"The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" as written by and Robbie Robertson....
Virgil Caine is my name and I drove on the Danville train
'Til so much cavalry came and tore up the tracks again
In the winter of '65, we were hungry, just barely alive
I took the train to Richmond that fell
It was a time I remember, oh, so well

The night they drove old Dixie down
And all the bells were ringin'
The night they drove old Dixie down
And all the people were singin'
They went, "Na, na, na, na, na, na"

Back with my wife in Tennessee
And one day she said to me,
"Virgil, quick! Come see!
There goes Robert E. Lee."
Now I don't mind, I'm chopping wood
And I don't care if the money's no good
Just 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 ringin'
The night they drove old Dixie down
And all the people were singin'
They went, "Na, na, na, na, na, na"

Like my father before me, I'm a working man
And like my brother before me, I took a rebel stand
Oh, 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 Cane back up when he's in defeat

The night they drove old Dixie down
And all the bells were ringin'
The night they drove old Dixie down
And all the people were singin'
They went, "Na, na, na, na, na, na"


Lyrics submitted by leopanthera

"The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" as written by Robbie Robertson

Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

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The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down song meanings
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7 Comments

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  • 0
    General Commentthis song is awesome. a song about the civil war written during the vietnam war. i love joan's voice.
    weezerific:cutleryon April 07, 2003   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis song came out when I was 11 yrs old and it was unlike anything I had ever heard on the radio. ... this strong voice singing the song from the perspective of a civil war soldier. I became a Joan Baez fan at that time.
    oakbranch8on March 06, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentAlthough The Band wrote this song, and sung by Levon Helm, a southerner, it probably has raw emotion, I still prefer Joan's version to theirs. It flows better.
    chrisb1on September 02, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General Commentthis song is one of those rare ones that actually imprint IMAGES in your head!! geez, I can almost feel the ice cold weather and smell the smoke from the trains! LOVE THIS SONG!
    Ladyhawkeon April 27, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI have a hard time enjoying this version of the song, as Joan displays a lack of knowledge of the subject matter. She clearly sings, "'til STONEWALL's calvary came, and tour up the tracks again." This, of course, makes no sense. "Stonewall" Jackson was a very important Confederate general. The lyric printed above is correct; it was the Union leader "Stoneman" who led a calvary division to destroy Confederate railway lines. She also screws up the final verse by singing "I swear by the BLOOD below my feet..." when it should be mud. Virgil is standing at his brother's grave, so "blood" doesn't even make sense. The song, when sung correctly, is one of my favorite, so maybe that's why I find myself wincing so much at this version.

    I otherwise like Joan Baez, and was thrilled to see her as a surprise guest once at an Indigo Girls concert. She did a version of "House of the Rising Sun", another favorite of mine.
    clovuson October 20, 2008   Link
  • 0
    Song Meaning"Virgil, quick, come see, there goes Robert E. Lee!"

    Some say the above line is referring to the steamshipRobert E Lee.
    But I believe the writer may be using Lee is as metaphor, meaning
    ‘a rebel army unit’ (is advancing or passing by)

    “Now I don't mind, I'm chopping wood
    And I don't care if the money's no good”

    I believe here, he is not grumbling about the poor pay chopping
    wood. Chopping wood was a necessity in those days for heating
    and cooling. He is grumbling about the money being worthless,
    because in 1865, nearly ½ of all money in circulation was
    counterfeit, being ‘no good’. ‘No mind to other problems,
    the wood needs chopped’.

    “Ya take what ya need and ya leave the rest,
    But they should never have taken the very best“

    IMO, the above lines are a clear reference to foraging . Civil
    war armies would raid nearby farms “taking what they need“,
    this was called ‘foraging’. But they rarely took only what they
    needed, they typically robbed farms of the best stock, money,
    clothing etc., sometimes leaving homesteaders destitute, with
    little or nothing to live on.
    naturebeeon September 26, 2013   Link
  • -1
    My OpinionI'm astonished that none of these commentators (and apparently not even Joan Baez) has noted the twisted political implications of this song, particularly in the historical context when it was composed and sung. It is a nostalgic paean to "old Dixie," whose political and economic order was based on the enslavement and brutalization of millions of African Americans. It is not, as some might say, the celebration of a morally neutral "heritage." It is an elegy to the poor white advocates of the Confederacy sung at the height of the Civil Rights Movement.

    Instead of testifying to the evil of enslavement and the evil that so many poor boys killed and died in its defense, this song pretends that what's sad is that the old South was forced to change.

    What's most disgusting, though, is that this 1960s nostalgia for the old South (including the sudden insertion of the Confederate flag design into state flags all over the South) is obviously a thinly-veiled metaphor and populist emblem of poor whites' wish to preserve their superiority to black people at a time when black Americans were rightly demanding human equality for people of all colors and classes. Shame on them and on the composers and singers of this song.

    I am so disappointed by the lack of critical discourse around this popular and seductively beautiful song.
    JamesMatoryon October 20, 2014   Link

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