“On the battlefield. War claims its bitter, useless sacrifice. True to their promise, the chums meet again.”
One of the most moving sequences of The Birth of a Nation follows this intertitle and illustrates the power of Griffith’s mastery over melodramatic film structure, as well as his skill at making an epic subject intimate and personal. The final sentence laments the needless tragedy of lives cut short by war. Duke Cameron is wounded in battle and falls. A bloodthirsty Union soldier sprints over to him, preparing to deliver the fatal spike from his bayonet. But then Tod Stoneman recognizes Duke, and a great change washes over his face. We see his love for his friend and the humanity of their relationship. At that same moment, Tod is struck by a bullet. He collapses, and the two friends die in each other’s arms.