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Dixie - Part II
by Randy Hill

The date was February 22, 1862, and Richmond, Virginia, was filled to the brim with residents and visitors high on the influence of every enthusiastic emotion under the Southern sun. The previous year, following the lead of South Carolina, the other six states of the lower South -- Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas -- had seceded from the federal union and established a new government in Montgomery, Alabama, where Jefferson Davis was sworn in as provisional president. After the fall of Fort Sumpter, with war now inevitable, the four states of the upper tier (Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee) cast their lot with their cotton states sisters, and the capital was moved to Richmond. The occasion this day was the re-inauguration of Davis as president of the now permanent Confederate States of America, and the crowd's attention was focused on the capitol building where the former United States Secretary of War and recent U. S. senator from Mississippi was taking the oath of office. Just prior to this event however, right after Davis began his ceremonial trek from his residence to the place of honor, the band struck up a piece by now familiar to all. And just as in the case when it was first played in New Orleans, the crowd went wild. But that isn't all of it. As in an epic Civil War movie, the scene shifted often in the early days, taking “Dixie” with it.


Just as Dixie's author and origins were of northern birth, so it followed that its first use at a major political event also took place in the same. In its earliest days, the song was more of a hit north of the Mason-Dixon line than below. Abraham Lincoln was, by all historical accounts, enthralled by the tune and its lyrics, and it was played at his own inauguration which preceeded that of Davis's by three months.

But, backtracking to the South, the initiation of Dixie, at that ripe moment as part of Jefferson Davis's placement as the chief executive of a new Southern nation was later taken by many with much justification as tantamount to its having been the official national anthem of the Confederate States of America. Yet, as is often the case, a colorful legend trumps the truth. In fact, the Confederacy never had a national anthem, per se, by virtue of any official act of its congress. Like the well-known Confederate Battle Flag today, Dixie was never adopted by the CSA government. In fact, many historians claim that if any song had fit that bill, it would have been a relatively unknown hymn titled God Save the South.* Written by George H. Miles (under the pseudonym Earnest Halpin) and set to the tune of England's God Save the Queen, the opening lyrics went:

God save the South, God save the South,
Her altars and firesides, God save the South!
Now that the war is nigh, now that we arm to die,
Chanting our battle cry, "Freedom or death!"
Chanting our battle cry, "Freedom or death!"

Be that as it may, the question is largely academic. Dixie was, in addition to being its most popular tune, the unofficial anthem of the Confederacy. And its evolution into removing the prefix speaks stirring volumes as to how song and story and truth and emotion can blend into something that no dry fact will ever change. Some things grow. Endure. And should.

And so as war loomed in the summer of 1861, bands on both sides were busy with Dixie. The yankee boys jocularly sang this one:

Away down South where grows the cotton
Seventy-six seems quite forgotten,
Far away, far away, far away, Dixieland

Another often sung by the men in blue belted out a much more vengeful chord with:

Away down south in the land of traitors,
Rattlesnakes and alligators,
Right away, come away, right away, come away.
Where cotton's king and men are chattels,
Union boys will win the battles,
Right away, come away, right away, come away


Then we'll all go down to Dixie, away, away,
Each Dixie boy must understand,
That he must mind his Uncle Sam,
Away, away, and we'll all go down to Dixie.
Away, away, and we'll all go down to Dixie.

Meanwhile, Confederate bands kept lively pace. Johnny Reb was not to be outdone and strengthened his hold on a song becoming ever more his own. All over the South variations and even parodies of the orginal lyrics were springing up (some 39 versions are known to have been issued between 1861-1865). A few of these attempted to write more dignified lyrics to the melody although most of them bombed in popularity since, as one observer put it, "the music negated the seriousness of the words." One of the rare exceptions, however, became very successful.

Arkansas born Albert Pike, appointed commisioner to the Indian Territory (the present day state of Oklahoma, where most of the members of the "Five Civilized Tribes" allied with the South), and briadier general in the army (and later leading a brigade of Confederate Cherokee braves), wrote a "war anthem" of sorts. Published in the Nashville Courier in April of 1861, under the title Everybody's Dixie, this song included the following lines:

Southrons, hear your country call you,
Up, lest worse than death befall you,
To arms, to arms, to arms, in Dixie!
Lo, all the beacon fires are lighted,
Let all hearts be now united,
To arms, to arms, to arms, in Dixie!


Advance the flag of Dixie!
Hurrah! Hurrah!
For Dixie's land we take our stand,
to live or die for Dixie!
To arms! To arms!
And conquer peace for Dixie!
To arms! To arms!
And conquer peace for Dixie!

As pertains to this particular version, some composers from Texas (where residents were always a bit independent minded), came up with a personalized rendition which featured the following:

Shall this boasting, mad invader,
Trample Texas and degrade her?
To arms, to arms, to arms, in Texas!
By our fathers' proud example,
Southern soil they shall not trample,
To arms, to arms, to arms, in Texas!

Oh fly to arms in Texas,
To arms! To arms!
From Texas land we'll rout the band
That comes to conquer Texas,
To arms, to arms, and rout the foe from Texas.

Another Lone Star theme asserted that:

From Houston City to Brazos bottom,
From selling goods to making cotton,
Look away, Look away, Look away, Dixieland!

We're going to Old Virginia,
Hooray! Hooray!
To join the fight for Southern rights,
We'll win or die for Davis!

While still another, sung by Ward's Texas Legion, introduced a humorous element:

One night while we were getting dry,
A little ol' whiskey was the cry,
Away, away, away down South in Texas!
The boys hit up they had a plan,
To rob the commissary man,
(Away . . . repeat)
O' when we get the whiskey, away, away,
We'll drink old rum and think were home,
Away down South in Texas! **

As the War progressed, the yankees were ever more being put in the position of having to concede that Dixie had been captured by their opponents in gray. Of course, not everyone was pleased with this development and least of all its original composer, Daniel Decatur Emmett of Ohio. After having been actually banned in some northern towns, Emmett, a man of unabashed Union sympathies, once angrily remarked, "If I had known to what use they [the South] were going to put my song, I will be dammed if I would have ever written it."

Yet, the song, albeit with considerably different lyrics, remained popular to some extent with the federal army. Especially the tune. In one of the most affecting incidents of a conflict sometimes referred to as “The Brothers War,” a well-documented exchange took place along the banks of the Rappahannock River. Late in the struggle, on one gentle summer evening after the campfires had roared to life, across the divide from which the two American armies faced one another, a Union regimental band began to play. Many of the Southern boys took up seats along the banks of the river to listen in on a concert featuring the favorites of their foes, such as the Battle Hymn of the Republic and Battle Cry of Freedom. When it ended, a Rebel soldier shouted, "Now play some of ours!.” The request was honored and the Confederates were serenaded with selections that included The Yellow Rose of Texas, The Bonnie Blue Flag and Dixie. As a finale, the band went into Home, Sweet Home, and the final sound that silky, starry night on the Rappahannock river, undoubtably sprinkled with a few tears, was that of applause from both armies.

By now, the South was down to fighting on courage alone. In awe and admiration, a federal officer wrote in his diary: "It is beyond all wonder how such men as the rebel troops can fight on as they do; that worn, sick, hungry and miserable, they should prove such heroes in a fight is past all explanation."

Atlanta fell, then Nashville, and Richmond . . . and it is said that in early April of 1865, United States President Abraham Lincoln, long a fan of Dixie, was aboard the paddle-wheel steam-ship “River Queen,” in the company of a foriegn observer, when a Union band began to play for their enjoyment. Turning to his guest, Lincoln asked him if he had ever heard "the Rebel song." When the answer was negative, the U.S. president gave quick orders to some startled federal musicians. As the story goes, according to a servant of Mrs. Lincoln who was present: "The band at once struck up 'Dixie,’ that sweet, inspiring air; and when the music died away there was clapping of hands and other applause."

One by one across the South, the tattered and starving remnants of the Confederate armies, hopelessly outnumbered, outgunned, and, confronted with no honorable alternative, surrrendered.

When the conflict was finally over, at a victory parade in Washington City (now D.C), Lincoln, in what some claim was a gesture of reconcillation and respect toward a Southern people who had fought so long, hard and gallantly, requested that the band play Dixie, remarking that, "I always thought that tune was one of the best I ever heard."

And almost one hundred years later, that moment would become immortalized in a hit song by country singer Johnny Horton.

When 'honest Abe' heard the news about your fall,
The folks thought he'd call a great vic'try ball,
But he asked the band to play the song“Dixie”
For you, Johnny Reb, and for all that you believed.

'Cause you fought all the way, Johnny Reb, Johnny Reb.
Yes, you fought all the way, Johnny Reb.


Randy notes:
*Like Dixie, there is little, if any, evidence to support the claim that God Save the South was ever adopted by the Confederate Congress as the official national anthem. In the case of the latter, a major reason for the assertion of those who maintain otherwise is that in addition to being the first song published in the new Southern nation, it contained, as one musical historian put it, dignified poetic lyrics and a "martial spirit" more suited for what was expected of one. It should also be noted that the song (originally published in Baltimore, yet later in Augusta, Georgia, then followed by firms in six other Southern cities), was put out with a cover sheet depicting a kneeling Rebel officer invoking Divine Grace, holding the “Stainless Banner” (the second national flag of the Confederacy) with the title inscribed on its white field, and all under the heading "Our National Confederate Anthem."

** Contrary to how it might appear, my native Texan status is not the reason for giving such emphasis to Lone Star variations on Dixie! (Wellll, not entirely at any rate.) In fact, all the Southern states are said to have had some home-stamped versions, but in honest research, it is those from Texas that popped up time and time again. Perhaps it is because Texas and Dixie are both two-syllabled, and it was thus that the personalized words could be more easily composed and sung in tempo with the original music.

Or click ahead to DIXIE - Part III


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