Thomas Dixon is less known for his time spent in the North Carolina Legislature, and far better known for his books “The Leopard Spots” and “The Clansman,” and also his silent movie “Birth of a Nation.” Below, Dixon appeals to his progressive fellow legislators to not forget those crippled patriots they had earlier called to defend the State.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
You Called These Men to the Colors
“Early in the [North Carolina legislative] session I met Walter Hines Page, reporting for his Daily Chronicle. He asked me to drop into his office and see him often. I did, and we formed a friendship which lasted through life.
The big occasion on which I decided to deliver my maiden speech was my report from the Finance Committee (Way and Means) of the bill to pension the poor disabled soldiers of the State who had fought in the Confederate army. The first measure to pension Confederate soldiers any man had dared to introduce into a Southern legislature. The discussion of the bill by the press during the hearings had stirred the State. When I spoke to a crowded House and packed galleries I was in dead earnest, never more so in life. I read the speech today, fifty years later, with a sense of satisfaction.
“I am aware, gentlemen of the House, that this bill, small as the pittance given by it to our crippled veterans, means in the long run at least a million dollars in taxes to be borne by our people. I am aware that a new spirit is abroad in the Old Commonwealth. Progress is the watchword of the hour. We have started an industrial expansion after twenty years of struggle against starvation. We must and will give the full force of our energy to this development.
But while we are on the road to prosperity, I must ask you to remember that back in the rear of your marching people, amid the dirt and dust and misery of the direst poverty there comes painfully struggling along, a band of your wounded comrades, forgotten in their distress.
I am talking now to the sovereign State of North Carolina in its representative body assembled. You called these men to the colors. They answered as citizens of the State, not as delegates of the Confederate Government. They fought as citizens of North Carolina. Their bodies are mangled today because you sent them to the front. I speak in the name of humanity whose cries have been neglected until they echo at God’s bar crying for justice against you and me. And if there be a God — which none of you doubt — you will hear these cries before you enter the prosperity toward which you now so eagerly look.
Remember, gentlemen, that these crippled soldiers marched under the same blue flag of your State whose silken folds now flash above your council chambers. On a hundred fields of blood they bared their breasts until a bullet came that sent them to a surgeon’s tent. Some of you who hear me in this House limp across its floor on one leg. You remember the scene. The blockade had closed our drug stores. There was no chloroform or ether.
In trembling, piteous tones you heard them begging the young surgeon for God’s sake to spare their limbs. Heard until sick at heart you closed your ears with hands pressed tightly against them. The knife severs the flesh while the victim screams, the arteries are tied, the saw grates through the bone, it’s over, and a wretch is carried out, hope and spirit broken, the light of the world gone out. [These men] in the morning of life, in the glory of [their] youth, stood shoulder to shoulder with your heroic dead who charged over our historic fields and made records of your army immortal.
On May 10th, we cover the graves of our dead with flowers. A pious beautiful ceremony. Let it never be forgotten. Should we forget their mangled comrades who in bitterness of soul have cursed God and envied the lot of those who sleep in peace beneath your tears and flowers?
(Southern Horizons, Autobiography of Thomas Dixon, IWV Publishing, 1984, pp. 177-179)