“Virgil Caine is the name and I served on the Danville train
‘Till Soneman’s cavalry came and tore up the tracks again”
“The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” by Robbie Robertson of “The Band” refers to Union General George Stoneman whose cavalry entered Statesville in April 1865 in what is now known as Stoneman’s Raid. Chris Hartley, author of the new book, “Stoneman’s Raid, 1865” spoke at the Iredell County Public Library on May 5th. Hartley says, “The main character in the Band’s song, a man named Virgil Caine, blames Dixie’s problems on Stoneman’s cavalry. The reference to Stoneman’s Raid dropped out of later versions of the song as performed by artists such as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, but the mere fact that the original version of the song referred to the raid is intriguing. In my book, I attempt to answer the question, Did Stoneman’s Raid truly “Drive Old Dixie Down”?
Speaking to an audience of local history enthusiasts Thursday night, Hartley said that Stoneman’s Raid did indeed “Drive Old Dixie Down” in that the raid destroyed valuable supplies, records, buildings, and rails that were much needed by the civilian population during the South’s reconstruction. The raid further demoralized an already beaten South.
“Militarily, although the raid was well-executed, it did little to affect the ultimate outcome of the Civil War. It was a raid of insurance in many ways. If events had played out differently, Stoneman’s Raid would have been much more significant, but with Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox and Joseph E. Johnston’s surrender at Bennett Place, the raid had little impact militarily.”
In the South, Stoneman’s Raid remains somewhat controversial with those that point out that Stoneman’s orders were to avoid Confederate forces and to focus on destroying the civilian population’s ability to support the Confederacy. Harley disagrees, “Stoneman’s Raid was indeed sent to Northwestern North Carolina and Southwestern Virginia on a mission of destruction. However, in contrast to the operations of other Federal commanders such as Sherman and Sheridan, Stoneman’s raiders generally focused their wrath on military targets. Certainly there were exceptions to that – and civilians still suffered nonetheless – but Stoneman’s Raiders targeted civilians to a much lesser degree than you find in other campaigns of the time.” He also points out that Stoneman’s troops learned about Lee’s surrender on April 9th at Appomattox while in Statesville.
One hundred and forty six years ago enemy troops were riding horses up and down Broad Street. Hartley says, “The Raiders arrived in Statesville on Good Friday, April 14, 1865 – the same day Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. It was an eventful visit. Although some citizens had frightening encounters with the raiders, the Federals were more interested in carrying out their orders. The raiders destroyed the rails through town, the railroad depot, the offices of the local newspaper (which had been an ardent voice for the Confederacy), and a few other buildings. There was even a violent skirmish just outside of Statesville that left one Confederate soldier dead.” Stoneman himself entered Statesville in a buggy due to a severe case of hemorrhoids.
Hartley points out another popular entertainment and local connection to Stoneman’s Raid, “The Disney movie ‘Menace on the Mountain’ was loosely based on an event in the closing days of the Civil War when deserters from Stoneman’s Raid set up a base called Fort Hamby and robbed and pillaged throughout the Northwestern North Carolina countryside. The fort was located in Wilkes County.” “Menace on the Mountain” was released in 1970 and featured Pat Crowley, Albert Salmi, Mitch Vogel and an 8-year-old Jodie Foster. Fort Hamby was the location of a notorious gang of deserters who robbed local citizens until they were wiped out by a group of locals, some of whom were from Iredell County.
Joel Reese, Local History Librarian
Iredell County Public Library
This article appeared in the Statesville Record and Landmark as “Author will talk about new book on Stoneman’s Raid” on May 1, 2011