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{Written as Chaplain of the SCV Buffalo Guards Chapter #1975, in August 2004}

Over the last decade, I have had the honour of acquaintance with Steve Teeft, Civil War historian and founder and Commander of the Buffalo Guards Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Typical of the average person in our society, I was in need of re-education regarding the War Between the States, as my early formal schooling glossed over such history (and did me similar disservice in many other subjects as well) with the conscious or unconscious agenda of the politically correct.

Most importantly, I learned that to be a Southerner, even at that time, did not require one to be prejudiced against our darker-skinned brethren, nor even to agree with the institutions by which inequality was a practice of everyday commerce. If I thought for a moment there was a racist bone in Steve’s body, regardless that he has been both a descendant and re-enactor of a Southern soldier, I would have gladly offered to break it for him. I have had no such occasion.

But I have found something far more disturbing than easily definable racism. In contrast to a bumper sticker that can be found on Steve’s car declaring “Heritage Not Hate”, I have found that there are others who define their proud heritage by a perpetuated dislike for the North or South, as if in over seven generations the world has not changed. Those of us raised in what was once simply “The North” can plead forgivable ignorance in that the so-called victors, as can be expected, wrote our textbooks. But for some it seems should know better, the war is not over, and never will be.

The terms “Yankee” and “Rebel”, instead of being used in jest or for historical authenticity, are sometimes spoken as venom of bitter, never-ending prejudice. Have we forgotten that many of us are descendants from soldiers of both camps, just as many parents so long ago watched and prayed as their own sons parted ways to aim their guns across the field at each other? It is not insulting to us that perhaps we have learned nothing by the lessons our ancestors paid the price for, and many dearly so with their own lives? Must we fight that battle again with condemning words and ill will?

Perhaps the gravest crime for such wholesale judgment is not misleading ourselves to believe we are Yankees or Rebels in this day and age, but that by doing so we deny ourselves (and others) our common heritage as Americans. It is as if we cannot rightly speak of things in which we have no pedigree of involvement. Do the daughters of the Mayflower have their votes counted twice, while a newly naturalized citizen’s vote is counted for naught?

We fought a war against ourselves, and in blue or gray we shared church pews, dance halls, marketplaces, blood ties, and in the end, cemeteries. Which brings me to a sad disclosure, namely that there was a criticism regarding a solemn, respectful service honoring the Confederate dead buried in Elmira, New York. The charge was that it was a “Yankee” service (and therefore nothing short of abomination) simply because one of the lead speakers was a member of the Sons of Union Veterans! Even if not for the countless Confederate flags, color guard of Confederate Re-enactors, singing of Confederate songs, and the like, the speaker in question, Ben Maryniak, spoke gracefully and truthfully about the sins of the North that took place at the once-nearby wartime prison. He is a researcher, author, re-enactor, and President of the Buffalo Civil War Round Table. Would the dead roll over in their graves if they knew, or feel a sweet release that only such an acknowledgment of wrong could fulfill? One would think that from the other side, they are more enlightened that living critics. Perhaps a family’s personal issues have become a dynasty filled with the wasted energies of resentment. But it matters not the critic’s motivations or reputation for random insinuations and claims I know are false – such misplaced aggression is something they will have to work out with their counselors in this life, or answer for to others in the next.

The problem which we all face is that the actions and words of such people gives a black eye to those of us who have truly learned something from out common ancestry, and is the real reason Confederate historians, descendants, and even hobbyists are eyed with moral suspicion. Is our heritage, especially today, nothing more than an opposition to that of another? I may not be well traveled in what was once known simply as “The South” but I suspect such a view is left to the narrow-minded and uneducated, if not a bit dysfunctional.

But it is never too late to separate the sheep from the goats. Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph [of evil] is for good men to do nothing.” Frivolous accusations need not be dignified with a response, but we must actively assert to the public that the majority of us do not share the desire to keep open the wounds of our great-great-grandfathers, many of which suffered injustice without succumbing to hatred of their fellow man. Our war today is not with one another, but against those who would deprive us of the lessons of the past, namely that the compulsions of politics are merely an excuse for separating ourselves from breaking bread with one another, exchanging grapeshot instead of greetings.

We can be shameful and embarrassed on such a critic’s behalf. We can be humble and apologetic, for none of us can cast the first stone in the name of our ancestors or ourselves. But we cannot among ourselves give a voice to those who would put the evils of hate and prejudice above the dignity of honor and self-sacrifice for what each side believed was just. The challenge is clear. Stand fast with your flag, whichever flag you carry, and to only the good things for which they once stood.