First, an announcement. Someone in the back got his shirt caught on fire, so please, be careful with those torches. This is a peaceful protest.

You won’t hear that in the media, of course. They don’t want to report the real story.

But let me tell it anyway. Because I know they’re here—I can see them out there, behind the torches, taking their pictures. So listen up, media. This is why we’re here. This is the history we’ve come to defend, the history we’re proud of, the history you can’t take away from us.

The monument behind me commemorates the brave men of Plant City. Of course, at the time that the war broke out, Plant City wasn’t incorporated as a town yet. This part of Florida was all cattle ranches then—it was hundreds of miles to the nearest city. Not until December 1863 did the people of Plant City even learn that Florida had seceded, that there was even such a thing as the Confederacy. But as soon as they found out, they were eager to do their part.

Now, some people today want to say that that’s a bad thing. These are the same people who want to take down the statues of good men like Robert E. Lee—people who think that just because you fought for a country that had slaves, that makes you a racist.

No, Lee was an honorable man, and the ranchers of Plant City were honorable men too. They knew that they had to do their part to defend their country. But what could they do? They didn’t have much money, and there weren’t enough of them to form a company and go fight. They had only one thing—cattle. And that was something that the army needed: supply lines were getting cut off left and right, and the boys in the field were hungry.

So, in April 1864, fifteen men and three hundred head of cattle set off from Plant City. They called themselves the Cow Cavalry, and even designed a battle flag—a version of the Stars n’ Bars, with a brown cow at the very center.

The cavalry rode north, through Sanford, St. Augustine, Jacksonville, Savannah. Their destination was the army headquarters at Charleston. It was a dangerous journey. At night, bobcats attacked the camp, carrying off the smaller cattle and even one of the men. North of Savannah, the cavalry stopped for water at a little lake. That night, some of the men complained of stomach pain, and couldn’t stop sweating. It was dysentery—six of the cavalry died of it. Terrible way to die. Still, the cavalry—

What? What’s dysentery? It’s—someone tell him.

Yes, really—diarrhea. Until you die.

Anyway.

Still, the cavalry pressed on. They reached Charleston by the end of July. As they marched into the city, the people cheered and sang, and that night, General Beauregard himself raised a toast to the Cow Cavalry. He offered to award each of them the Cross of Honor, but they declined. They said that they had only done their duty.

This is our heritage! This is a history we can be proud of!

Now yes, there was an epidemic of dysentery in the Charleston stockyards, and yes, it did destroy the Confederate food supply, and yes, it got into the city’s water supply. But no one’s ever proved the cavalry caused it. For all we know, it could have been there already, well before their cattle arrived. And even if they had caused, the cattle only started showing symptoms after they entered the Charleston stockyards. So the cavalry couldn’t have known.

Did I mention that General Beauregard offered to award them the Cross of Honor?

Now, with their task complete, the surviving members of the cavalry started back for Florida. As they moved south, they heard rumors: Sherman had reached Atlanta, and was marching toward the sea, burning everything in his path. This was the brutality of the North, and it disgusted the cavalry. As I said, they were honorable men.

When they passed through Savannah, they could see the smoke rising from the west. They rode hard for Fort McAllister, but they were too late: Sherman’s army was already between them and the river. As they came over the last hill, the cavalry saw the lights of thousands of fires, and heard the sound of “John Brown’s Body” drifting on the wind.

The cavalry knew what they had to do. They mounted their horses, raised the battle flag, and rode toward Sherman’s army, where, with great honor, they announced their surrender.

I can’t blame them. They were eight men against an entire army. And some of them had families. What good would it do their wives and children if the cavalry were slaughtered by Yankee thugs?

If anything, they were too honorable. They expected that their captors would treat them like gentlemen. They tried to explain that General Beauregard had awarded them the Cross of Honor. But no—the cavalry were sent to a camp like any other prisoner of war.

Five of them died there. Dysentery, again. But three of them made it home to Plant City—including my own great-great grandfather, who was, in 1871, elected as the town’s first mayor.

This all true, every word of it. If any of you media people doubt it, you can google “Plant City Cow Cavalry” and see for yourself.

These are our brave ancestors. This is the proud history that this monument represents. This—

I’ve just been told that the so-called “counter-protestors” have started their march. There are a couple hundred of them, it seems.

This is a blatant attempt to suppress our freedom of speech, of course. And I won’t stand for it. All the same, I think it’s best if we break up for the night. But never forget what we’re fighting for! Never forget our history! Never forget the Cow Cavalry!

RYAN NAPIER’s stories have appeared in Entropy, Queen Mob’s Tea House, minor literature[s], and others, and his chapbook Four Stories about the Human Face will be published by Bull City Press in 2018. He lives in Massachusetts. Follow him at ryannapier.net and @ryanlnapier on Twitter.