Dixie’s Victory


In 1971, in the first stages of a short-lived country-music phase, the folk singer Joan Baez helped popularize Robbie Robertson’s wistful composition “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” The song was recorded by many others, including Bob Dylan and the Band. Its title is revealing enough, but the final verse, uttered by the former Confederate, Virgil Caine, is more poignant still: “Like my father before me I will work the land/Like my brother above me who took a rebel stand/He was just 18, 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.” In truth the Virgil Caines of the world stopped working the land several decades ago. They moved to Nashville, Atlanta, Chicago and Los Angeles. They went to work in factories and offices. They took their culture, their music, and their religion with them, and they have changed America.