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.
PART II. HOORAY, HOORAY -- The War Years
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:
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:
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."
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.
*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.
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