, Los Angeles April/ May 1969Barry - New York, Nc
I read All the comments It is nice that some people ( REBELS) out there can speek the TRUTH .... To bad the Yanks can't .. The Civil War WAS NOT ABOUT SLAVERY ! ! It was about the Union coming down here and taking away our lively hood ... Without the slaves we could not tend our feilds ... BOTH of my Grandfathers owned slaves ... And when the war was over Almost ALL of them stayed and farmed the land with my grandfathers ... and each slaves family was given 10 acres ... many of them LOVED us so much that they took our family name ... I GET REALLY SICK OF HEARING ABOUT HOW MISTREATED THE SLAVES WERE ! ! Yes there were those who were treated in horrible ways and that I believe 100% that it was wrong .. but there were also those who were treated as family and loved .... Thomas Jefferson had over 100 slaves ... If you will research him you will see that he cherised them and never refered to the as slaves . He called them his family . He did not believe in slavery but yet he owned them .... Why ??? While he was in office as Presidient of these GREAT states he recieved a letter from a southern gentleman that wanted to release his slaves so that he could go to France ... Thomas wrote him back and told him not to set them free because there were no laws yet set up in the new goverment to protect them and until such a time they should be taken care of thier owners .... The man did not lisen and reliesed them and they suffered at the hands of a cruel owner ... Thomas educated his slaves and was ridiculed by his NORTHERN friends , His life long companion was a slave that was born the same day as he was and who was at Jefferson's side on July 4th when he passed away ... History is written by those who WIN the war ... so since the North won how much of History is distorted and WRONG ???? The Rebels were out numbered 4 to 1 and it took the Yanks 4 years to defeat us .... And just so you ALL know I am Happily married to a Yankie ... 20 years now and I would trade him for nouthing ... We do not discuse the Civil War because we still after all this time do not agree on the real reason the war ever happened .... Every Memorial Day my ENTIRE family ( from all over the USA ) return home to ALABAMA to go to the graveyard and visit 4 cousin and 2 grandfathers that died or served in the civil war ... Men we have never met yet Men we ALL LOVE ....Diane - Needham, Al
Levon is from Helena, Arkansas. The "sister" city of my hometown of Friars Point, Mississippi. Two cities just across the Mississippi from one another. He grew up a river rat just like me. The Robert E. Lee refrenced in the song is a steamboat. The person was never in Tennesse during the war or after. How do I know this? General Lee was once asked which general that served under him during the war did he think was the best. His answer, "A man I have never met." General Forrest. Forrest served in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama. Baez screwed up the lyrics. And to agree with other sentiment here, yes, Levon should get some song writing credit for this one.Thomas - Friars Point, Ms
I believe this is one song that Robbie should definitely have shared songwriting credit with Levon Helm.Bill - Rensselaer, Ny
See the book Levon Helm wrote about The Band. It's called This Wheel's On Fire. Levon says he wrote the song with Robbie.Levon is from Arkansas and knows a bit about the history of the South. Robbie was credited for writing this song and a whole heap of other songs but in fact, according to Helm and the other members of The Band, he was not the sole writer. He just got the money from the copyright. Another Rock 'n Roll rip off it seems.Alan - London, United Kingdom
War is hell - and I don't care what side you're on. At 48 I'm recently finding myself becoming fascinated with the Civil War and with this song. I too grew up with it in the 70's and have long admired its haunting melody. I hate war even though I know it is necessary at times. But this war, this war.... During other wars we gather together, we support each other, lean on each other. Those not in the war could worry and mourn together. This is truly the saddest war, the most heartbreaking we've experienced. Anger you can get past but the deep pain this war inflicted on both sides is something that this nation may never completely heal from. Both sides did both horrible and honorable things; the most honorable was that together, after all the horrors everyone went through, they were able to somehow come together again and rebuild this nation. (The Brit's must have really enjoyed watching our "family feud.") Boy can we rally around and justify around our hatred of the Nazi's, the Communists, the terrorists and our behavior during those wars. Sure, we know we did wrong things during those wars, but how easy is it for us to rationalize the actions we felt we had to take. But how do you justify what we did to each other? Could there ever be a more horrible and heartbreaking war? The more I learn about the Civil War the sadder I become. -And the stronger my pride is for the unbelievable courage displayed by BOTH sides. I've been a Northerner all my life but honestly I don't want to even think about having to chose sides in this 'contest' because everyone lost so very, very much. To wrap up, is anyone aware of an in-depth article by Robbie Robertson in which he explains his lyrics? I bet he feels a bit like Don McLean with his American Pie lyrics. According to him, we all put way more thought and meaning into those words than he did when he wrote them. I saw him on a news program and he seemed to get quite a chuckle out of people's fascination with deciphering every last word in that epic song! Becky, Vadnais Heights, MNBecky - Vadnais Heights, Mn
Excellent song that still gives me goosebumps when I hear it. The Black Crowes do an excellent live version on their Freak and Roll live show/DVD. My family is from the mtns of NC. I've done family research and have seen where a few ancestors submitted for reimbursment for damage done to their farms when Stoneman's Cav came thru.

From some of the comments about the war between the north & south (Northern Agression, as I prefer), I can tell that they have no idea what they're talking about. The War was a result of much more than just slavery. I wish more people would research history.
Sandi - Bel Air, Md
robert e lee was in tennesse during the war there are momuments of were he had been at a few places i know he was at fort donaldson because i go there about twice a year and there he has a momumentJimmy - Bartlett, Tn
Regarding the Yankee student of the war of Northern Agression, no offense intended, the taking of the best did not refer to pigs, but to the best of the young men of the south, who died defending their homeland. Otherwise, I think your interpretations were on the money.Dan - Houston, Tx
(quoting another person) "Nobody cared about slavery."

I'd be willing to bet the slaves did.


Now as to "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down",it is and will always remain a ballad that touches one deep down in their soul,and is one of those rare songs that could have been sung a hundred years ago, or a hundred years from now.
Amy - Okc, Ok
As many have commented above, the timeline after the war that the song is referenceing was a time of sadness, poverty and struggle. And many sightings of Robert E. Lee were reported that were not true because many clinged to hopes that their hero and the their beloved South could rebound. So thinking that someone they saw just might be Robert E. Lee was giving them the flicker of hope that the war was not in vein and that there was a hope for tomorrow and that the South was still strong, so it is very fiting in its time and place in the song. - Frank Ryan, Madison, AlabamaFrank - Madison, Al
I didn't bother to read the comments, so someone probably already said this, but this song is about when the Union burned down Richmond (Dixie)Danny - Boston, Ma
everyboby needs to remember that its just a song, a pretty darn good song!!!!!!!!! the Band had a very certain sound, which is Levon Helm. he did an awesome job on " The Weight" . he also played a preacher in the movie Fire Down Below with Steven Seagal.Big Ed - Pulaski, Tn
The Civil War was NOT about slavery. Nobody cared about slavery. The North wanted to abolish slavery in order to deprive the South of labor, therefore putting them out of business. The Northerners were just as prejudicial of the black people as the southerners were, probably worse. Lots of slaves, once freed, declined to leave their former owners. Many of the slaves and the southerners regarded each other as family. Due to revisionist history, children are now taught that the war was fought to abolish slavery when in fact, it was fought over state's rights and the inequity of taxes between British cotton and Southern cotton. The emancipation of slaves was just a tactic that the North used to economically hurt the South. Although there were those, such as John Brown, who were against slavery and sought to abolish it, most Northerners didn't care one way or another.Abc - Daytona, Fl
This is an excellent song - though I disagree with several posters here. The 'Lee in Tennessee' argment forgets the timeline of the song - 'back with my wife in Tennessee' suggests after the war, and I recall Lee did make some travels to thank the soldiers who served under him. The song also doesnt mention if she was right - while Lee's face is still well known even today, most Southern newspapers during the war used a portrate of Lee as a young man, from his days at West Point, so Mrs. Cain might easily have been mistaken.
Nor do I think this song has much to do with race, though it does foster the Lost Cause myth, which tends to ignore or grossly distort the tragedy of slavery. The perspective of this story is one of a single person, recounting what he saw at the end of the war, and lamenting what it had done to his family - thats much more universal, which is why I think this song resonates so well, its not a history of the Civil War, its just one guy, and he could be anyone, from any war.
Don - Franklin, Ma
I am alone in my worry. the night they drove old dixie down is an extraordinary song and one i love but as i understand it it is sympathetic to the south which is by its existence within the the civil war a racist stance. i know it was somewhat confused but to glorify people supporting slavery and so a racist stance seems to me to say the least problematic. i maybe wrong and i hope so but and it is a big but. perhaps it is a liberal stance. i don't know and hope not. sure these people in the south suffered in the war but what about the slaves the north were 'trying' to liberate. or were they? history might say otherwise. a great song but!!!!!!!!!!!!Pat - Vienna, Austria
I think Joan Baez was just sloppy, didn't know the words and couldn't be bothered finding out what they were.
I love this song. Levon Helm's vocals fit it so perfectly that you believe he IS Virgil Cain.
Chloe - Hudson, Canada
Another point: Perhaps Virgil's role in the War was a railroad engineer or something for the South, and he was put out of work when Stoneman wrecked the rail line.

All this seems plausible, as I'll quote here from the Wikipedia article on Stoneman:

"Stoneman assumed command of the Cavalry Corps of what would be known as the Army of the Ohio. As the army fought in the Atlanta Campaign under Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, Stoneman and his aide were captured by Confederate soldiers outside Macon, Georgia, becoming the highest ranking Union prisoner of war. He was a prisoner for three months.

Stoneman was exchanged relatively quickly based on the personal request of Sherman to the Confederates and he returned to duty. In December 1864, he led a raid from East Tennessee into southwestern Virginia. He led raids into Virginia and North Carolina in 1865..."

(The Wikipedia article on the Song states that it refers to the 1865 raids in this quote): "The lyrics tell of Virgil Caine watching as the Union Army General George Stoneman destroys the railroad where he makes a living, and then witnessing the fall of Richmond, Virginia. Virgil relates and mourns the loss of his brother, "He was just eighteen, proud and brave / But a Yankee laid him in his grave."

God I love the internet!
Rob - Albuquerque, Nm
Speaking as a Yankee student of the War, a couple points: R.E. Lee was never in Tennessee during the War. Except for a campaign in what's now West Virginia, he never left Virginia during the War-except when he invaded Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Dansville, is in Virginia, but as I recall the railroad went from there through southwest Va. and into Tennessee near Bristol. From there, I presume it went to points west.

The lines about "I don't mind 'em chopping wood, and I don't care if the money's no good" to me refers to two separate ideas: First off, when an army marched through an area, they tended to take all the wood they could- firewood, woodpiles, fences, etc. and use it for campfires. As for the "money" line, when the Rebs went through an area, their leaders- especially Lee- insisted that they pay for whatever they took from the locals. The payment would of course be in Confederate money, which was nearly worthless in the South, and less than useless elsewhere. (I seem to recall US soldiers, when they found it putting the money to a more immediate use, if you get my drift).

So to me, Virgil is shrugging his shoulders at the loss of a lot of firewood to a passing (Confederate?) army, shrugging also at the useless money he was paid in, but is properly annoyed that the soldiers took things that they couldn't have any use for- it's well known that, in the latter months of the War, northern troops would take everything from a house, including women's clothes, and destroy the stuff for no reason. So "just take what you need and leave the rest".

As far as food, another thing that was stolen in vast amounts, if they found livestock it would be taken and slaughtered for dinner. However, if they found a healthy pig and a sickly one, they'd probably take the good one and ignore the other. "But they should never have taken the very best".

All that being said, it is a great song, regardless of which side you favor. I first knew the Baez version, which was okay. It was only a few years back that I heard the original, and fell in love with it. Far, far better than the knockoff.

This concludes today's history lesson.
Rob - Albuquerque, Nm
I do not believe Robert E Lee was ever in Tennessee, however, there were reports after the war of him been seen all over The South of course the majority of these were incorrect(maybe like Elvis was in the 80s?) Also, it would be logical to assume that Virgil lived in the eastern part of Tennessee since he serve in Virginia.Bill - Louisville, Ky
Andrew in Memphis, just because Grant was in LaGrange during the Vicksburg campaign, doesn't mean that Lee was anywhere near there. Grant wasn't Lee's opponent at the time, nor until Grant was reassigned to the Army of the Potomac.

If Lee ever set foot in Tennessee during or after the war, I've missed it.
Anderson - Ridgeland, Ms
MORE ON STONEMAN -- REF WIK -- George Stoneman, Jr. (August 22, 1822 ? September 5, 1894) was a career U.S. Army officer, a Union cavalry general in the American Civil War, and the Governor of California between 1883 and 1887.
This has to be about the best song I listened to ever .. form first note to last
Riles - Riverview , Mi
I just wanted to respond to a previous subsequent comment made by - john-joseph, richmond, VA which I have quoted below:
"Southerners all seem to be historians when it comes to our four years of fame but I don't remember Robert E. Lee ever being in Tennessee for Virgil to see. I guess that just proves that this wonderful songs, and one of my favorites, was written by a canadian."

I wanted to say to this person that they need to research their historical facts before posting such garbage. At one point during the war General Grant and troops were stationed in La Grange, Tennessee where confederate soldiers eventually made their way through. Therefore, General R.E.Lee WAS in Tennessee for Virgil to see. Yes, the song was written by a Canadian who researched the history of the Civil War before he wrote the song. And, yes, southerners do tend to be historians so we can correct those of you who post ignorant comments on lyrical websites. Thanks.
Andrew - Memphis, Tn
Julianna Werding, one of Germany's most famous singer/songwriters used the tune for her first hit "Am Tag der Conny Kramer starb" ("The Night that Conny Kramer Died") about the death of a cloe friend who died of an overdose.Peter - Redditch, England
The rhythm in The Band's version is like a limp. You can imagine a Confederate Soldier with a makeshift crutch making his way down a muddy road relating how his heart has been broken. Sheree was right - to visit Civil War battlefields is something every American should do. A friend of mine has property near Clarksville VA. As we drove onto the property he stopped and pointed out a ridge of earth that ran through. "That's the old roadbed for the Danville Train." We had put the song on when we got into the house. Reading all your comments has given me a new and profound respect for this song.Charles - Bronxville, Ny
If you enjoy this song, definitely check out 'The Last Waltz', there is a great version of it on there. I find it interesting that The Band, being almost entirely Canadian could write such good lyrics about the American Civil War, and so accurately.Kyle - Vancouver, Canada
Maybe the "Robert E. Lee" in the song is the famous steamboat that was built right after the Civil War. If the Cains were in Western Tennessee they could have easily seen the steamboat rollin up and down the Mississippi.Ed - Manassas, Va
Southerners all seem to be historians when it comes to our four years of fame but I don't remember Robert E. Lee ever being in Tennessee for Virgil to see. I guess that just proves that this wonderful songs, and one of my favorites, was written by a canadian.John-joseph - Richmond, Va
Always loved this song, both this and Joan Baez's version.Jameson - Lexington, Ky
Interesting fact I learned from my gf (who, ironically, never heard the song and is from Memphis), the line, "I don't mind chopping wood, and I don't care that the money's no good," I always thought literally meant choppin' wood is not a lucrative job, but she seems to whole heartidly think it refers to confederate money being worth zilch their defeat, literally bankrupting people overnight.J - Nyc, Ny
Freaking GREAT song...especially the live version from Last Waltz.Chad - Houston, Tx
Johnny Cash also covered this, in 1974 I think. very good cover.Petter - Ã?ngelholm, Sweden
Dan, I think you're confused. Levon sang lead, backed up by Rck and Richard. Therefore, three part harmony. No one else shares the lead.Tyler - Brantford, Canada
What's up with these three part hormony facts Levon Helm sang lead and Richard, Robbie, and Rick sang back up or sang part of the song like how Rick sings the Crazy Chester part in The Weight.Dan - Lee, Nh
If you'e going to say song the lyrics are innacurate(May 10th) you should note it says by may 10th indicating this had happened before may 10thJames - London, England
Absolutely brilliant drumming!!! Sounds just like a military march. My Favorite Band song by far!!Luke - Maple Grove, Mn
Hats off to Robbie Robertson for writing this gem, but I have to go on record that without Levon Helm's stories about the Southern way of life, his gritty Southern voice, Rick Danko, Richard Manuels backing vocals, and Garth Hudson on keyboards, THIS SONG WOULD NOT BE WHAT IT IS!!
Hell, this band would not be what it is!
A true song that can move you to a differnt place and time, that has with stood the test of time.
Phil - San Jose, Ca
The inaccurate lyrics in Joan Baez' cover are due to the fact that Baez originally learned the song by listening to the Band's album. She never actually saw the printed lyrics. She misheard the lyrcis, and recorded the song that way. In more recent years, at her concerts, she has been performing a version of the song much closer to the Band's original.Mark - Boston, Ma
I was born in Mississippi, raised in rural Arkansas, moved to Louisiana at age 9.The myths about being a Southerner are true.We are full of pride, hospitality, home of the blues.If you have never been to Vicksburg,Port Gibson (the town to beautiful to burn)or any of the historic sites of the Civil War.do not go to your grave without seeing it. When you stand by the canons in Vicksburg, it is astounding, it is so overwhelming you can literally feel the souls of the soldiers, It is haunting. When you see the First Presbyterian church with the giant hand pointing to heaven, I was transformed, it is as if you can smell the smoke and feel blood under your feet. Deep in our hearts and souls, as Southerners all we can do is hang our heads and cry due to the beauty of the countryside and all those who gave their lives. That is why we call it Rebel Pride. Even the biggest rock stars in the world are obsessed with the South and all its' history and myths. One of the stories, I find fascinating is of Robert Plant driving into Clarksdale, getting out of his car, puts on headphones, sitting on a bench on Main Street listening to Robert Johnson, saying this is as close to Heaven as he has ever been.I would like to personally thank Mr. Robertson for writing it, I know he was channeling some intense unknown Southern Soul, and did not even know it. God Bless You.Sheree G. Jordan - Baton Rouge, La
This song is a classic. Very vivid, pretty accurate, it really gives me goose bumps when I listen. Every true 'southerner' must salute this song when it's played!Anthony - Clearwater, Fl
I remember this tune when I was little and recall it playing to the radio a good bit. It must've been very popular in the early 70's. I saw a video in 1985 that was made from a concert and it was good, but sad to hear it all over again. Over the years, like everything, it fell away from me off to the way side. My wife bought a cd called Goin South in 2001 and there it was. Being a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, it means a bit more to me now. As for Joan Biaz, I don't care for her version and don't choose to hear it. I feel that The Band hit the nail on the coffin so to speak and made the funeral dirge for the Confederacy.Jeff - Columbia, Sc
I find this song very moving and painfully evocative of the Civil War, which is remarkable coming from a Canadian rock artist over a hundred years after the fact.Jon - Roeland Park, Ks
Although covered successfully by Joan Baez, she butchered many of the lyrics. For example, she sings, "Virgil Cain is my name and I drove on the Danville train. 'Til so much calvary came and tore up the tracks again." The original lyrics are, "Virgil Cain is THE name and I SERVED on the Danville train. 'Til STONEMAN'S calvary came and tore up the tracks again." There are several other inconsistencies between her version and The Band's original.Geoffrey - Fort Collins, Co
In the song, he states, "By May the 10th, Richmond had fell. It was a time...I remember oh so well." Actually, to contradict Brian slightly, it's actually more historically accurate to phrase this the way Robertson did. In the 1860's news travelled very slowly, particularly during times of war. This song is from the viewpoint of someone reflecting upon returning to "regular" life immediately following the end of the war. So, for Virgil Cain to look back and say that "by May the 10th Richmod had fell" would suggest that he had some event occur to him on that date related to the war, and that by that date the war had been lost, but not necessarilly that Richmond actually was captured on that date.Geoffrey - Fort Collins, Co
May 10th 1865 was the date that Jefferson Davis was captured in Georgia after fleeing Richmond... In reality, Richmond fell a month earlier... That's a slight nitpick with the accuracy... As you can see it's very slight and overall very impressive that a Canadian(Robbie Robertson) can display such a grasp over the emotions of the Civil War... I tip my Hat to Robbie...Brian - Grand Forks, Nd
In an interview, Robertson explains that when writing this he had to play piano very quietly. He also had to whisper the tune and lyrics to himself because his new born baby was sleeping in the next room.Dan - Auckland, New Zealand
Song was pretty historically correct. Stoneman was a Union calvary commander.Byron - Detroit, Mi