David Hann finds himself in the middle of the raging national debate over how the country should memorialize the Civil War. Literally. He is the commander of the lone New Jersey chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and also a member of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.
The descendant of both Confederate and Union soldiers is not conflicted about his allegiance: It is to history. Bringing down monuments now is like erasing history, he says. "The Civil War is a great American tragedy. We have to remember that."
He also wants to set the record straight with regard to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which he says has been maligned because white supremacist and other hate groups have co-opted Confederate symbols. Haters are not welcome at the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Hann said. The group's website emphasizes that on its website.
When he is not leading a Confederate "camp," Hann, 58, a retired Philadelphia electrician, is a Union reenactor. Like him, his three sons are members of both Civil War groups. Hann said he wants his children to know their family history on both sides.
"We're paying respect to men who never made it home," said Hann. "These men fought for what they believed in."
Hann is a descendant on his mother's side of Edward Simms, a 21-year-old farmer from South Carolina who fought for the Confederates and was wounded at Fort Sumter. Another relative, also on his mother's side, was his great-great-grandfather Charles Ellet, who served with Michigan's Third Infantry.
"I get ribbed a lot, but I'm used to it," Hann said. "It's part of my story."
Since the killing of nine black parishioners in a Charleston, S.C., church in 2015 by a white racist, there has been a push to remove Confederate monuments. Violence flared in Charlottesville, Va., this month when white-supremacist demonstrators clashed with counter-protesters over the removal of a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee.
Every May, Hann's group, which was chartered in 1989 and has about 30 members statewide, assembles at Finn's Point National Cemetery in Pennsville, Salem County, on "Confederate Memorial Day." They plant the Confederate flag as well as the flags of the 11 states that seceded from the union. And they lay flowers at the 85-foot-tall cement and granite obelisk that was placed there in 1910 to memorialize the 2,436 Confederate prisoners who died at Fort Delaware across the river and are buried in a mass grave at Finn's Point.
A similar ceremony is held for the Union dead buried there, Hann said.
Situated on the eastern bank of the Delaware River just inside the gates to Fort Mott, Finn's Point contains the remains of 135 Union guards. A modest cast-stone Greek temple monument honors the Union soldiers. Veterans from some later wars also are also buried in the sprawling grounds, which became a national cemetery in 1875.
Based in Columbia, Tenn., the Sons of Confederate Veterans was founded in 1896. It has camps or chapters around the country, including Philadelphia and West Chester. It is open to male descendants of any veteran who served honorably in the Confederate armed forces.
In a statement posted on its website, the national organization denounces the violence in Charlottesville.
"They see a white male with a Confederate flag, and they lump you into a category — you're a white supremacist," Hann said. "A lot of the sons of the Confederate are outraged by what happened in Charlottesville. We hate Klansmen. We hate neo-Nazis. These idiots who wave the Confederate flag have no idea what it is about."
But Loretta Winters, president of the Gloucester County branch of the NAACP, said the Confederate flag and groups associated it with are a painful reminder of slavery for African Americans.
"The Confederate flag, no matter what the group is, to the African American community, is the same as the swastika is to the Jewish community," Winters said Monday. "I don't understand the insensitivity to that era."
Andrew Shankman, an associate history professor at Rutgers-Camden, said most of the country's Confederate memorials began going up about 25 years after the Civil War "to terrify blacks and augment white power."
"Everybody knew what the statues meant," Shankman said.
Dressed in a replica of the Confederate gray uniform with red trim and shiny gold buttons, and wearing brown leather brogan shoes, Hann respectfully walked the grounds at Finn's Point during a recent visit. Three medals were neatly pinned to his jacket: for being the camp commander, for 25 years of membership, and for meritorious service. He stood at the foot of the monument where a small Confederate flag and a bouquet of white magnolias had been left.
Among those buried in the cemetery is Pvt. Meredith Pool of the 42nd North Carolina Infantry, who was captured on Dec.25, 1864. He was one of the last soldiers to die at Fort Delaware in 1865. The Sons of Confederate Veterans camp that Hann heads bears Pool's name. Members pay $30 annual dues and meet sporadically.
"It wasn't for fame or fortune," Hann said. "We wanted to honor a common soldier."
Not every soldier who fought for the South was fighting for slavery, he said. "I could see some statues coming down where they are offensive. But other [monuments] where you commemorate the common soldier, there's where I draw the line."
Hann pointed to a row of graves a short distance from the Confederate monument in the cemetery's northwest corner where lie the remains of 13 German prisoners of war, who died while being held at nearby Fort Dix during World War II. "Do we dig them up, too? Where do you stop?"
Raymond Nipe, 72, a longtime Pennsville resident, stopped by to take a photograph of the Confederate monument. The Air Force veteran worries that a movement will begin to remove the monument, although there have been no such demands.
"Somebody is going to want to take it down," said Nipe, who said his grandfather served in the Union Army. "You got too many radicals out there who want to deface stuff and destroy stuff."
"Everybody is angry. I just hope we can find a peaceful solution to this," Hann said.