Even if you had the worst possible high school history teacher, you still probably learned that the Civil War is over, and it has been for 154 years. On April 9, 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union leader Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox Courthouse in Appomattox County, Virginia. It took several days for the news of Lee's white flag waving to reach other Confederate generals, but they soon signed their own agreements of surrender too.
Gen. Joseph E. Johnston surrendered to William Tecumseh Sherman on April 26. Lt. Gen. Richard Taylor surrendered his own army on May 4. And after losing his last two battles, Nathan Bedford Forrest gave up on May 9. It took President Andrew Johnson more than a year to declare the war officially over, but he eventually signed off on the end of the conflict in August 1866.
Despite the fact that this happened a century and a half ago, some people still cling tightly to those Confederate flags, and insist that they stand for something other than surrender, treason, and slavery . The United States has more than 240 years of history, but those four years of Confederates getting their asses kicked by the country they seceded from seems to really resonate with them, and occasionally they still stand on city street corners to shout about "heritage" or whatever.
A couple of weekends ago, some of those Southern sympathizers—including some members of a neo-Confederate organization called Alamance County Taking Back Alamance County, which spent two years on the Southern Poverty Law Center's "Hate Map"—were protesting... something by waving their flags in Hillsborough, North Carolina. A group of counterprotesters also assembled across the street, doing what they could to "send a message to them that we are all equal," as one local resident put it.
Matthew Shepherd, the owner of Matthew's Chocolates, was uncomfortable with a pro-Confederate group that gathered about 100 feet from the door of his shop, and he was more uncomfortable when they insulted him and some of his customers. He called the Hillsborough Police Department, but the officers said that the pro-Confederates still had the right to free speech. So Shepherd grabbed a piece of chalk, and changed the message on the sign outside his store to read "Burn a Rebel flag… get a free chocolate!"
"They're blocking people from crossing. They're calling people names. People are coming in complaining, griping, bad moods," Shepherd told ABC 11. "Nobody was really doing anything about it. Apparently, they have more rights than anyone. So I put that on the sign just to lighten the mood a little bit."
Hillsborough Police Officers quickly paid Matthew's Chocolates a visit and suggested that he probably shouldn't have put that sign out on the sidewalk. (It originally said "Burn a Confederate flag). According to The News & Observer, some members of a pro-Confederate group also stopped by to take pictures of themselves—and their comically oversized flags—with it, and they shared the pic on social media. That's about when Shepherd started getting death threats. A lot of death threats.
"I just went upstairs and sat in the office,” he said. “I was like, well, so much for a little joke for the locals.”
Last weekend, about 50 people gathered in Hillsborough in support of Matthew's Chocolates. (And the guys with the dumb flags were there too.) The Hillsborough Police Department sent extra officers downtown to keep an eye on Shepherd and his shop. The cops have also offered to escort his employees to and from the store, and they're watching his home, too, because he is still being threatened by supporters of an army that surrendered 154 years ago.
It seems like the rally worked, because Shepherd's supporters bought all of his chocolate. Literally all of it. "I have to apologize to everyone though, we will not be opening on Sunday," he wrote on Facebook. "We have sold out of everything! There is nothing to sell. No gelato, no chocolates. I am truly sorry for this, I just couldn't make enough chocolates to keep up."
Matthew's Chocolates is located less than 10 miles from Bennett Place, where Confederate General Joseph E. Johnson made his last tactical decision of the Civil War.