Alabama: Monument to Civil War General Sparks Controversy

By Miranda Leitsinger, NBC News

The renovation of a monument honoring a Civil War Confederate general, who was the first “Grand Wizard” of the Ku Klux Klan, is once more creating controversy in Selma, Ala., 11 years after protesters got it moved off of public property.

A monument honoring Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest in Selma, Ala., in 2011. Associated Press photo

The memorial is being repaired after the bust of Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest was stolen in March from the 7-foot-tall granite monument it rested upon at a cemetery in Selma, reported The Birmingham News. A group known as the Friends of Forrest are replacing it, according to local media; and the United Daughters of the Confederacy are adding a pedestal and fencing to make it harder to steal, Selma City Council President Dr. Cecil Williamson told NBC News.

“I would recommend this man (Forrest) for any young people to model his life after,” Todd Kiscaden, of Friends of Forrest, told local NBC affiliate WSFA 12 News. “The man always led from the front. He did what he said he was going to do. He took care of his people, and his people included both races.”

Not everyone remembers the general that way.

Though Forrest was one of the Confederacy’s better generals and their best cavalry leader, he was an “extreme racist,” Mark Pitcavage, an expert of military history and right-wing extremism at the Anti-Defamation League, told NBC News.

Men under his command killed “in cold blood” 250 black soldiers fighting for the Union who were captured at Fort Pillow in Tennessee, Pitcavage said. “No one has ever proven conclusively that Forrest himself ordered it, but at the very least this was the sort of thing he was letting his men do,” he added. A federal congressional committee investigating the April 12, 1864, killings received testimony that as many as 200 black soldiers were slain after they surrendered at Fort Pillow.

“Here’s a man who killed African-Americans who had surrendered, who were not a threat to anybody,” Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, told WSFA. “And yet we are talking about a monument to him.”

Forrest, a slave owner and a slave trader, was tapped to be the Ku Klux Klan’s first Grand Wizard – or supreme leader, the KKK’s highest position — at a meeting in April 1867, according to Pitcavage and the Anti-Defamation League.

“Although he was the titular head of the entire Ku Klux Klan, in practice he didn’t have much influence beyond Tennessee. It’s not like the Internet was there and he could give guidance to all of his followers across the country,” Pitcavage said.

The Klan was “unbelievably violent,” killing many people and burning down schools and churches, leading Forrest to disband it in 1868 because the Grant administration decided to send federal troops to the South to maintain public order, Pitcavage said.

“All he (Forrest) did was issue a formal order for appearance’s sake, knowing that the Klan was not going to disappear and the Klan did not disappear. It continued full force for a number of years, but he was no longer officially its head after that point,” he said.

‘A public outcry’ when statue first went up
The first monument to Forrest was put up on city property in October 2000 under the permission of the local government administration in power at the time. People dumped trashed on it and held a mock lynching, tying rope around it in protest, Williamson said. With a new mayor in office and “such a public outcry from parts of the community about it being on public property,” the city council voted to move it in 2001, he added.

The new site is on an acre of land donated to the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1877, said Williamson, adding that he believed the group was in control of the lot. NBC News’ efforts to reach the group for comment were not successful.

“Once it was moved it had just basically been sitting out there for the past 11 years undisturbed until the bust was stolen,” Williamson said. “It was like most people in town did not know or did not care that it was even out in the cemetery.”

But, Malika Sanders-Fortier, who described herself as a community leader in Selma, has started a petition calling for the city council to remove the monument.

“Monuments celebrating violent racism and intolerance have no place in this country, let alone in a city like Selma, where the families of those attacked by the Klan still live,” she wrote in her petition, which had collected more than 15,000 signatures as of Wednesday.

But Williamson said it wasn’t a city matter, noting the monument didn’t belong to the local government, and that, as far as he knew, it was not on city property.


Alabama: Submerged Civil War Relics Could Get New Home

By Alvin Benn, The Montgomery Advertiser

SELMA — The Civil War was in its final hours and Union troops had two more missions to complete, something that gave them great pleasure.

One was to burn Selma to the ground April 2, 1865. The other was to destroy as many weapons as they could by dumping them into the Alabama River.

As one of only two major armament manufacturing centers in the Confederacy, Selma churned out millions of killing tools — from bullets to rifles, from mortars to cannons.

Selma Councilman Greg Bjelke holds a Civil War sword found in a sandbar not far from where tons of Confederate weapons were dumped into the Alabama River. / Alvin Benn/Special to the Advertiser

It took up to a week to send them to a watery grave not far from where the Edmund Pettus Bridge — a symbol of the civil rights era — would be dedicated 85 years later. That’s where the weapons rest today — at the bottom of the Alabama River where divers occasionally drop in to see what they can find, if they can see anything at all in the murky water.

They’re looking for a different kind of treasure, one that might enrich them by selling a bit of history to eager buyers or to just display it in their dens.

Occasionally, scavengers will be arrested or given warnings for dredging up Civil War artifacts. That doesn’t seem to stop them, however. Some work at night.

The question of what to do with those rusty, mud-caked weapons has been debated for years, but a Selma leader has been given the task of developing possible solutions.

City Councilman Greg Bjelke, a local landscaper accustomed to making flowers grow and not studying the final resting places of Civil War relics, feels he’s more than up to the task.

“What’s down there is a part of Selma’s history and can also be a tourist attraction,” he said. “I look forward to seeing what they bring up.”

That won’t happen soon because it’s going to take time to do some research before the actual recovery can begin.

Financial support has been approved by federal and state agencies in the form of a $13,160 grant for the city of Selma to study ways to protect the weapons above and below the water line. It’s all part of the Maritime Study for Underwater Resources in Selma — a project involving the U.S. Department of the Interior, the Alabama Historical Commission and the Selma City Council.

Bjelke said the grant will fund a yearlong study — beginning with documentation and, hopefully, ending with historic discoveries.

“I know how dark the water is at that location, but sonar can be a big help in finding metal objects,” Bjelke said. “Once that happens, recovery operations can begin.”

Selma historian Alston Fitts sees nothing wrong with finding and raising Civil War weapons from their watery grave.

“There’s no reason why they can’t be recovered and sent to museums,” said Fitts, who has written a history of Selma. “I also don’t see any sentimental attachment to them.”

The value of the weapons no doubt would depend on their overall condition, but Fitts said they might not bring much on the open market.

“The true value of those weapons would stem from their role in American history,” he said. “In that regard, they could be worth something, depending on how they are handled.”

Selma was a sleepy little cotton town when the Civil War began. It changed because of its proximity to iron resources and distance from much of the fighting to the north. Creation of the Selma Ordnance and Naval Foundry changed all of that, and it wasn’t long before more than 10,000 workers began creating weapons of war. It would rival a similar operation in Richmond, the Confederate capital and a much larger town that produced the same things.

What drove the Selma operation were pig-iron ingots from Alabama blast furnaces — metal that would be turned into the bullets, rifles and mortars that claimed thousands of Yankee lives. Included in the Union report on weapons destroyed at the Selma Arsenal were a million rounds of small arms ammunition, 60,000 rounds of artillery shells and 15 siege guns.

In addition to rifles and mortars, other destroyed items included 8,000 pounds of horseshoes, five locomotives, 3 million feet of lumber, 10,000 bushels of coal and much more.

“Some things are already on display in museums,” Fitts said. “I just hope that this study will find a way to keep what’s down there from winding up in the hands of those just out to make a profit.”

Bjelke, who couldn’t agree more, likens Selma’s submerged Civil War relics to items recovered from the Titanic.

“Titanic displays are shown around the country, and I’d like to see something like that happen with what we find at the bottom of the Alabama River in Selma,” he said.


Georgia: Civil War Tourism Gaining Steam

By Marie Nesmith, The Daily Tribune News

CARTERSVILLE, GA — Containing about 40 paintings and 10 sculptures, the Booth Western Art Museum’s Civil War Gallery will take center stage during the upcoming Atlanta Campaign Bus Tour. With the overnight attendees staying at the Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, this tour will be the first Civil War-related “hub and spoke” venture based in Bartow County.

“[The paintings and sculptures] convey the history of the Civil War in a timeline approach,” said Seth Hopkins, executive director for the Booth Western Art Museum. “The paintings are hung chronologically as the events that are happening in the paintings occurred during the war. So it’s a great way through art to trace the history of the war in the paintings. And the majority of paintings are done by living artists. So they’re folks we have a relationship with and many have visited the museum and are known for historical authenticity and do a lot of historical research. So you can be pretty sure that what’s going on in the painting is authentic and correct to the time period. Mort Kunstler is one [of the artists]. Another that’s very prominent, and we have the largest collection of his work in the world, is Don Troiani.

“Those are probably the two best known living artists that do Civil War scenes and we have a large number of pieces by both of them. [Over the past year] we’ve seen a little bit of interest [in the Civil War] pick up. We had a Mort Kunstler [temporary] exhibition that opened last year on the anniversary of the start of the war and that did fairly well. There’s been some interest but I think it will not be until 2014, when we have the 150th anniversary of a lot of the battles and things that actually took place here and around Atlanta and Chattanooga — the anniversary of the Atlanta Campaign — [until] we’ll really start getting, I think, more intense interest.”

Hosted by the General Barton and Stovall History/Heritage Association, the tour will spotlight numerous sites along the Western & Atlantic Railroad, covering Bartow, Gordon and Forsyth counties. In addition to touring the Booth, the group also will visit the Bartow County towns of Adairsville, Kingston and Cassville as well as Barnsley Gardens Resort, Spring Bank and Cooper’s.


Mississippi: Civil War Mural Unveiled

By Susan Parker, WTVA
IUKA, Miss. (WTVA) — Downtown Iuka boasts a new attraction just in time for the Iuka Heritage Festival set for Labor Day Weekend.Corinth artist Tony Bullard has worked for months on a Civil War mural that is now seen on the side of a downtown Iuka building. Iuka Battlefield Commission Chairman Harold Lomenick says the mural hangs where a building once stood. It burned several years ago, but one local resident bought the property and donated it to the Battlefield Commission.Much work has been done to prepare the spot for future enjoyment.

“They pulled dirt out to put top soil in, put sod down and put new sidewalks in. The mural just appeared. It’s turned a sore spot into a real beautiful green space,” Lomenick said.

Commission officials have yet another surprise for Civil War enthusiasts. A new book has been written on the Battle of Iuka which was fought 150 years ago. They are also going to offer an official coin to coincide with their upcoming Heritage festival. A painting depicting Iuka’s place in history is also being unveiled.

Prints will be offered to the public.

A book signing will be held Thursday, August 23 at the 1st America National Bank from 12:30-2:30.

North Carolina: Officials Wade Gingerly into Confederate Flag Fray

Written by Caitlin Bowling,

WAYNESVILLE, NC — About 20 Southern heritage supporters lined a bench of Haywood County’s historic courtroom in Waynesville Monday, a show of force county commissioners were likely prepared for as they took on the perpetually controversial issue of Confederate flags: are they a symbol of hate or of heritage?

Some wore suits; some wore jeans and T-shirts; and a couple others sported beards and leather biking vests.

The mixed-matched gathering came to talk to county leaders about their passion for the Confederate battle flag and present their argument for why the board should allow a pint-sized version of the emblem to adorn the base of a Confederate war memorial on the courthouse lawn.

The board of commissioners heeded the advice of several Confederate flag supporters and will spend the next few weeks researching the history and precedent surrounding the display of the controversial flag before deciding whether to permit it on county property. Until then, the flags will continue to be prohibited.

“If you create a policy, you need to make sure that policy applies to everyone across the board,” said Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick. “I think we probably need to do a little more research into this matter.”

The battle over the flag began in May. The mysterious but regular disappearance of tiny Confederate flags decorating the memorial outside the courthouse was the first shot fired. In rebellion, members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans kept replacing the flags. A flag would go in the ground and, soon enough, would be pulled up by an anonymous critic of what the flag has come to stand for over the decades.

The county quickly became involved after receiving an email from a local attorney saying he found the flag offensive and asking county leaders to take action. County Manager Marty Stamey instructed county employees to pull up the flags whenever they saw them on county property.

Not long after, word about the county’s actions reached Confederate flag supporters who have protested their removal for weeks. Monday’s county meeting was the first opportunity for the county commissioners and Confederate flag supporters to come together in an open dialogue.

Commissioners avoided expressing an opinion about the flags themselves but were rather more concerned about with what the policy could mean for other symbols.

“Are you required then to allow all flags?” inquired Mark Swanger, chair of the board of commissioners.

County Attorney Chip Killian replied that he believed so but the matter might be better suited for a court to decide. In theory, a new policy regarding displays on county property could open the way for any flags — communist flags, the anarchist flag or the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) flag. But, if the county outlaws all flags on its property, the world flags that typically decorate the courthouse for the Folkmoot international festival or the miniature American flags around the other war memorials could become illegal to display as well.

“I don’t think the county can allow positions to be taken that favor one viewpoint over another,” Killian said.

The board seemed open to possibly permitting the flag to mark the Confederate memorial for a short period of time — such as on Confederate Memorial Day on May 10. But, for now, the county plans to continue to gather information and draft a policy in time for its Sept. 10 meeting.

“I respect their decision,” said Derrick Shipman, commander of the Julius Welch Camp, the Haywood County division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. “I don’t have a problem with them waiting” and doing more research.

Although there were actually four different Confederate flags, the one most commonly known today is the Confederate battle flag, which some incorrectly refer to as “the stars and bars.” Battle flag supporters contend that the flag is a symbol of Southern heritage that has been unduly marred by vicious hate groups such as the KKK.

“We see the flag as a Southern culture without political or racial connection,” said Wayne Justice, a Confederate supporter who addressed the commissioners Monday.

Kip Rollins, a Haywood residents and leader within the Southern Historical and Heritage Preservation Society, relayed similar sentiments. The flag is a veterans’ flag, just as the American flag represents the service of veterans in more recent wars, including World War II and Vietnam, Rollins said.

“The Confederate flag has been used with half-truths and been exploited by those who misrepresent it,” Rollins said. “This flag does not in anyway intend to injury in anyway possible.”

Rollins concluded his speech by asking the commissioners to let the Confederate battle flag fly.

Emotion welled up in the voice of one Confederate flag supporter, Shipman, as he talked about the significance the flag holds for him and other descendents of Civil War soldiers.

“We are not trying to make a political statement or a social statement; we are just trying to honor these men,” Shipman said. “I don’t think we are asking too much.”

Something that all the speakers had in common was their overwhelming connection to their Southern roots and the general eloquence with which they expressed it.

If the commissioners take away the right to display the Confederate battle flag, then what next, asked Thomas Willis, executive director of the Southern Legal Resources Center, a nonprofit that advocates for citizens involved in issues regarding Southern heritage.

“First, the flag in front of the memorial and then the monument,” Willis said, while standing on the sidewalk in front of the courthouse last week advocating for the Confederate flag.

On Monday, Willis simply asked commissioners to let people commemorate their heritage.

“Don’t not let people honor their ancestors,” Willis said.