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 What took place yesterday was a literal reburying of the Lost Cause and another clear sign that Confederate memory no longer represents the collective history and values of local communities.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The Forrest monument and the general’s remains no longer represent the collective history and values that residents of Memphis aspire to embrace.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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23 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?”

      Rob

      • 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.

  • 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

      • 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.

        • 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.

        • 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.

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