When Nathan Bedford Forrest passed away on October 29, 1877, most people would have thought it was the end of the former Confederate General’s influence, impact, and story. For all the ups and downs of his life, the fact remains that Forrest was one of the most successful Cavalry leaders in all history. He had been so successful as a Confederate General of the Cavalry that when potential war loomed with Spain, he was considered to fight. The General-in-chief of the United States Army said that had war started with Spain; he would “consider it an honor to have served side-by-side with Forrest.” Despite the positive and negative historical accounts about Forrest, most would have considered the history books closed on the man when he died. That closure of history would not be the case for his legacy, though. Forrest could not escape fame and honor from some and disgust and loathing from others. He would be buried in Elmwood Cemetery and primarily forgotten except for those history books. However, in 1904 with a surge of pride in the south, Forrest and his wife made the ride from Elmwood to a new resting place in Memphis at what would become Forrest Park. In Forrest Park, Confederate history would be displayed, and tourism for the area would rise. Monuments and historic plaques told the history of Forrest and others.
With the recent rise in Anti-Confederate hysteria, the Forrest statue, park, and resting place came under fire from Memphis officials. Ignoring the pleas to leave the site alone, allow it to serve as a historical site, and the state law forbidding the removal of historical statues, the city leaders pushed ahead and found a loophole. In the dead of night, they sold the renamed park, now named Health Sciences Park, to Memphis Greenspace. The organization was started as a non-profit in October 2017, and purchased the park for $1,000, a considerable amount under fair market value, in December 2017. The purchase was made with the approval of the Memphis Greenspace president, Shelby County Commissioner Van Turner. The move allowed the city to sidestep the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act as the non-profit Memphis Greenspace had no obligation to honor state law. The move was reported to have infuriated the governor and others on a state level in Tennessee. Almost immediately, lawsuits were launched, and protest was made.
Memphis Greenspace mostly ignored the protest, lawsuits, and calls to leave Forrest and his wife’s graves untouched. Memphis Greenspace immediately began removing statues. The organization completely ignored the fact that the figure of Forrest was not only a statue but also a headstone. The organization removed it without respect for the grave or the history. In many states, the law would have considered the move of a headstone to be the desecration of a cemetery.
The dance in Memphis to sidestep state law did not go unnoticed or unaddressed by the state or by the defenders of Confederate history, the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV). Acknowledging both the controversial history and heroic history surrounding Forrest, the SCV immediately began seeking ways to right the wrong to Forrest and his wife and the desecration of the historical figure’s gravesite. The state of Tennessee responded and withheld $250,000 in funds from Memphis, which had been meant for the city’s bicentennial celebrations.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) was formed to carry on the memory, history, and story of why men decided to fight for the Confederacy during the Civil War. The group focuses on maintaining history, both positive and negative, surrounding the Confederacy and the role it played in American history. With the removal of Forrest’s headstone and the plans to remove him and his wife from their resting place, the SCV intervened and made arrangements to preserve history and honor the grave of Forrest.
On May 23, 2020, General Nathan Bedford Forrest will once again ride to his new home. This time no city, state, or newly formed non-profit will interfere based on changing opinions of politicians or others and often influenced by media outlets creating a new hysteria to fill news gaps. This time when Forrest makes his ride and is buried, he will be at the new National Confederate Museum in Columbia, Tennessee. Forrest and his wife will be buried on-site, and their headstone, once a proud part of the Memphis landscape, will be placed once again with respect for the grave.
One hundred and sixteen years after the previous ride of Forrest and his wife, this will most likely be the iconic general’s last ride in May. Forrest will be in a place where history does not change on a media’s whim or politician’s political agenda. This time Forrest will be home where history is being protected, preserved, and shared with each new generation. Forrest and his wife will now be in the care of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Simply put, there can be no safer place for this historical figure to be than in the care of those dedicated to preserving a truthful account of history.
More information about the reinterment of Nathan Bedford Forrest and his wife and the Grand Opening of the National Confederate Museum see The Sons of Confederate Veterans Website (SVC.org)