Reburying Nathan Bedford Forrest and the Lost Cause

Yesterday the Sons of Confederate Veterans reinterred the remains of Confederate general and Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest and his wife on the grounds of their headquarters and new museum at Elm Springs in Columbia, Tennessee. Forrest is the most controversial of all Confederate military leaders owing to his involvement in the slave trade, the massacre of Black Union soldiers at Fort Pillow, TN in 1864, and his involvement in the Klan following the war.

SCV members were joined by members of the Oathkeepers and Three Percenters, both far-right anti-government militia organizations that have been connected to the attempted insurrection in Washington, D.C. on January 6, 2021.

The remains of Forrest and his wife were formerly located underneath the Forrest monument in Memphis, TN, but its removal in December 2017 led the city to hand over the remains, as well as the monument, to the SCV.

The ceremony has not received any serious media attention, but a tweet posted last night received many questions and expressions of anger and disgust in response. It’s understandable to interpret this ceremony as a clear indication of the continued popularity of the Lost Cause, but it’s worth taking a few minutes to put it in broader context.

Forrest and his wife no longer occupy a public space. Tax dollars are no longer used to maintain the monument that once marked their grave site. What took place yesterday was a literal reburying of the Lost Cause and another clear sign that Confederate memory no longer represents the collective history and values of local communities.

In fact, as Confederate monuments come down we are seeing local efforts across the country to acknowledge publicly some of the darkest periods in our nation’s history—history that the celebration of Forrest and the Confederacy helped to distort and erase.

I did a quick search and came across numerous news stories from over the past few weeks of communities dedicating new historical markers and gravestones that tell the history of local lynchings:

This is just a small sample. We are in the middle of a remarkable transformation of our monument/commemorative landscapes. It’s exciting to watch as communities struggle to re-imagine public spaces and attempt to shape them in ways that bring people together by highlighting stories that come closer to representing a shared history and shared values.

The Forrest monument and the general’s remains no longer represent the collective history and values that residents of Memphis aspire to embrace. They will do little more than rally a dwindling number of reactionaries desperate to hold on to a mythical past.

Yesterday’s ceremony at Elm Springs is just another indication that the SCV, and its continued attempt to distort the history of the Confederacy, slavery, and white supremacy, has been decisively rejected.

Good riddance!

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33 comments… add one
  • London John Sep 29, 2021 @ 5:37

    ” Forrest is the most controversial of all Confederate military leaders owing to his involvement in the slave trade, the massacre of Black Union soldiers at Fort Pillow, TN in 1864, and his involvement in the Klan following the war.” Makes him just about perfect for the SCV and their allies, doesn’t it? Incidentally, I believe some White Unionists from Confederate states were also victims of the Fort Pillow massacre?

    • Kevin Levin Sep 29, 2021 @ 7:43

      “Incidentally, I believe some White Unionists from Confederate states were also victims of the Fort Pillow massacre?”

      Absolutely. In fact, I just finished blurbing a new book with LSU Press that deals specifically with this aspect of the battle.

  • Mark Sep 19, 2021 @ 4:58

    I’m a land developer in Florida and I’ve spent the last year building a new subdivision after Lee and all the streets are named after Confederate heroes

    • Kevin Levin Sep 19, 2021 @ 5:08

      Well, we know what kind of people you hope will move in.

    • Rob Wick Sep 19, 2021 @ 10:11

      Is it like that episode of “WKRP in Cincinnati” where Dr. Johnny Fever moves into a condo named after “Gone With The Wind?” Will there be an “Aunt Pittypat Lane?”


      • Kevin Levin Sep 19, 2021 @ 10:31

        Good one.

    • Josh Sep 25, 2021 @ 9:43

      You must love irony because if you sell real estate in Florida you’ll be selling primarily to Yankees.

  • Msb Sep 18, 2021 @ 22:40

    Why are these poor people not being buried in a proper cemetery? This is disrespectful.

    Delighted, however, that the state no longer supports the remains of slave trader and war criminal.

    • Andy Hall Sep 20, 2021 @ 3:07

      They were buried in a proper cemetery in Memphis, in accordance with Forrest’s explicit wishes as stated in his will. They were moved to the center of Memphis when the monument was built decades later. The Confederate fanboys and -girls who are complaining about their graves being disturbed now deliberately ignore that fact.

      • Reggie Bartlett Sep 20, 2021 @ 14:15

        The part of this you are missing here Andy is that Forrest was reinterred the first time by his son William Forrest, and the state of Tennessee has very stiff laws about disturbing gravesites, which does fall explicitly on the family.

      • H. Edward Phillips Oct 19, 2021 @ 8:54

        There is a proper cemetery on site. The burial site is located near an existing family cemetery, and under Tennessee Law, the Forrest Family and the SCV were able to bury the remains of Lt. Gen. Forrest and his wife Mary A. Montgomery Forrest without any legal impediment.

        Also, I know you did not mention this. However, I wish to clarify for those who might think that the reinterment was somehow a “victory lap” or anything else on behalf of the SCV or the lineal descendants may be oblivious to the fact that this was a funeral for a historical figure and a time for Forrest’s descendants to reflect.

        I certainly appreciate the discussion set forth, but the family does deserve a resting place that can provide finality as well as peace. The family has and always taken the position that they have wanted closure and healing not only for themselves, but also for the citizens of Memphis. There is no ill will. I know this as I am the attorney for the family.

        Ironically, all of my great-great grandfathers, and a large number of my second great grand uncles and first cousins fought for the Union from East Tennessee. However, my great-great grandmother Jane Marlow Patterson descend from the Hatcher line in Virginia, and it is through that line that I am a cousin of General Forrest. Close to four years in the case, on June 6, 2021, the night before we reached the burial vaults a friend informed me of the familial connection. I was astonished. Additionally, that same Hatcher line connects me to General Stonewall Jackson.

        My family paid a high price fighting the war on both sides. Jane’s father Thomas Marlow was a Private in Co. A, 1st Tenn. Inf. Regt. US Army and died of disease in late 1861. Her bothers, Pvt. James Alexander Marlow (Co. K, 17th Tenn. Inf. Regt. C.S.A.) was horribly wounded in fighting in Kentucky less than two months before their father died, and Pvt. Joseph Marlow (9th Texas Cav. C.S.A.) was killed at Corinth Miss., while under the command of Forrest. Her remaining brothers who stayed in East Tennessee all served in the Union Army. Additionally, her stepson and my 2nd great grand uncle Pvt. Ghastin Patterson Co. G, 2nd Tenn. Mtd. Inf. Regt. was captured at the Battle of Rogersville (Nov. 6, 1863) and died as a POW on Belle Island in Richmond. Finally, her husband’s first cousin 1st. Lt. Nicholas Patterson served in 8th Tenn. Cav. C.S.A. under the command of Forrest, he survived the war as did her husband Pvt. Clark Patterson.

        Another 2nd great-grand uncle Major James S. Duncan, Co. S, 7th Tenn. Inf. Regt. US Army was killed by a trooper from 8th Va Cav. while Maj. Duncan was on a recruiting mission in Kentucky on March 18, 1863. Maj. Duncan was the uncle of Pvt. Clark Patterson’s future daughter-in-law Elizabeth Duncan who married Clark’s and Jane Marlow Patterson’s son Nicholas. The war was messy, families were torn apart, suffering was known by so many. I cannot forget the sacrifices made by all of my family. The history of the Civil War is nuanced.

        Also, just in case anyone wishes to know, I was born in New York and received my primary and secondary education in Massachusetts. Nevertheless, while the son of an immigrant family on one side and a very old southern family on the other, I am a child born of two worlds. The Civil War deserves serious and scholarly study, and I believe, memorials to all those who fought must be maintained. Most importantly, I truly believe it long overdue that a national and state memorials be established for Southern Unionists.

        With sincere respect,

        H. Edward Phillips
        Attorney at Law

  • Meteor Blades Sep 18, 2021 @ 11:08

    Hey, Reggie, I agree that General Forrest shouldn’t have been reburied. His remains should have been flushed instead.

    Saluting a war criminal while wearing pieces or entire uniforms of traitors as part of a continuing glorification of a 160-year-old rebellion to maintain people as property doesn’t make the participants patriots.

  • Johnny Reb Sep 18, 2021 @ 7:46

    Why do you keep saying he was reinterred yesterday, when the event is today?

    • Kevin Levin Sep 18, 2021 @ 7:47

      The photographs that accompany this blog post were published yesterday by the SCV.

  • Dis-interred Sep 18, 2021 @ 7:19

    While it’s “nice” to see these monuments removed from the public sphere; it’s obviously not being removed from these folks’ consciousness.

  • Reggie Bartlett Sep 18, 2021 @ 6:19

    Typical, you and your lot just can’t let the dead lay.
    I’m not going to get into the chicanery Memphis pulled to get us in this position, but the fact that you are demeaning people who are reburying someone who shouldn’t have been reburied just makes you an asshole piece of shit.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 18, 2021 @ 6:41

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Reggie. I always appreciate it when my readers make it clear as to who they choose to align themselves with.

    • Idaho07 Sep 20, 2021 @ 12:28

      Which time, Reggie?
      Forrest has now been re-buried twice. He was first buried in the Memphis cemetery, according to his wishes, but his remains were disinterred and placed under his monument 28 years after he and his wife had died!
      So which reinterment doesn’t meet your approval? The one that celebrated the Lost Cause, or the one that acknowledged that the citizens of Memphis decided it was finally the time to quit fighting for a cause that was lost?

      The Lost Cause was fought far, far longer than the Civil War, but it was fought as furiously, and that fury did more lasting damage to the South than the war ever caused.

      Wasn’t 150 years of that fruitless fight enough? I guess it wasn’t. I guess it won’t be for lots of folks like you, either.
      But like it or not, the South is moving away from the Lost Cause, has been for a long time now, and won’t be going back.
      That doesn’t mean the Lost Cause should be forgotten, however; I think it should be remembered as a part of the longest conflict Americans have ever had with each other.

      The Lost Cause became the long second chapter of our only civil war, but that chapter is now ended. The final chapter is now being written.
      So like the war itself, the Lost Cause is a part of our history, and I believe it all should be remembered. As a caution to those who follow us, a reminder of what we were capable of doing to each other once, and a remembrance of the damage that can come from failing to reconcile our differences with each other.

      Forrest is now at rest in a place he will be honored by those who still wish to honor him. That museum is the proper place to revisit our history in a historical context. History is why museums are built. They are all houses where our past is stored.

      Just be glad Forrest ended up there, not lying beneath an anonymous parking lot, like one King of England did.
      The citizens of Memphis made the decision to move his remains twice. The first was always a slap in the face to half of the city, but the second wasn’t a slap in anyone’s face. Your long-gone General and his wife are now where they should be.

      • Kevin Levin Sep 20, 2021 @ 12:31

        The citizens of Memphis made the decision to move his remains twice. The first was always a slap in the face to half of the city, but the second wasn’t a slap in anyone’s face.

        Well said

        • Lee Russom Oct 19, 2021 @ 15:17

          “…but the second wasn’t a slap in anyone’s face.”

          See, that just isnt so, cant be so. There are doubtless some in Memphis that raged silently, because they knew they were outnumbered by a people that would visit their home to terrorise them, like antifa has to some certain doxxed celebrities.

          • Msb Nov 8, 2021 @ 9:40

            Like the KKK terrorized African Americans? Please name anybody that “Antifa” hasblynched.

      • Reggie Bartlett Sep 20, 2021 @ 14:20

        Idaho07, Forrest was disinterred and reinterred the first time around by his son, Confederate veteran, William Forrest.

        Gravesites fall explicitly under the whims of families. In the state of Tennessee it is very explicit that it falls under the dictation of the family of the alteration of gravesites and governments can’t get involved, and Forrest’s son bought that lot that eventually became Forrest Park and reinterred his dad there in 1904 with the statue. Essentially making the park and the equestrian statue a big grave and headstone.

        What the city of Memphis did was violate the law in 2017 without the wishes of the family, and stunk of corruption the whole way down. That is why I’m opposed to this reinterrment. But hey, the city of Memphis just legitimized grave desecration so it’s all fair play now.

        • Msb Sep 21, 2021 @ 22:15

          Disrespectful to ignore a person’s wishes about their resting place. Forrest and his wife should have been left where they wished to be.

          • H. Edward Phillips Oct 19, 2021 @ 9:10

            The only issue that faced the Forrest Family was that Elmwood Cemetery refused to permit reinterment. The only logical place was outside of Memphis, in Middle Tennessee as close to the Forrest Boyhood Home.

            I hope this helps.

            Respectfully submitted,

            H. Edward Phillips
            Attorney at Law

            • Msb Oct 25, 2021 @ 11:38

              Awful lot of respectful reinterment these poor corpses have suffered. Forrest was a slave trader and war criminal, to say the least, but all bodies should receive dignified treatment. Forrest hasn’t received it, ironically, from his fans.

        • Rob Sep 22, 2021 @ 11:16

          Where are you getting the information about Forrest’s son buying the lot that became Forrest Park? The park and statue were various fundraising efforts by the Forrest Monument Assoc., local UCV groups, and Ladies of Memphis.

          From everything I read the sought the consent of the son to move the bodies after the monument and park was dedicated.

          Isn’t it time you stop pretending to care about the wishes of the family? I suspect that wasn’t a fact you knew about or cared to know about prior to forming your own opinion on the matter.

          • H. Edward Phillips Oct 19, 2021 @ 9:15

            Rob —

            A point of clarification, both Lt. Gen. Forrest and his wife were reinterred at Forrest Park in 1904, with their burial vaults unearthed on June 7, 2021 where located a little over three feet under the pedestal and about three feet under the plaza. These items, including the equestrian monument by artist Charles Henry Neihaus were erected atop the graves. I know this for a fact as I was at the site prior to removal and thereafter as I am the attorney for the great-great grandsons of General Forrest and his wife. I hope this helps.

            Respectfully submitted,

            H. Edward Phillips
            Attorney at Law

        • Josh Sep 25, 2021 @ 9:50

          Creating a park, building a monument, and relocating the body of the person honored by park & monument does not a cemetery make. Had he merely been the first burial in a new cemetery for Confederate veterans you might have an argument.

          Forrest should have never been moved from the actual cemetery, whether is son or other surviving family members agreed or not. Moving him to the SCV HQ instead of to a real cemetery is a further mistake. Dead people are interpreted in museums, but their remains do not belong there.

          • Kevin Levin Sep 25, 2021 @ 10:13

            It’s not a museum. It’s a shrine to the Confederacy.

            • Michael C. Lucas Nov 12, 2021 @ 5:31

              Kevin, when are you going to get off your lying Race baiting hatemongering high horse and actually engage in an honest public debate about the Confederacy and American history with me? You’re too much of a coward. You can’t handle the truth of your lies and what factually disputes you. You should be held liable and accountable for encouraging hate and ignorance.

              • Kevin Levin Nov 12, 2021 @ 6:27

                Hi Michael. Good to hear from you.

                • Michael C. Lucas Nov 12, 2021 @ 12:50

                  Once upon a time there was an American Confederacy… that Confederacy included everyone within the Sovereignty of the united States within said Confederacy, it included Indians(Native Americans), Anglo-Europeans as well as Americans, and Negroes (Sub-Saharan African Americans) enslaved and Free. And they were brought together by happenstance and the circumstances of their times, confronting diversity and conflicts of interest with each other, and no different in their human homogeneous needs and desires. Our nation, the United States was jointly founded as a Confederacy. The Constitution did not change that Confederacy. Slavery did not change that Confederacy, it was already established prior to said Confederacy. But the one thing that persisted from where it was born with that Confederacy and that changed said Confederacy, was the one thing it was born from. And that one thing was specified in the Federalist and Anti-federalist papers, that were and remain today, conflicts of interests and jealousy over the division of said interest as national assets. The second Southern Confederacy did nothing different from the former other than secede from the Union which was no longer faithful to the trust they had formed originally under. The Southern “Slave” States wanted nothing more than to be left alone to contend with their own social issues with change as they should have been allowed to do. Evidence abounds that they wanted to do just that! And evidence abounds that if the egregious political pursuits of the Northern factions being the Federalists, Free-Soilers, and Republicans had not been so hell bent in their pursuits for their own homogeneous self interests, to seize political control of the nation. War could of have been averted. Slavery was absolutely gradually on its way to abolition regardless of those presuming otherwise. And the condemnation of the Southern Confederacy by you and others like you, who have over oversimplified, omitted and obfuscated, generalized the truth of all that Southern Confederates actually considered and happened among them to contend with Slavery, its abolition and social and racial amalgamation. The Civil War compounded the ethnic and racial animus, it didn’t help it. And you and others reinvented and escalated that animus, You have failed truth in history by centralizing Slavery as the cause of the national divide of the American Civil War between the States. And now you propagate your hate mongering in the Atlantic’s OP-ed platform of Confederaphobic Goebbel’s propaganda. Exploiting racial division and compounding national ignorance even further for time to come. You need to wake up!

                  • Kevin Levin Nov 13, 2021 @ 4:11

                    It is impossible to take you seriously.

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