This past Tuesday a House Committee in Nashville, Tennessee debated a resolution to remove a bust of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest from the State Capitol. In addition to serving in the Confederate army, Forrest sold slaves in Memphis before the war and held a leadership position in the Klan for a time during the postwar period.
Not surprisingly, among those who testified in defense of Forrest were members of the Tennessee Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans. Forrest represents everything the SCV holds dear.
The absurdity of their position was exposed by Rep. Jason Hodges (D-Clarksville) during a discussion of Forrest’s role at Fort Pillow in April 1864. No one disputes that Forrest played some role in the massacre of a large number of black Union soldiers after they had surrendered.
Hodges: I heard you disputing earlier ‘how many people were massacred,’ not that there weren’t people massacred. So what is a good number? How many people can you massacre and still be honored? Just out of curiosity. You’re not disputing that the guy didn’t massacre people, you’re disputing how many. What’s a good number to be honored by the state of Tennessee?
Bradley: First of all, we do not know how many people were massacred, that is if we’re going to use the term massacre at all. The term massacre is obviously a loaded word. It was never used by some people and it was by others. For many years Forrest was referred to as ‘the Butcher of Fort Pillow.’
Hodges: Well let’s go with butcher. How many people can I butcher and still be honored by the state of Tennessee?”
This is likely not going to end well for the SCV and others who believe that such a man should be honored in such a place. The governor of Tennessee is expected to push to discontinue Nathan Bedford Forrest Day. Yes, that is really a thing.
If you want a sense of how isolated the SCV is now consider that they are set to open a brand new museum in Columbia, TN in May. The celebratory narrative of the Confederacy that they embrace, which was once widely held is now isolated to a museum that few people are likely to ever visit.