The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down and the Camp Chase Cemetery
Compiled by Dennis Ranney of the SCV and Joanie Jackson of the UDC
Former Union General George Stoneman served as the Governor of California from 1883 to 1887. While former Confederate Colonel John Marshall Stone occupied the Governor’s Mansion in Mississippi from 1876 to 1882 and again from 1890 to 1896. Making his servitude as Governor longer than anyone else.
Major General George Stoneman was perhaps best known for his failed attempt to free the Andersonville POW’s in 1864. Stoneman had been the highest ranking Union general captured during the war and General William T. Sherman wanted him back, so a special exchange was contrived and swiftly carried out.
Fast forwarding to the waning days of the war, Union General Stoneman and his cavalry made raids into southwest Virginia and parts of North Carolina in hopes of eliminating any further pockets of Confederate resistance. Paramount on Stoneman’s list of objectives was the capture of Salisbury, North Carolina, where thousands of Union prisoners had been held. Unbeknownst to the General, the Confederates had removed the Union POW’s in February 1865, before Stoneman’s arrival. The Confederate forces put up a brief fight at Salisbury, but were overwhelmed by the sheer number of Union troops. Three days after Appomattox, on April 12, 1865, General Stoneman captured many supply stores, some Confederate soldiers, and some of the Confederates who had been convalescing at the Rowan Way-Side hospital in Salisbury.
From the Salisbury raids led by Gen. Stoneman came the last great influx of Confederate prisoners who arrived at Camp Chase, Columbus, Ohio on May 4, 1865. Among the POWs brought to Columbus was Colonel John M. Stone of the 2nd Mississippi Infantry and future Mississippi governor.
Stoneman’s raids were not forgotten. Music fans of the 60’s remember the 1969 song “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” written by Robbie Robertson and performed by The Band’s southern drummer, Levon Helm. The song was a first-person account of a Civil War narrative of the final days of the War. The lyrics of the song included:
Virgil Kane is the name
And I served on the Danville train
Till Stoneman’s cavalry came
And tore up the tracks again
In the early-70’s, Joan Baez did a more famous version of the song (becoming a Gold Record in October 1971), but changed the lyrics to:
Virgil Caine is my name
And I drove on the Danville train
Till so much cavalry came
And tore up the tracks again
In the winter of 65, we were hungry, just barely alive
I took the train to Richmond that fell
It was a time I remember, oh so well
When asked by Kurt Loder of the Rolling Stones why she had changed the lyrics, Baez stated she had never seen the printed version of the original lyrics and had misunderstood the words. She would later sing the song as it was originally written by Robbie Robertson.
Of the prisoners captured at Salisbury, North Carolina by General Stoneman on April 12, 1865 and later shipped to Columbus, 27 would die at Camp Chase and be memorialized with military issued tombstones at the Camp Chase Cemetery. The youngest Confederate was Augustus R. Bolton of Alabama, dying on June 5, 1865 of pulmonary tuberculosis at Camp Chase at the age of 15 and buried in grave number 2029 and during the war he had been a guard at the Salisbury Prison.
Sometimes a song can serve as a prompt for a past event or fond remembrance, the Robbie Robertson song of Stoneman’s Salisbury raid and those from Dixie who were driven down, died, and buried at Camp Chase is a reminder of unimaginably difficult times in our nation’s history and of men who fought and died for their beliefs.