Sunday, April 22, 2012

"Virgil Caine is the name and I served on the Danville train
 'Til Stoneman's cavalry came and tore up the tracks again"

No doubt you heard these lyrics in recent days' stories about Levon Helm's death. That opening line is probably the source of most exposure that my hometown, Danville, Virginia, ever gets even if most pay it no particular mind.

I picked up on the significance immediately. My hometown prided itself on its fleeting role of the Last Capitol of the Confederacy after the Confederate government evacuated Richmond a week before Lee's surrender.  Danville is where the Danville train led.  Jefferson Davis could maintain some hope that Lee would somehow work another miracle.   Then it ended.

Levon Helm delivered those opening words directly and starkly. His voice commands your attention as he begins his story.

Because his story includes a bit of my own geography, I pay close attention.


Danville is also noted for the Wreck of the Old 97. The old roadbed for those tracks ran along a ravine just behind houses across the street where my family lived. As kids we used to follow the abandoned grade from the end of our street to a nearby ball field.  A historical marker on nearby Route 58 marks the site but the high embankment and textile mill I saw there as a kid did not look like the pictures I saw.  Years later, it dawned on me that the wide path we followed was the old grade leading to that ill-fated trestle.

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