“Are you going to leave that there?”
“No, I’ll take it down, just like all the rest of the flags left here.”
“They’ll just put it back again.”
“I know, but the cemetery is only decorated a couple of times a year, I can keep up with that.”
I found the gravesite while researching a branch of my family. I make a trip out to the cemetery at least once a month to tidy up the plot, removing fallen limbs and pulling weeds. This trip I brought a friend, Philip.
“You can’t deny what he was.” Phil stood in the shadow of a spreading oak tree, hands in his pockets while I worked.
“And, just what was he?” I looked up at him, squinting at him backlit in the bright sunshine.
“He was a Confederate soldier.”
“No, he was a soldier in the Confederate Army,” I said, a dusty hand shielding my eyes. “There is a difference.”
“He was a corporal,” Phil said, kicking a rock toward the marker with the toe of his boot. “He had to have done something to merit that rank.”
“Yes, he survived,” I said, picking up the rock as it rolled against my knee. “Most of his regiment was killed in battle. It doesn’t take a lot to get promoted when you’re one of the only soldiers left.”
“Still, he volunteered.” Phil kicked another rock. “These dates would mean he was around 19. Old enough to know what he was doing.”
“Yeah, he lied about his age to get in,” I dodged another stone missile. Standing up, I threw the rock back at Phil. “From what I could find, he was closer to 14 when he enlisted.”
Phil walked along the row of markers, each one the final resting place for a Civil War soldier.
“He believed what he was told about why they were fighting. He had no idea. He didn’t go to school. He worked from the time he could hold a shovel. His parents were poor sharecroppers.” I was feeling defensive, and talking too loudly and too fast. “He probably picked cotton in the same fields as the slaves their landlord owned. The $11 a month he earned from the Army was a lot more than his father could make as a tenant farmer. So many soldiers died not knowing what they were really fighting for.”
“He was still a soldier for the south.” Phil called from the end of the row.
“I’m not defending the war, I’m defending the soldier. It was a terrible war, fought for terrible reasons.” I dusted my hands off on my jeans. “For generations, we can say the same for many past wars.”
Phil shook his head, but didn’t say anything.
“Look at the dates,” I said. “He was 73, or 78, when he died. Here, in Florida. He didn’t go back home. That says something to me about his feelings about the War.”
“Still nothing,” I said. “I can’t change my family history, but I can find out the why and how. I’m not glorifying what he did, I’m only trying to understand. We have to understand our history to learn from it, and learn so we don’t repeat it.”