Colonel Nathaniel G. Dick is a fictional soldier of the Union Army during the Civil War. He appears twice in The Unvanquished, and both times he serves as Faulkner’s example that good men, or gentlemen, could be found on both sides of the war. With the main focus of his work taking place in the South and the people there, Faulkner is successful in getting readers to sympathize with his Southern characters, and portrays the Union Army as the cruel and violent “enemy.” In many ways they were; they completely destroyed the South, not just through fighting the Confederate Army but also by burning down houses, destroying crops, and killing innocent people. The Union Army as a whole is the enemy to many of Faulkner’s characters, but his inclusion of creating a Union Army soldier who shows sympathy and wisdom towards the South is important because it complicates our view of who the “enemy” really was.
Colonel Dick first appears in the Ambuscade section of The Unvanquished, when Bayard and Ringo shoot a Union Army horse, but think they shot a soldier instead. They are chased by Union soldiers into their house where they hide underneath Granny’s skirts. As the soldiers search the house for the boys under the order of one sergeant Harrison, the colonel enters the house and immediately readers see a difference between himself and the other Union soldiers, “Maybe that was why we never heard the other man when he came in at all, it was Louvinia that saw that too—a colonel, with a bright short beard and hard bright gray eyes, who looked at Granny sitting in the chair with her hand at her breast and took off his hat” (30). Harrison and his soldiers had entered the house and began searching it without waiting for Granny’s permission, and they were looking for Bayard and Ringo knowing they were young boys but still intending to punish them when found. Colonel Dick immediately questions Harrison’s actions by asking “By whose authority?” as to searching the house. Faulkner’s description of him through what Bayard and Ringo can hear is short but effective: “He didn’t sound mat at all. He just sounded cold and short and pleasant” (30). He makes light of what Bayard and Ringo did, pointing out that they did not kill a soldier but instead, a horse. And when Harrison says “But these rebels are like rats when it comes to hiding. She says that there aint even any children here” (31), he looks at Granny and her skirt for a long time, letting readers know he knows where Bayard and Ringo really are. He knows Granny is lying about there not being children in the house, and he could have easily revealed them to a probable fate of death. Instead, he backs up Granny’s claim that there does not seem to be any children in the house, and orders Harrison and the others to leave. When Harrison protests, readers see again the difference in behavior between Colonel Dick and his fellow soldiers towards Southern people, “Didn’t you just hear this lady say there are no children here? Where are your ears, sergeant? Or do you really want the artillery to overtake us, with a creek bottom not five miles away to be got over?” (31). Harrison seems to be a general representation of the Union Army’s attitude towards the South, referring to the people as rebels and rats. But Colonel Dick refers to Granny as a lady, and is very respectful towards her. Despite the war the colonel still sees the people of the south as people, just like him, while the other soldiers seem to view them as less.
Once the other soldiers leave, he remains with Granny and makes it clear he knows she is lying, ‘“But what am I doing? trying your patience by keeping you in that uncomfortable chair while I waste my time delivering a homily suitable only for a lady with grandchildren—or one grandchild and a negro companion”’ (33). Here is an example of a soldier showing compassion and understanding to someone technically considered his enemy, and yet he views them as people: he sees a worried grandmother hiding two young children who would be killed for shooting a horse if found. He values family before the war and whatever may be considered winning, and Faulkner reminds readers that Colonel Dick himself is not just a soldier, but a family man who understands what it means to protect one’s family at whatever the cost, “‘I have three boys myself, you see. And I have not even had time to become a grandparent”’ (33). This is an important quote for Faulkner to have the colonel say, as it not only makes him seem less like an enemy, but gives him something in common with the Sartoris’: that family can be more important than war and whatever side they may be on.
The second scene where readers come across Colonel Dick is in the Raid section, when Granny, Bayard, and Ringo go to the Union military encampment to find him for help in getting back their belongings. Their wagon had been forced into the river by the crowd of freed slaves trying to follow the Union soldiers across the river. It is at this time in the novel that Faulkner begins to portray Granny in a different light; going from a strong, energetic woman to an old, frail lady. The ordeal of getting the wagon ashore to the Union side had made her pass out, and she seems weak and ill from it too. When they find Colonel Dick he again shows not only sympathy for Granny but also anger at the war for what it was doing to her and other people not even fighting: “They carried her into the tent and put her in a chair. She hadn’t moved, she was sitting there with her eyes closed and a strand of wet hair sticking to her face when Colonel Dick came in. I had never seen him before, only his voice while Ringo and I were squatting under Granny’s skirt and holding out breath, but I knew him at once with his bright beard and his hard bright eyes stooping over Granny and saying, “Damn this war. Damn it. Damn it”’ (108-109).
He personally sees to it that Granny’s possessions are returned, despite them being the wrong possessions. He gets the letter from the Commanding General himself that notifies all Union soldiers not to take anything from them as they head back home. The letter actually seems to have been based on a similar letter that was real, according to Charles Aiken and his book, William Faulkner and the Southern Landscape, “Even General Grant issued an order in November 1862 similar to one by fictional Colonel Dick’s commanding general” (110). The letter issued by Grant states that women who had helped put out a fire at Henderson’s Station in Tennessee will be protected, their property would not be confiscated or vandalized, and that rations will be given to them if necessity required it. Having grown up in the South during post civil war era, it is interesting that Faulkner includes a character not from the South, who acted with curtesy, grace, and care towards Granny.
Despite being a minor character who only appears twice in the novel, both times Colonel Dick prevents the Sartoris family from disaster. What if he had not been as understanding as he was when the house was being searched for Bayard and Ringo? They might have been killed, and Granny too for lying and hiding them. What if they had not found him in the military encampment where they went in search of him to get their possessions back? They would not have gotten the letter that would inspire Granny and Ringo to start their illicit trade in mules. For the most part the South did not treat the Union soldiers who fought there well, and in return the Union Army did not react favorably to said people and their property. Colonel Nathaniel Dick is an exception to this, he is able to look past the fact that he is on a different side from the Sartoris family in the war, and the war does not stop him from helping them, showing them compassion, and respecting them as fellow beings. Despite being from the North, Faulkner makes him out to be a true gentleman, complicating how we the readers should view him and the Union Army with the Sartoris family and the rest of the South in mind. Faulkner uses Nathaniel Dick as if to say that regardless of what side one was on, one could still be human during the war, without getting caught up in the thinking that everyone on the other side was bad. Not everyone from the North was cruel and violent, and neither was everyone in the South. There were exceptions to this rule, and Colonel Nathaniel Dick was one of them. He maintained his humanity throughout the war, a feat I think Faulkner does not want us to overlook.



The Unvanquished

Aiken, Charles Shelton. William Faulkner and the Southern Landscape. Vol. 11. Athens: U of Georgia, 2009. Print.