"The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" as written by and Robbie Robertson....
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 tenth, 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, 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

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, la, la

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

The night they drove old Dixie down, and the bells were ringing
The night they drove old Dixie down, and all the people were singin', they went
Na, la, na, la, na, na, na, na, na, na, 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 the people were singin', they went
Na, la, na, la, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na


Lyrics submitted by H-bomb, edited by vinegar800, RobertGary1

"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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  • +5
    General CommentThe Band realized that the pain that the civil war caused and was still felt in the south at the time was perfect inspiration for a song. And they are refering to George Stoneman, but he was a Union General with the cavalry corps and not the Confederacy. His major task as a commander was to destroy railroads and supply lines. "tore up the tracks again." Great song full of emotion.
    zosokingon July 12, 2006   Link
  • +4
    General CommentSherman's March to the Sea started in Georgia, then went next door to S. Carolina. As z4kmorris correctly said above, the Georgia part was primarily for military reasons--Atlanta was one of the few industrial areas in the South, and it was the main rail hub in the Deep South. The South Carolina action was punitive, as S.C. was the first to secede, and the first shots were fired by S.C.
    My great-great grandfather fought for the Union (wounded 3 times) as he was an abolitionist, and yet this song moves me so much, it almost makes me feel sorry for Southerners. And I mean no irony in that last sentence. As my Uncle Bill, a combat infantryman in WWII said, "Rich old men start wars and send poor young men off to die in them."
    Pretty much the case for almost every war.
    OldFart53on July 27, 2008   Link
  • +2
    General CommentUmmm. No one took over singing responsibilities. The band always had three great singers. Levon Helm, Rick Danco, and Richard Manual.
    bradburyesquon June 01, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General Commentcheck
    theband.hiof.no/articles/…
    H-bombon May 03, 2002   Link
  • +1
    General CommentActually, it's not Stonewall. It's Stoneman, as in George Stoneman, the Confederate General.
    lmh82on July 07, 2006   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationIt's an old song, but very much timely in 2017, too. There are some good interpretations here, but maybe I can add a bit to them.

    Virgil Caine is a railroad engineer--a good job because it's more stable than farming (like his father) and it gets him exempted from conscription. He supports the Confederacy because he lives and works there and because even in the middle of a war, his life looks pretty good. He might even become a railroad conductor some day.

    In late March 1865, Union Major General George Stoneman leads a cavalry division through northwestern North Carolina, southern Virginia, and Tennessee, tearing up railroad tracks at every opportunity to cut the lifeline between Virginia and the states further south. It's not in the song, but Virgil is no fool. He knows what his trains have been carrying to Richmond. Realizing that the war is almost over, he packs up his wife and they move to Tennesee Lee's surrender. By May 10th, one month and one day after the surrender, Virgil has given up all hope. Apparently he holds out in Virginia until Jefferson Davis passes through Danville after the surrender, but knowing all is lost, he and his wife move to Tennessee.

    Railroads aren't running. and Virgil has to cut wood for his livelihood. His customers, some of whom are probably Union occupation troops, take the best of his wood and they don't pay well. It's not in the song, but all around he sees the economic, social, and political system of the south in ruins. One day, his wife calls to him to point out the steamboat Robert E. Lee on the Mississippi. The Lee was (and might still be) the fastest commercial vessel on the river. The boat, however, was built in Indiana. It's decor is majestic, but it has nothing to do with what Virgil's life is like now.

    When Virgil says "Like my father before me, I will work the land," he is expressing his determination to get back something of what he has lost. It would have been much easier if his brother had survived the war to work with him, but as it is, Virgil is alone. "You can't raise a Caine back up when it's in defeat."

    What about the chorus? On the night the war ended, bells undoubtedly rang to celebrate the return of peace. "na na na na na na na na na"? That could have been any of a number of syllables. For me, at least, "Na na na" conjures schoolyard taunting: "You can't catch me. Na na-na na na."
    slowhand1on June 29, 2017   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis song came from their 2nd cd, where Levon Helm i believe took over the singing responibilites, helm being the only american in the band, and from the southern states brought a southern feel to the band forsure.
    jonosuron April 15, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General CommentActually, it's not Stoneman. It's Stonewall, as in Stonewall Jackson, the Confederate General.
    NorthWriteron June 16, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentOops, I was trying too hard to be a wiseass and wrote Confederate instead of Union, guess I deserve the embarassment.
    lmh82on July 23, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentBradburyesqu, he means singing on this one song.
    FreePabloon August 11, 2006   Link

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