This painting, Play Dixie, that hangs in a gallery at the Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library captures one of the moments that made Lincoln who he was. There are a couple of different versions of this story, the one below comes from the Daily National Intelligencer a Washington paper at the time.
On April 9th, 1865 General Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to General Grant. This effectively ended the Civil War. The next day thousands of people flooded into the streets of Washington DC. They celebrated the victory by marching and singing through the streets. Eventually, the crowd was able to catch the attention of the President who after some cajoling came forward to address the crowd.
A Fair Won Prize
Below is the brief address that Lincoln gave to the crowd.
‘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 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 played the song and then rounded it out with a flourish of Yankee Doodle. When the music ended, Lincoln led the crowd in a round of cheers for General Grant and his soldiers. Then the valiant Navy.
A week later Lincoln was assassinated. Was it his favorite song or was it just a great piece of propaganda? Which one of the dozen versions of the story is true? Honestly, it doesn’t really matter. All that does matter is that Lincoln and the Union Army brought Dixie home in the end.