A painting titled: “EVEN TO HELL ITSELF” THE BATTLE OF NORTH ANNA May 24, 1864 Lieutenant Colonel Charles L. Chandler rallying the 57th Massachusetts Infantry at Ox Ford on the North Anna River, just north of Richmond, Va.
I was in Moorhead, Minnesota at Concordia College to hear my son play piano in the All-State Jazz Band. But it was the All-State Symphonic Band that hit me hard. They played a piece called “The Frozen Cathedral” by John Mackey. It was a work commissioned by a man who wanted to memorialize his dead son. His son loved the high country of Alaska near Denali National Park. It was a stirring piece. You could imagine being surrounded in pillars of ice and stone. It was sad and somehow rose to an ending filled with both misery and incredible joy.
I looked at the crowd of young high school faces that played this beautiful music while Nazis and white supremacists marched openly in the streets of my country. The contrast was stark.
You know the science fiction movies where aliens come to earth? The aliens try to understand our ways. They’re confused by all the good and evil at the same time. I always thought that paradox was melodramatic. Until this concert.
White supremacists marched in the streets of Charlottesville and chanted “blood and soil.” This is a slogan of a racist ideology espoused by Nazis. I listen to people waving the Confederate battle flag say that the flag isn’t about racism. It’s about their heritage. Well, I’m going to talk about my heritage a little bit. I’m going to talk about where my blood is in the soil.
Lt Col Charles P. Chandler died about 100 miles to the east of Charlottesville in a battle called Malvern Hill in 1862. The letter promoting him to full colonel arrived the next day. No Chandler ever seems to make it to colonel, but that’s a story for another time.
His cousin, Lt Col Charles L. Chandler died about 60 miles to the east of Charlottesville in the Battle of the North Anna River. He was ordered to charge a heavily defended rebel position in May, 1864. He had his arm shot off in a muddy ditch during a thunderstorm. He was 24 years old and had already been fighting for three straight years.
Hannah Chandler Ropes was a Civil War nurse from New Gloucester, Maine, the town that my family helped start in the late 1700’s. She went to Kansas in 1855 as an abolitionist to try to keep Kansas from becoming a slave state. To defend herself from pro-slavery raiders from Missouri, she slept with “loaded pistols and a bowie-knife upon my table at night, (and) three Sharp’s rifles, loaded, standing in the room.” Later, she worked with Louisa May Alcott tending to the wounded Union soldiers at a hospital in Georgetown. She died of typhoid pneumonia in 1863 about 120 miles from Charlottesville. She’s buried in Maine a few yards away from my grandparents.
The first arrival, Edmund Chandler came to this continent around 1630. He was “tail-end Charlie” of the separatists that were booted out of England to Holland. He sorted out affairs in Leiden while the rest of the group crossed the ocean to start the Plymouth Colony. He followed later so he could practice his religion freely.
A century and a half later, one of his descendants was in the Battle of Machias, the first naval engagement of the Revolutionary War. Judah Chandler joined about 50 militiamen who commandeered two ships. They chased down and captured the armed British sloop Margaretta. Throughout the war, privateers operating out of Machias were a constant pain in the British Royal Navy’s ass.
My grandfather, Raymond Jackson, won the Bronze Star for planning the assault on Kesternich in Germany during the breakout after the Battle of the Bulge. He received a battlefield promotion to major. He and the 311th Timberwolves, 78th Lightning Division, were the first American infantry regiment to cross the Remagen Bridge over the Rhine River into Nazi Germany.
Do any of these actions confer glory on me? No. I could be reading these stories about anybody. But it just so happens that they are my family members. So, I naturally wonder if the same things flow through all of those veins. Through my veins.
My family got here early to pursue religious freedom. My family fought tyranny in the Revolutionary War. My family fought and died to preserve the Union and eliminate slavery. My family fought the tyranny that wore swastikas. I swore to support and defend the Constitution of the United States from all enemies foreign and domestic. I served for over 20 years. I went overseas seven different times to fight the enemies of our way of life. I tried to do my part, like my ancestors.
I believe in the Constitution and in free speech. This means I’m free to express my opinion about my domestic enemies chanting Nazi slogans and waving Confederate battle flags in my country. They are unacceptable. They are a cancer.
This is my country. My flesh has mixed with the soil of this continent for almost 400 years. My family helped build and defend a form of government that allows us to lurch forward to a better world. One where we are all created equal. That’s my heritage.
Dear white supremacists and Nazis: Stop waving the flags and chanting the slogans of my nation’s defeated enemies. I hope you go away and turn your life around. Failing that, I hope you realize the full extent of your moral bankruptcy, like a whisper in your ear, as you take your last breath.