He was sorry he wrote "Dixie"

Listen to variations of DIXIE:

Emmett’s original lyrics (recorded 1916)

sung by Tennessee Ernie Ford:

Confederate version of Dixie

Union version of Dixie

Daniel Decatur Emmett (1815-1904) wrote the song Dixie while he was a member of Bryant’s Minstrels, a troupe of white musicians performing in blackface, a popular performance style (by whites) in minstrel shows in the 1850’s. They performed Dixie for the first time at Mechanics’ Hall in New York City on April 4, 1859.

Dixie tells the story of a freed black slave pining for the plantation of his birth, the lyrics written in an exaggerated version of African American vernacular, intended for comic effect. “If I had known to what use they [Southerners] were going to put the song,” Emmett later said, “I will be damned if I’d ever written it.” After the South began using the song as its anthem, Emmett and George G. Bruce wrote the fife and drum manual for the Union Army (1862). Abraham Lincoln liked the song, and had it played at the announcement of Lee’s surrender in 1865.

Emmett had joined the U.S. Army in 1828, at age 13 (lying about his age), and became an expert fifer and drummer at Jefferson Barracks in Missouri. After discharge from the Army in 1835, he toured with circus bands and learned the technique of Negro impersonation, playing the banjo and singing in blackface. Between 1843 and 1869, Emmett wrote more than fifty songs. In the 1943 Paramount musical biopic titled Dixie, Emmett was portrayed by Bing Crosby.

Emmett was 82 years old in 1897 in Mount Vernon, Ohio, “a little old man with a cane,” when my grandfather, Harry Swayne Lybarger, was introduced to him by his father, Edwin L. Lybarger, a Civil War veteran. Harry was 8 years old and attending the Grand Encampment of the GAR the year Edwin was the Grand Commander of Ohio.

Additional sources: Dan Emmett and the Rise of Negro Minstrelsy, by Hans Nathan (Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1962).

Did he fight at Lookout Mountain or dine with the colonel?

The Lybarger family legend about my great-grandfather’s experience at Missionary Ridge in 1863 makes an exciting story — but what really happened is even better.

In the 1990s, my aunt wrote a “Biographical Sketch of Hon. Edwin Lewis Lybarger,” recounting his service in the Forty-third Ohio Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War, and his many accomplishments after the war. Presumably from the stories her father told her about her grandfather, she wrote:

Lybarger participated in the battle of Missionary Ridge in the Chattanooga campaign. He notes in his diary that those in his company knew the battle of Lookout Mountain (the “Battle Above the Clouds”) on November 24, 1863, was in progress across the valley. They could hear it and see the smoke, but the clouds were so thick they could not tell whether the Union troops were succeeding or failing. The next day, under General Grant’s command, they stormed the heights and took Missionary Ridge on November 25, 1863.”

A decade later, in a box of Civil War papers and memorabilia unopened for years, I discovered the first clue that this account might not be true: a 4″x6″ thin, single sheet of paper with a handwritten invitation from Col. Wager Swayne, commander of the 43rd OVI.

Headquarters 43rd O.V.I., Nov. 25th 1863

Lieutenant, Will you do me the favor to dine with me tomorrow at 2 P.M.

Very respectfully, Your obedient servant

Wager Swayne, Co. 43rdOhio

I knew that my great-grandfather revered Col. Swayne, since he named his only son Harry Swayne Lybarger, and they corresponded for years. But why would he keep a dinner invitation for the rest of his life?

The letter was written from “Hdqts, 43rd OVI,” on Nov. 25, for a dinner to be served on Nov. 26, a Thursday. The fourth Thursday of November.

I remember shivering with the thrill of discovery — that this date was the first official Thanksgiving Day. The colonel was gathering the regiment’s officers to comply with President Lincoln’s Proclamation of Thanksgiving, issued Oct. 3, 1863. I felt like I was almost touching a paper that Lincoln had touched.

But if the 43rd OVI was calmly in headquarters in Prospect, Tennessee planning a Thanksgiving dinner, it couldn’t have been in battle the next day, 300 miles away in Chattanooga.

Entries in Edwin Lybarger’s daily journal for 1863 confirmed my conclusion:

Nov. 17: In camp at Prospect, Tenn. Heavy details at work repairing rail road bridge.

Nov. 18: Nothing of importance going. Have plenty to eat and nothing much to do but write letters and study logic.

Nov. 25: Two years in the service today. Received in invitation to dine with Col. Swayne tomorrow. Accepted.

Nov. 26: “Thanksgiving day.” Dined with Col. Swayne together with all the officers of the 43d. & Col. Fuller our brigad[e] commander. Had a splendid dinner, served up in good style, to which I think I did ample justice.

I don’t know if my aunt heard the Missionary Ridge story from my grandfather, or read it in another account of the war. In any case, Edwin Lybarger participated in numerous Civil War battles, but not the one on Lookout Mountain.

In a biography for his children, my grandfather Harry Swayne Lybarger wrote:

“My father never said much about his war experience, but he kept a diary in four little books, which are in the safe and should never be destroyed. They are very matter of fact and he didn’t seem to yield to any literary flaire. He did not hate the South but he felt pretty keenly the injustice of the war that the south began, and never visited it again.”

Late in life, my aunt remembered the diaries, but not where they were, perhaps loaned to someone and never returned. By accident, cleaning out her closet, I found four small black books lying in the bottom of a cardboard box. Eureka. I also found my aunt’s start at transcription, unfinished. Grumbling that my great-grandfather’s a’s and o’s all looked like u’s, and that the crossing of a T never matched the upright, I nevertheless managed to transcribe all four diaries. I think I must have been the only member of the family to actually read every entry. And I loved the discovery that when he published “Leaves from my Diary,” containing his account of the March to the Sea and war’s end, he edited out any disparaging remark he made about the conduct and discipline of fellow soldiers.

Advice from an Old Soldier

Four veterans of Company K, 43rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry

Photograph taken @ 1900. From left: EDWIN L. LYBARGER (enlisted 11/25/61 at age 21), JAMES DIAL (enlisted 11/4/61 at age 26), FRANCIS LOGSDON (enlisted 11/1/61, age 20), LEO BLUBAUGH (enlisted 12/12/61 at age 18). These Ohio veterans enlisted together at Camp Andrews (near Mount Vernon, Ohio) in late 1861, in a Knox County company being raised by William Walker, who served as captain until spring 1862. Company K joined the 43rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry and left Ohio in Feb. 1862. With 3 other Ohio regiments, they formed the “Ohio Brigade,” commanded by Col. John Fuller. They served for the duration of the war, mustering out together on July 13, 1865.

 ~ ~ ~ ~

The following letter was published in the New York Times the month the war began in 1861, written by a veteran soldier who remained anonymous. 

April 24, 1861

To the Editor of the New York Times:

Allow an old soldier who has seen service to offer a few practical suggestions to our men who are marching South.

Avoid drinking water as much as possible while marching. When you feel dry rinse your mouth with water, but do not swallow it. Water alone should not be drank, but mixed with vinegar; or a little cold coffee is the only wholesome beverage in a campaign.

While marching or on sentry never sit down for a second-bear up! The change of posture will affect your powers more than the actual marching.

Have plenty of buttons, needle and thread, rags of linen and some strong twine in your knapsack — you will all want it.

White linen gaiters over brogans are the best, boots offering too much reflection to the sun’s rays. The gaiters are made white and shiny again by applying a mixture of common chalk and water with a rag or sponge, and let the gaiter get dry under the air or sun.

If you have a long march in warm weather before you, cut off the body of your pantaloons to the middle of the thigh and sew the legs to your drawers, fastening the suspenders to the drawers, it will relieve you greatly. Drawers are essential.

Keep a vial of sweet oil and every night rub your gun with a rag dipped in oil. In the morning, or when starting, rub a cream, it is the best way to preserve it from rust and keep it in working order. When not using it put a piece of cork or something else in the mouth of your gun to keep out the dust, rain, &c.

When marching, put some of the weight you have to carry on your breast — for instance, part of the cartridges, so as to relieve and counterpoise the weight to be carried.

Have some lard in a small tin box to grease your boots or shoes with, to keep them smooth and sort, particularly in wet weather or passing through a swampy country.

When on the march never let a weak comrade get behind the company — assist him in carrying on load. When once left behind he is at questionable mercies of the rear guard, and may perish before the ambulance comes up.

Finally, avoid spirituous liquors as you would poison.

Do you make good coffee?

In August of 1863, Union Army Sgt. Edwin Lybarger was on provost guard in Memphis Tennessee with his regiment, the 43rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He advertised in the newspaper for a correspondent of the Fair Sex for “agreeable, interesting and useful correspondence.” His diary gives some indication that he did it on a dare with his friend, Co. K Captain John Rhodes.

Edwin received a reply from a young lady signing herself “Fannie Jerome.” After they had exchanged several letters, “Fannie” revealed her real name to be Lou Riggen. He confessed his real name, and they continued to correspond for the duration of the war. She seems to have resisted his appeals to send him her “likeness” (photograph).

In 1864, he wrote to Lou to learn more details about her accomplishments, abilities, and sensibilities:

Do you like music? Play on the piano? Can you bake bread?

Can you bake mince pies? Make good coffee?

Keep house? Can you eat your share of a dinner?

Do you like History, Poetry, or Novels best?

What church to you belong to?

On Sept. 29, 1864, Lou Riggen answered his letter:

Keep house? I once kept house for six months to the edification of the whole family except Lou Riggen. My! what an endless task of intricate labor. Brooms, carpets, beds, cobwebs, dinners, suppers, breakfasts, with all their attendant auxiliaries of good butter, sweet milk, done bread & not burnt either. ‘To be or not to be’ good was always the dread question until dinner stood in all its dread array on the table. Sometimes it was and sometimes it wasn’t.

Edwin and Lou corresponded for the rest of the war. Their plan to meet on his way home in the summer of 1865 was not accomplished. He continued to correspond with Lou after returning to Ohio and, apparently reluctant to end their correspondence, finally told her had married another girl. Her response, her last letter, eloquently expresses her dismay that he had ignored her request to return her letters to her.

The letters written to Union officer Edwin Lybarger from 1862-1866

by Lou Riggen and other women,

are published, with historical social commentary, in


Letters to a Union Soldier (Swallow Press, 2009).

650 Buried Here

CAMP LAWTON, near Millen, Georgia, a Confederate prison camp for Union soldiers

October – November, 1864

When Sherman’s 17th Army Corps arrived at Camp Lawton in early December 1864, eager to liberate Union prisoners, they discovered the camp abandoned. In a long trench, they found a plank with the inscription “650 Buried Here.” Sherman’s order to burn the railroad station and government buildings in Millen was reportedly in retaliation at this news.

From the diary of Lt. Edwin L. Lybarger, 43rd OVVI, Mower’s Brigade, 17th Army Corps, Army of the Tennessee:

Dec. 1, 1864: On the march; the 1st and 4th divisions of the 17th A.C. [Army Corps] tearing up railroad; camped on Jones’ plantation, said to be one of the finest in the state.

Dec. 2: On the march; camped at Millen, Ga., where we had a slight skirmish. The railroad and all government property destroyed.

Dec. 3: Marched to a station numbered 7. Encamped for the night. Forage plenty, soil sandy, affording abundance of sweet potatoes; we didn’t take any, no, not any.

From The Colonel’s Diary, by Col. Oscar Jackson, 63rd OVVI:

Dec. 1, 1864: Move east at the usual hour. We are tearing up the Georgia Central Railroad. Our division today destroyed from the 95th to the 91st mile post from Savannah and went into camp on Judge Cook’s plantation, seven miles from the camp of last night.

Dec. 2:  My company on forage duty today. Getting to the head of the column before it reached the town of Millen, Georgia, I asked permission to enter in advance of the troops to see what I could find, which condition was granted by the General in command on condition that I would keep my company well together and be cautious as I was told that the enemy had been there a few hours previous and it was not yet known that they were gone…While I was occupying the town, the enemy ran a train down near town and raised a little excitement for us…Millen is one of the noted pens the rebels have been keeping our prisoners in. The stockade is north of the town where, it is said, they did have twenty thousand. They have been removed to Savannah, the last train load only being got off this forenoon before I got into town. The railroad from Augusta intersects the Georgia Central here and there are find depot buildings, but the town, I should think never had over two thousand inhabitants, and it was completely sacked after our troops occupied it.

Dec. 3: Our corps is burning the depot, destroying the railroad, etc. General Sherman is around watching how it is done. He is a very plain, unassuming man and today is in undress uniform but has that big shirt collar on as usual. His order to General Blair this morning was to make the destruction “tenfold more devilish” that he had ever dreamed of, as this is one of the places they have been starving our prisoners. Reach camp this evening near station number 7, Scarborough, some eight miles from Millen.

from Sherman’s March by Burke Davis, Vintage Books (1988):     

“[Division cavalry commander Hugh J.] Kilpatrick turned to his assignment to rescue Federal prisoners in the filthy pens at the crossroads settlement of Millen–where many survivors of the now abandoned Andersonville prison had been taken. The cavalry was too late As his riders on the banks of the Ogeechee, Kilpatrick saw the last of the prisoners being herded into boxcars by Confederates on the opposite side of the stream…

Chaplain Bradley climbed to one of the guard posts and looked down on the huts and holes where prisoners had lived: ‘It made my heart ache . . . such miserable hovels, hardly fit for swine to live in.’     He saw the shed where prisoners had been punished with stocks for seven men, ‘and they appeared to be well worn.’ Bradley heard men cursing Davis and the rebels as they left the place…

Captain Storrs of the 20th Connecticut, who drank some of the ‘very bad-tasting water’ from the stream, thought the rebels had chosen the swampy site to hasten the deaths of prisoners from malaria: ‘I am afraid if the soldiers generally could visit this pen there would be no quarter given beyond here.’

John Potter of the 101st Illinois wandered over the ground in a vain search for souvenirs: ‘It was the barest spot I ever saw. The trees and stumps and roots to the smallest fiber had been dug out for fuel, not a rag or a button or even a chip could be found.’

Alex Downing, almost sickened by the sight of the pen, was one who helped to destroy it: ‘We burned everything here a match would ignite.’ Not long afterward, some of Slocum’s men burned most of the village of Millen, including the hotel, depot and other buildings. They also burned a plantation house on the outskirts, and shot a pack of bloodhounds they found there.”

The colloquial power of Gen. Sherman

In his diary of March 5, 1865, my great-grandfather Lt. Edwin L. Lybarger, 43rd OVI, recorded an evening in the company of Gen. Sherman:

“Headquarters 43rd at a Mr. Woodwards in Cheraw, who had a letter from Gen. Hardee recommending the family to the clemency of Gen. Sherman. Sherman called in the evening and we had the pleasure of hearing the colloquial power of Gen. Sherman. He conversed for half an hour in an easy manner with Mr. Woodward and his Mother-in-law, but showing in every thing he said, his implacable hatred of the rebel cause.”

He said among other things that he did not want the South to come back in the Union, for we could drive them out and people the country with a better race. That all the men, women and children in Charleston ought to have been killed and the city destroyed when they fired on Sumpter and [we] would have had no war and that he should pursue his vocation with perseverance while the war lasted. When asked where he expected to go next, he replied, “I have about 60,000 men out there and I intend to go pretty much where I please.”

The 17th Corps crossed the great Peedee and camped on the East bank.”

Stealing men’s hearts

In 1909, my great-grandfather Edwin Lybarger and his wife Nancy (Moore) traveled from Warsaw to Newark, Ohio for the GAR Encampment of Civil War veterans. They stayed with Uriah Brillhart and his wife Ida (Severn). The Brillhart family had lived in Spring Mountain, and Uriah would have been a young boy when Edwin returned in 1865 at the end of the war.

Among his papers, Edwin kept this old newspaper clipping:

“Capt. E. L. Lybarger at last is the possessor of a pretty little maltese kitten. For several years the Captain has been the lover of beautiful cats but could not keep them in his possession. He has bought them, had them given to him by the dozens but something happened to each of them, they either died or strayed away to some other place.

Capt. Lybarger was attending the G.A.R. encampment at Newark, Ohio this week and one day he was visiting at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Uriah Brillhart. The Brillharts owned a little maltese kitten which as soon as was seen by the captain captivated his heart. The Captain told Mr. Brillhart of his luck with cats and said that if he had any way of taking the kitten home with him that he would steal it. The conversation was then turned to other topics and the subject was dropped.

When the Capt. And Mrs. Lybarger were getting aboard their train for home Friday, Mr. Brillhart handed the general a small box saying that it was a souvenir of the encampment. After the train pulled out the box was opened and there snuggled up within the box was the baby cat. The captain carried the kitten home with him and it is now drinking milk and eating strawberry short cake.”

~ ~ ~ ~ 

Abraham Lincoln loved cats and could play with them for hours. When asked if her husband had a hobby, Mary Todd Lincoln replied, “cats.”

President Lincoln visited General Grant at City Point,Virginia in March of 1865. The Civil War was drawing to a close and the enormous task of reuniting the country lay ahead, yet the President made time to care for three orphaned kittens. Abraham Lincoln noticed three stray kittens in the telegraph hut. Picking them up and placing them in his lap, he asked about their mother. When the President learned that the kittens’ mother was dead, he made sure the kittens would be fed and a good home found for them.

The Union Army licensed the "public women" of Smokey Row

From The Story the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell: Sex in the Civil War, by Thomas P. Lowry, MD. (Stackpole Books, 1994):

In Nashville, Tennessee, “public women” practiced prostitution in Smokey Row, an area two blocks wide and four blocks long. For three-quarters of a mile on either side of Spring (now Church) Street, every shack or building along Front, Market, College, and Cherry (now First, Second, Third, and Fourth) Streets was a house of ill fame. In the census of 1860, 207 women listed their occupation as “prostitute.” Eighty-seven were illiterate, 198 were white and 9 mulatto. The youngest was 15, the oldest 59; mean age was 23.

On March 12, 1862, Andrew Johnson arrived as military governor of Tennessee. With the presence of 30,000 Union soldiers in the vicinity, venereal disease soon spread. Several doctors advertised dispensaries for treating “private diseases.”

Union Lt. Col. George Spalding, 18th Michigan, was provost marshal to keep order in Nashville. In 1863, he proposed:

1. That a license be issued to each prostitute, a record of which shall be kept at this office, together with the number and street of her residence.

2. That one skillful surgeon be appointed as a Board of Examination, whose duty it shall be to examine personally, every week, each licensed prostitute, giving certificates of soundness to those who are healthy and ordering into hospital those who are in the slightest degree diseased.

3. That a building suitable for a hospital for the invalids be taken for that purpose, and that a weekly tax of 50 cents be levied on each prostitute for the purposes of defraying the expenses of said hospital.

4. That all public women found plying their vocation without license and certificate be at once arrested and incarcerated in the workhouse for a period of not less than 30 days.

Prostitute Licence for Anna Johnson, dated Nov. 24, 1863, in Nashville, Tennessee, signed by Provost Marshal Lt. Col. George Spalding. (National Archives)

As of April 30, 1864, 352 women were licensed, and 92 infected women had been treated in the new facility created for this problem. By early summer, licensing was extended to “colored prostitutes.”

The examinations were required every 14 days, later shortened to every 10 days. Those who passed were issued a certificate. Those who failed were sent to Hospital No. 11 (“the Female Venereal Hospital,” or “Pest House”), in the former residence of the Catholic bishop on Market Street, just north of Locust Street. The doctor assigned to the hospital was Surgeon R. Fletcher, US Volunteers. The matron, nurse, and cook are colored women. The provost marshal furnished guards, under orders to admit no one, under any pretext. The guards also enforced the rule prohibiting profane language; offenders were given solitary confinement. When women were cured they were “returned to duty.”

In a letter dated Aug. 15, 1864, Dr. Fletcher wrote:

“After the attempt to reduce disease by the forcible expulsion of the prostitutes had, as it always has, utterly failed, the more philosophic plan of recognizing and controlling an ineradicable evil has met with undoubted success.”

The Union Army also ran Hospital No. 15, with 140 beds for soldiers with venereal diseases, in a 3-story brick building near Summer Street, that had been a school before the war. In the 1860’s, antibiotics weren’t available. The remedy for syphilis in 1865 was salts of mercury, leading to the saying, “A night with Venus, a lifetime with Mercury.”

Nashville remains America’s first experiment with legalized, regulated prostitution.