Thomas Campbell Sexton was told he would face certain death if he refused to allow a doctor to amputate his leg after a Minie ball tore through it during the Battle of Chancellorsville in 1863.
But as the story goes, Sexton being a stubborn man, told the doctor he would rather die than live without his leg. And live he did, almost to the age of 100 before he died of a heart attack in Dodge County in 1943.
Sexton was a private in Company D, 4th Virginia Infantry, in the army of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War. The brigade is probably one of the most famous Confederate brigades because it was commanded by Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, said Jim Arbaugh.
Arbaugh, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, recently established the Thomas C. Sexton Camp 2232 in Fremont. The Sons of Confederate Veterans, like their counterparts the Sons of Union Veterans, honor their Civil War ancestors by preserving their history and heritage.
On Sunday in Ridge Cemetery, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Sons of Union Veterans and Civil War re-enactors gathered around the gravesite of Private Thomas C. Sexton to pay tribute to his military service and honor the life he led after the war ended.
After the war, Sexton got a medical degree from the Baltimore Medical College, said Maj. Charles Folsom of Fremont, Sexton’s great-grandson.
With the south devastated by the war and offering little opportunity, Folsom said his great-grand father decided to move north, and came to Fontanelle in Dodge County. Settled by an Ohio contingent in 1855, Fontanelle was a strong Union settlement and its inhabitants did not trust Sexton immediately.
Folsom said he isn’t sure exactly what happened but he believes Sexton saved someone’s life and the residents of Fontanelle began to trust him. He eventually married Emma Peters, who had been in Fontanelle since the age of 4, and practiced medicine in the Nickerson-Fontanelle area.
Folsom said Sexton retired at the “ripe old age of 44” and built a house in 1888 at 10th Street and Nye Avenue in Fremont, which is still standing today.
About a mile west of Sexton’s home, Sunday’s ceremony in Ridge Cemetery was the first of its kind in the State of Nebraska, said Arbaugh, because the Thomas C. Sexton Camp 2232 is the only camp in the state recognized by the national organization of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Prior to its establishment, any ceremony honoring a confederate veteran was conducted by either the Grand Army of the Republic or Sons of Union Veterans, said Gale Red, Adjutant of the Lt. George E. Dixon Camp 1962 in Belleville, Ill.
Red helped guide Arbaugh in establishing the Thomas C. Sexton Camp, and helped officiate Sunday’s ceremony.
Red said the Sons of Confederate Veterans are the heirs of the United Confederate Veterans, and must be able to directly trace their lineage back to a Confederate veteran in order to be a member.
The United Confederate Veterans and the Grand Army of the Republic were made up of actual Union and Confederate veterans. The “Sons” organizations are their descendants.
Because there had never been a United Confederate Veterans or Sons of Confederate Veterans camp in Nebraska prior to the Sexton Camp, Red said “this ceremony is probably, as far as I know, the first ever by the Sons of Confederate Veterans in Nebraska.”
Red, in preparing for the ceremony, said he was able to identify 358 Confederate veterans who are buried in Nebraska. But he suspects that number would double with further research. In Dodge County, Red has identified 13 Confederate veteran gravesites – eight of those are in Ridge Cemetery.
For those like Red and Arbaugh, Sunday’s ceremony isn’t so much about which side the veteran fought on, but that they fought and should be recognized for their role in shaping American history.
“We’re honoring his service not only to the Confederate cause, but also as a productive citizen of this country,” Arbaugh said. “This isn’t about North and South, this isn’t about politics. This is about preserving the memory of the men and what they did.
“It’s not that they deserve to be remembered,” he added. “It’s that they earned the right to be remembered.”