The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (3:32)

Cover of Best Of The Band

From Best Of The Band and 55 other releases

“The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” is a song written by Canadian musician Robbie Robertson, first recorded by The Band in 1969 and released on their self-titled second album.

The lyrics tell of the last days of the American Civil War and its aftermath. Confederate soldier Virgil Caine “served on the Danville train,” the main supply line into the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia is holding the line at the Siege of Petersburg. As part of the offensive campaign, Union Army General George Stoneman’s forces “tore up the track again”. The siege lasted from June 1864 to April 1865, when both Petersburg and Richmond fell, and Lee’s troops were starving at the end (“We were hungry / Just barely alive”). Virgil relates and mourns the loss of his brother: “He was just eighteen, proud and brave / But a Yankee laid him in his grave.”

Ralph J. Gleason (in the review in Rolling Stone (US edition only) of October 1969) explains why this song has such an impact on listeners: “Nothing I have read … has brought home the overwhelming human sense of history that this song does. The only thing I can relate it to at all is ‘The Red Badge of Courage’. It’s a remarkable song, the rhythmic structure, the voice of Levon and the bass line with the drum accents and then the heavy close harmony of Levon, Richard and Rick in the theme, make it seem impossible that this isn’t some traditional material handed down from father to son straight from that winter of 1865 to today. It has that ring of truth and the whole aura of authenticity.”

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Virgil Caine is my name and I drove 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
On May the 10th heard that to Richmond had fell

MetroLyrics Full lyrics at MetroLyrics

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  • kgkeller

    the ignorance is palpable from some comments.............great song(2)

    30 Jun 2:02pm Reply
  • JJMPB

    YEA

    27 May 7:47pm Reply
  • JJMPB

    you tell'em Levon

    17 Mar 1:32pm Reply
  • lammasabacthani

    the ignorance is palpable.............great song

    3 Mar 9:48pm Reply
  • thmurray3

    There was nothing romantic about the ante-bellum South. Except for the poor black folk, the next largest population were poor white folk (sharecroppers). It was only romantic for the few at the top. Anyway, it still is nice music.

    25 Feb 10:34am Reply
  • hotcoco693

    Love this song!

    8 Feb 4:50pm Reply
  • atom217

    I love the pro-rebel POV of this song. Nothing else can make me sympathize with the confederacy, and despite the fact that the confederacy were in favor of slavery, this song helps paint them as normal people rather than solely racist bastards. It's a beautiful sentiment, if you ask me.

    29 Jan 1:14am Reply
  • MackSpane

    Oh, hey Druid66, as I said, I love the song, but there's ZERO question the song is about the burning of Atlanta by Sherman. Who uses it for what, I don't know, and don't even know if it's relevant. It's just the verses which scream pro-rebel civil war ("honey come quickly, there goes Robert E. Lee"??? Can it be more obvious?) which baffle me. Either way, it's still a great song.

    17 Dec 2013 Reply
  • Druid66

    I belileve it was Ronnie Hawkins who started this group; he was from Arkansas, if I recall. Didn't anti-war protestors during the Vietnam War love this song? It's too sad to be a "Southern pride" type of thing, if you ask me.

    29 Nov 2013 Reply
  • MackSpane

    Before I say the rest, I want everyone to know I totally love this song, and Robbie Robertson is one of the all time greats. That said, I find it ironic, even bizarre, a Canadian-American group would sing about the American Civil war, on the Pro-Rebellion, Pro-Slavery side.

    7 Nov 2013 Reply
  • petross85

    THE band :)

    11 Oct 2013 Reply
  • freetofu

    Damn yankees. Long live the Confederate States of Canada. Or something.

    15 Sep 2013 Reply
  • Cameron_Snr

    A gem!

    5 Jun 2013 Reply
  • TheDarkSide73

    I met Levon and the rest of the guys..My step dad was their sound engineer back in the 70s..

    28 Jan 2013 Reply
  • MackSpane

    R.I.P. Levon.... My sister and I saw "The Last Waltz" together in the theatre like 3 times.... what an amazing group... The Band.

    26 Jan 2013 Reply
  • fancykatya

    Love The Band~

    15 Jan 2013 Reply
  • petross85

    Fantastic

    11 Oct 2012 Reply
  • DennisGregory

    we miss you, Levon.

    10 Oct 2012 Reply
  • fatcat215

    The best band song Goodnight Levon

    7 Oct 2012 Reply
  • oldiesfanjohn

    *** THANK YOU LEVON ***

    21 Sep 2012 Reply
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