Time and again, in any war story ever recorded emerges some of the most interesting anecdotes that formed bits and pieces of the history we have. When I say interesting, it could be as specific to the anthem sung during the American Civil War. And when one is engaged in a war, any opportunity to lower the enemy’s morale, no matter how childish the means is, nothing gets missed. A great example would be Dixie—a minstrel song with a seemingly innocent name until it was allegedly used as a mockery to the Confederacy or the Southern states by the Union troops from the Northern parts of the US. 

Getting To Know Dixie 

The song “Dixie” was originally a “hooray song” or walk-around in Jerry Bryant’s minstrel show, for which Emmett, a native Ohioan of Virginian parents, performed and wrote music. Ohio was part of the Union. 

In an article by Michael C. Hardy in HistoryNet, it said:

“One Saturday night after a performance, Jerie Bryant asked Emmett to compose a new “walk around,” a type of raucous song that would inspire the audience to “whoop and holler,” Emmett recalled. According to the most widely accepted story of the song’s creation, the following morning Emmett looked outside, where it was raining as if “Heaven and earth would come together.” Looking at the gloomy landscape, he sighed and muttered, “I wish I were in Dixie.” Dixie had become a commonly used nickname—of vague origins—for the South, and that expression was often used by showmen traveling in the North during the dreary winter months. He then began humming the phrase, accompanying himself on his violin. The following day he took his new song to rehearsal, where his fellow performers were “so pleased with it that they had the second rehearsal after dinner, so we could get it just right for the night performance.”

The song’s origins are murky, and its lyrics border on nonsensical. While it may be surprising that it was a favorite of Abraham Lincoln’s at that time, ‘it’s also been abhorred by some, who view it as a lingering tribute to slavery.’ Dixie Land since then has been thought to refer to the Southern states during the civil war. However, no official record confirms that Emmett had coined the term to refer to the states as much as the region. The lyrics of the song itself are not about southern nationalism or slavery, but about a weaver who marries a woman and breaks her heart.

There is some evidence that Southern troops sang the song on the march because it has a quick pace that would help them keep step.  Its popularity is also suggested by the fact that a Union version of the song with new lyrics was adopted for its soldiers to sing as well.

Well, the meaning of Dixie is still a subject of debate as there are several theories on why of all the girl names that Emmett could’ve used, he chose this one instead. Read on and find out a few more. 

A Slang Term 

So, we’ve found out that Dixie could’ve been part of the top 100 in Billboard charts of the 21st-century world. One lingering theory cited from History tells us that it refers to a boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland drawn in 1767 by English surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon. The line was originally crafted to settle a border dispute between the two colonies, but it later became an informal demarcation point between the southern slave states and the free states to the north. Now, this sounds plausible. 

Dixie As Money 

Another theory emerged that Dixie—originating from a French word dix, which means ten, was rooted in Louisiana. In the years before the Civil War, the state’s Citizens’ Bank of New Orleans issued ten-dollar notes with “dix”—the French word for “ten”—written on one side. The widely circulated bills became known as “Dixies.” Some argue the term was later appropriated as a geographical nickname, first for New Orleans and Louisiana and then for the entire South. 

10 banknote with French text “DIX” (Wikimedia Commons)

Am I the only one thinking that Dixie was an inspiration in informally naming our dollars after people like Benjamin or Benny? 

Dixie proved that war is multifaceted. Enemies could use not only physical prowess but would surely not shy away from using psychological warfare (intended or not) to beat an opponent.

If you’re not familiar with the song, here it is:

When news of the surrender of General Robert E Lee arrived in Washington DC, its residents took to the streets in celebration and marched to the White House and cheered and demonstrated for President Lincoln to come out and say a few words. After a while, President Lincoln came to an open window and addressed the crowd. As reported by the Washington paper Daily National Intelligencer,

‘FELLOW CITIZENS: I am very greatly rejoiced to find that an occasion has occurred so pleasurable that the people cannot restrain themselves. [Cheers.] I suppose that arrangements are being made for some sort of a formal demonstration, this, or perhaps, to-morrow night. [Cries of `We can’t wait,’ `We want it now,’ &c.] If there should be such a demonstration, I, of course, will be called upon to respond, and I shall have nothing to say if you dribble it all out of me before. [Laughter and applause.] I see you have a band of music with you. [Voices, `We have two or three.’] I propose closing up this interview by the band performing a particular tune which I will name. Before this is done, however, I wish to mention one or two little circumstances connected with it. I have always thought `Dixie’ one of the best tunes I have ever heard. Our adversaries over the way attempted to appropriate it, but I insisted yesterday that we fairly captured it. [Applause.] I presented the question to the Attorney General, and he gave it as his legal opinion that it is our lawful prize. [Laughter and applause.] I now request the band to favor me with its performance.’

The band that had joined the crowd then played Dixie and followed it up with Yankee Doodle, marking perhaps not only the surrender of the Confederacy to the Union but also the popular song as well.