.Most weekends, if I get a few minutes, I drive south from town to my camp.
It’s eight acres of hillside swamp, something we’ve been working on for ten years, very humble and bare bones. But it’s fresh air and work and fun and maybe someday I’ll retire there, a hermit in a hut.
I like it there in part because I feel it reflects my heritage, the hilly, forested expanse of New York’s Southern Tier. The camp is in Allegany County, which my ancestors helped settle more than 200 years ago. There aren’t many people, your cell phone won’t work, and most conversation centers around deer hunting.
It’s where hillbillies live. At least that’s how I see it. And that’s how I love it. That culture and heritage, that topography and those values, define and inspire me. I love its history and its hills and I feel at home there.
Which is all to establish that I am not a tourist there, a weekend gawker looking for an Amish quilt. I am a son of that soil and a product of that culture, I am as hillbilly as the rest of them.
That is who I am.
Which is why the Confederate flags piss me off.
It used to be just one, at the south edge of town, by the fenced in barking dogs, greeting all who entered driving north. Then it was another, hanging on a porch, by the Trump banner. Then somebody put one up in a hamlet halfway down, four houses past the old Grand Army of the Republic hall.
The Confederate flag means different things to different people. Many black people say that to them it is a symbol of racism. Some Southern people will say it is a representation of their history and heritage. Some others see it as a sign of independence and rural rebellion.
To me, it is an enemy ensign, a banner carried into battle against the United States of America, in defiance of the Constitution. As an Army veteran, and the second-great grandson of a Union Civil War widow, I hate it.
To me, the Confederate flag and the Nazi flag and the ISIS flag are all the same, banners of evil that dared to raise themselves against the American flag and its defenders. Those flags were all waved by men hoping to kill American soldiers, and each one of those flags was torn down by American soldiers at great cost in blood and courage.
The Confederate flag is the battle standard of an enemy of our Republic, and flying it is an insult to the memory and sacrifice of the men who fought and defeated that enemy.
That truth struck me anew Saturday as I drove back into town, past the rebel rag on the pole, and thought about the cemetery across the street, and the men who might lie there, and what they would think of this insult flying above their graves.
So I went home and got a couple of my sons as helpers and went back to the cemetery and started counting.
The graves of Civil War soldiers.
This cemetery, a tangible indicator of who this town has been, would quite likely have at least some mortal remains of Union Army veterans. Men and boys who went to war who now lie in soil desecrated by the presence of an evil ensign that they, in one of America’s greatest undertakings, took down by force of arms and might of national character.
These men, whose commander in chief was Abraham Lincoln, now rest in sight of the flag embraced by the man who murdered Lincoln, the flag of the slave pen and the auctioneer’s block. The flag of Confederate officers who broke the oath they had sworn before God to uphold and defend and bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the United States.
Like I said, my sons and I set out to count the graves of Union veterans.
We found 91 of them.
Ninety-one in just one cemetery in one town, a town where the meeting room of the volunteer fire department is decorated with a certificate honoring the dozens of members who volunteered for the Union Army.
Ninety-one soldiers who, between them, fought in every major battle of the Civil War.
Ninety-one men who if they could rise up out of their graves would cross the street and do what they did all across the states of the rebellion, tear down and throw away the flag of the enemy of our nation.
It is a sacrilege that that flag flies in proximity to those graves. It disrespects them and dishonors our community and its heritage. It offends history, and fails to keep faith with the priorities and values of those men, their town and our country.
And I say that not out of political correctness, but as a hillbilly from the Southern Tier.
Our hills and farms sent more men per capita to the Civil War than any other region of the country. Our people loved freedom, loved the Constitution, and thought it was pure evil that one man would pretend he owned another. Men of poverty and privation left their families and futures to march south to put things right. And they did so in the uniform of the Army of the United States.
It is our duty to keep faith with them.
They trained their rifles and artillery pieces on that flag, we ought to at least make it the target of our scorn.
And ask our neighbor to do what is right and show some respect.
And take down that vanquished banner so close to sacred soil.