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Civil War. Dixie:How a Ten Dollar Bill Became a Song

How a Ten Dollar Bill Became a Song

From: "Old time songs and poems,"written by Edith LaFrancis

"Oh I wish I was in the land of cotton,
Simmon seed, and sandy bottom.
Look away! Look away!
Look away, Dixie Land!"

Daniel Decatur Emmett, a performer in Bryant's Minstrels, in New York City, laid down his pencil--but not for long. Mister Bryant had, on this particular Saturday night, assigned him the task of writing words and music for a new song to be used on their show for the very next week. Daniel kept at it that week-end in 1859 and on Monday came to a rehearsal with the required song completed.

As he sang it, the other singers began singing, and the banjos began a-strumming. Thus the song "Dixie" started along its journey to national popularity.

It was what was called a "walk around" song in the minstrels.

Some time later, at an entertainment in New Orleans, when performers were looking frantically for a marching song for their chorus, they pounced on the new tune of "Dixie" . Still further was this song destined to go, for in 1861 General Pike wrote the stirring words which made "Dixie" the battle song of the South.

"Dixie"--The Southland. Why was it ever called that?

Thirty years before its appearance in song, the word "Dixie" was in common use in New Orleans, among bankers, tradesmen, gamblers, workmen, in fact everyone who used money.

In 1830 paper money was being issued, but there was no stable system for establishing value. Every state, county and bank issued its own notes, and often these were worthless in the next town beyond the place where they were issued.

However, there was in New Orleans one bank which gained such a reputation for honesty and reliability that its notes were accepted anywhere in the country. In all of the towns along the Mississippi and its tributaries, in New York and Philadelphia, were known and honored the ten dollar bills of the Banque de Citoyens de la Louisiane in New Orleans.

This was a French speaking country, and the Creoles printed the money with English on one side and on the other the very large letters D I X. Dix is the French word for ten.

Up the river on the steamboats came these ten dollar bills, for all of the boatmen did their banking at the Banque des Citoyens in New Orleans.

Boatmen wanted their pay in "Dixies,"as they called them, using an English pronunciation for a French word. They would say: "A Dixie is bon-bon as those French fellows say down south!"

The business man would say: "I bought the cotton down in Dixie country," or: "I'll buy a race horse down in Dixie."
As time went on, the use of this term spread until it included the whole territory of the South, and the term stuck when the firing on Fort Sumpter signaled the beginning of the war between the states.

Thus, the walk-around song dreamed up by Daniel Emmett for the New York minstrel traveled North, South, and West. It served as a battle song, and after the war the original words and tune were sung again until they reached the farthest mountain cabin where the old banjo hung on the kitchen wall.

"Dar's buckwheat cakes an' Injun batter,
Makes you fat, or a little fatter,
Look away! Look away! Look away, Dixie Land!

Den I wish I was in Dixie, Hooray! Hooray!
In Dixie Land I'll take my stand,

I'll live and die in Dixie;
Away! Away! Away down South in Dixie!"

General Albert Pike wrote these words to the original tune, which was used as the battle cry of the South.

Southerns, hear your country call you!
Up! lest worse than death befall you:
To Arms! To Arms! To Arms in Dixie!

Lo, all beacon fires are lighted,
Let all our hearts be now united
To arms! To arms! To arms in Dixie!
Advance the flag of Dixie!

Hurrah! Hurrah!
For Dixie's land we'll take our stand,
To live and die for Dixie
To arms! To Arms!

And conquer peace for Dixie!
To arms! To arms!
And conquer peace for Dixie!

Hear the Northern thunders mutter!
Northern flags in south winds flutter!
To Arms! To Arms! To arms in Dixie!
Send them back your fierce defiance!

Stamp upon the cursed alliance!
To arms! To arms in Dixie!
Fear no danger, shun no labor!
Lift up rifle,pike and sabre!

To arms! To arms in Dixie!

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4 Responses »

  1. Janet,
    Very interesting. I had never heard this story, although I and countless others are very familiar with the song. So many of our songs, phrases, etc. have their roots in obscurity. Thanks to you and your dad for this lesson in history. Eunice Boeve

  2. Janet and Erwin,
    This is such a valuable series, bringing our history back to us. The Civil War was of such serious import with far reaching ramifications into today's history making. I had a muddled remembrance of the Dixie story, only so far as a minstrel show was involved. You've given it considerable light and charm in re-telling the story.
    Thanks, Arletta

  3. Indeed, during the nation’s darkest hour, Abraham Lincoln was able to ride above the storms of his life and lead as President. While he was never able to achieve complete emancipation from his psychological problems like the freedom that was won for the Negro slaves, Abraham Lincoln heroically faced the obstacles and hardships to become America’s most revered president.


  1. Dr. Goodword’s Language Blog » Blog Archive » Last Word on the Origin of ‘Dixie’

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