It’s the morning after, and I am sitting here watching the sky get light outside, and reflecting on the events of yesterday. I was standing next to Helaina as she was interviewed by numerous reporters, literally from around the world:
"Helania Hinson, 42, said she drove all night from her hometown of Benson, N.C., for the counter- demonstration. Dressed in a Confederate-style gray wool outfit and black cap, she said she wanted to show that the Confederacy was not about white power.
"These people claim they represent Southern heritage. They do not, and we want people to know that,’ Hinson said. She said her great-great-grandfather was an American Indian who fought with the Confederacy."
I was so proud to be standing there next to my fiancee as she talked about the diversity of the Confederate Army. She was dressed in an authenic uniform of a private in the 28th Virginia. She explained the symbols on her belt buckle, and the state slogan ("Sic Semper Tyrannis") on her brass buttons. She also spoke of more then four hundred well documented women who donned similar uniforms and fought and died in the Civil War.
I was not wearing my uniform jacket, so the reporters might not have recognized that I was also dressed as a Confederate soldier. I was more than happy to stand and listen to Helaina as she made an intelligent and articulate presentation of why Confederate re-enactors are so appalled by the twisted and sick message of hatred being delivered by the leaders of the KKK and American Nazi party across the road, next to the Mumma Farm.
Helaina did mention that I am a descendant of not only Confederate and Union soldiers, but also of a woman who eluded slave catchers and their hounds in the swamps of South Carolina. One of the international reporters who interviewed her was from Zurich. (I rather hoped he would ask my name, just to see his reaction when he recognized it as one of the most common from his own home town). But I was content to simply stand and listen to Helaina, except for a brief moment when another reporter mentioned reading Jimmy Carter’s: "The Hornet’s Nest". I could not restrain myself from mentioning that my slave ancestor was living less than five miles from the site of the Battle on the Alamance, so well told about by President Carter. Her son was a young man at the time of the Battle, and later served in a Pennsylvania militia unit at the Battle of Brandywine, and the Paoli Massacre, under George Washington. He is buried in Central Illinois and his grandchildren knew Abe Lincoln when he was a young man.
When the KKK and Nazi speakers began their hate-filled message, we turned our backs to them and stood there silently. Behind us we could hear the counter-demonstrators with their own vulgar taunts. At several points the entire proceeding became nothing but an angry shouting match between the speakers from the Klan and the demonstrators. The very large contingent of African-American, Vietnamese, and Mexican police, sheriff’s, state-troopers, and park police kept the two groups apart as the military style helicopter circled over-head.
We were standing in the cornfield, and when we turned away I was looking in the direction of the Dunker Church. I thought about the message of peace taught by those German Brethren. Soon my eyes were filled with tears and I was sobbing. Instead of a new field of corn, what I was seeing was that day 143 years ago when I could have walked across that entire cornfield without ever touching the ground; Simply step body to body of the dead and dying soldiers. By mid-morning, much of that very field was covered by blue and gray corpses piled three or four deep.
What happened between 1861 and 1865 is not a distant history lesson. We are still living the conflict now in the twenty-first century. That is why Helaina and I put on our Confederate uniforms and re-enact the battles. Both of us hate war, but those who do not learn history are condemned to relive it.
Arleigh Birchler, MDiv, BSN