D.W. Griffith Presents "The Birth of a Nation" Page: 16 of 20
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sole survivor, gaining the crest of the Federal works and falling wounded into the arms of
Capt. Phil Stoneman, U. S. A., his erstwhile bosom friend. Prisoner in a Washington
hospital, Ben Cameron slowly recovers from his wound. Like an angel of mercy Elsie
Stoneman, Phil's sister, appears in the role of a volunteer nurse. Poor Ben falls desperately
in love with her whose picture he had carried about for years. She and Ben's
mother visit Lincoln, "the Great Heart," who clears the "little Colonel" of an odious
charge and hands Mrs. Cameron the boy's papers of release.
It seemed to Austin Stoneman, leader of Congress and Elsie's parent, that Lincoln
was pursuing too mild a policy with the prostrate South. "I shall treat them as if they
had never been away" was Lincoln's gentle answer to Stoneman's demand that the
leaders be hanged and measures of reprisal adopted. What was there in Stoneman's life
that made him so bitter to the Southern whites? Stoneman purposed to establish the
complete political and social equality of the negroes. He was grooming a half-breed
protege, one Silas Lynch, to go South as the "leader of his people."
The War ends in 1865 with the encirclement of the Southern army and the surrender
of Robert E. Lee to U. S. Grant in the historic house at Appomattox Courthouse.
There follows a terrible tragedy-the assassination of President Lincoln by Wilkes Booth
in the crowded scene of a festival performance at Ford's Theatre on April 14, 1865. The
South feels-and feels truly-that it has lost its best friend.
A few years later comes the real aftermath. Austin Stoneman, now supreme through
the Congressional power of over-riding President Johnson's veto, goes south to supervise
his "equality" programme. Elsie accompanies him, and so does Phil. They arrive in
Piedmont and take a house next door to the Camerons. Elsie accepts the gallant little
Confederate colonel, Ben Cameron, but the shadows of war-time hang too heavily over
Margaret Cameron to permit her to make up at once with Phil. Meanwhile the reign
of the carpet-baggers begins. The "Union League," so-called, wins the ensuing State
election. Silas Lynch, the mulatto, is chosen Lieutenant-Governor. A legislature, with
carpet-bag and negro members in overwhelming majority, loots the State. Lawlessness
runs riot. Whites are elbowed off the streets, overawed at the polls, and often despoiled
of their possessions. Ben Cameron then leads the white men of the country in organizing
the "invisible empire" of the Ku Klux Klan. Devoted women of the South make
the white, ghost-like costumes behind locked doors. Austin Stoneman boils with rage
over this newest development. Lynch's spies bring evidence that the garments are being
made by the Camerons and that Ben Cameron is night-riding. Stoneman bids Elsie
to disavow her "traitorous" lover, and she, astonished and wounded that Ben is engaged
is such work, gives him back his troth.
Little Flora Cameron, the joy and pride of the Cameron household, was sought
after by the renegade family servant Gus, who had become a militiaman and joined
Lynch's crew. Often had Flora been warned by her brother and parents never to go
alone to the spring in the woods hard by the cliff called Lover's Leap. Little heeding the
admonition, she took her pail one day and started off. Gus the renegade followed.
Frightened by his approach, the little girl broke into a run. Gus ran too. Colonel
Cameron, learning that she had gone alone, hastened forth and was the third person in
the chase. Desperately the little girl zigzagged this way and that, dodging the burly
pursuer, then, almost cornered, she climbed to the jutting edge of Lover's Leap whence,
as Gus approached nearer, she leaped to her death. Brother Ben discovered the poor
dying girl a few minutes later. Gus escaped, but he was afterwards captured, tried and
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Griffith, D.W. D.W. Griffith Presents "The Birth of a Nation", book, April 1, 1924; New York. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth21924/m1/16/: accessed July 24, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Boyce Ditto Public Library.