Paul Greenberg
I would be late, I would be late, for a very important date. Here it was already 2012 and the war, The War, had started in 1861.

Tonight a traveling troupe of musicians from Nashville, Tenn. -- banjo, fiddles and all -- were in town to present a program of Civil War songs at the Old State House here in Little Rock. Time was ticking away, but it was impossible to hurry or fret. Something in the old columns and proportions, in the sheltering shadows, in the age and elegance of the old state Capitol and now museum slows visitors down. All that history. We want to linger on the old camp grounds.

The ante-bellum design (Greek Revival, circa 1836) would soothe even more if the Victorians of another century had not "improved" it. The classical symmetry of an old riverside state Capitol, whether you were arriving by steamboat or carriage, would have been preserved.

Still, it charms. Without being showy. Like any well-bred lady. It just waits there to be admired.

Inside, the band was swinging into "Dixie," and, old Unionist or not, I rose. Everyone used to stand when "Dixie" was played and I was young. That was before it became just a fight song or, worse, a political statement. Now not playing it has become a political statement. I'm not sure which is worse. Americans ought to be able to share "Dixie," respect it, enjoy it, without having to ponder its political correctness or lack thereof in any given era. But this much remains incontrovertible: It still stirs the blood.

The day after Appomattox, the victorious commander-in-chief was greeted by a crowd of celebrants and a military band. "I propose closing up this interview by the band performing a particular tune ..." announced Mr. Lincoln. "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. I presented the question to the Attorney General, and he gave it as his legal opinion that it is our lawful prize. I now request the band to favor me with its performance."

And it did. To cheers and stamping feet. The united states were united again, the United States of America one. Kind of. It was restored but not the same. Never would be, never could be, after The War. It had become one nation indivisible. Singular, not plural. Now it took a different verb: Now no one said the United States are but is. The old South was gone, the new one unformed. It would take another century and another revolution, happily peaceable for the most part, for Emancipation to approach completion.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.