Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and early Ku Klux Klan leader, has been successfully exhumed from his longtime grave in Memphis, Tennessee, along with the remains of his wife, Mary Forrest.
Shelby County officials and a spokesman for the Sons of Confederate Veterans revealed during a press conference Friday that excavators quietly discovered the remains on Monday this week and removed them.
Crews had begun digging for the remains a week earlier but were unsure how long it would take. The couple had been interred there for more than a century beneath a monument later erected above their grave.
Brent Taylor, the Shelby County Election Commissioner and a licensed funeral director overseeing the exhumation, said news of the discovery was delayed to make sure no additional artifacts were uncovered.
“We went through paint-staking detail to ensure that we could collect the remains and do it in a dignified way,” Mr. Taylor said during the press conference.
Forrest and his wife died in 1877 and 1893, respectively. He was originally buried in a Memphis cemetery, but the remains of both him and his wife were relocated in 1904 to a city park then named in his honor.
Memphis sold the former Forrest Park in December 2017 to a local nonprofit, and work began immediately afterward to remove the monument, which featured a bronze statue depicting the general on horseback.
Descendants of Forrest sued Memphis after the monument was removed, prompting a legal battle that ultimately resulted in a settlement that would allow the remains of their relatives to be safely removed.
“We would hope that the example shown here with the safe removal of the monuments and the safe removal of the remains will serve as an example of what we can do to move this city forward,” said Shelby County Commissioner Van Turner, the president of Memphis Greenspace, Inc., the nonprofit that owns the park. “The reality of it is if we don’t come together we won’t have the city that we all love.”
Lee Millar, a spokesperson for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, added his group and the Forrest family were both happy with the arrangement and glad they were able to resolve the issues the way they did.
“The Forrest family is pleased that we were able to do this. The remains are in an undisclosed location right now and they will then be transferred later on to their new resting place which will be closer to his boyhood home, his birthplace, in middle Tennessee,” Mr. Millar said in a press conference. The new grave there will resemble the former Forrest Park and include the equestrian monument, he added.
Forrest and his wife are expected to ultimately be reinterred at the National Confederate Museum at Elm Springs in Columbia, Tennessee.
Once he is reinterred, Forrest will have been buried three times in three centuries, Mr. Millar noted.
Forrest was born in Tennessee in 1821. He served as a general for the Confederate Army during the American Civil War and was elected the first “grand dragon” of the Ku Klux Klan shortly after it ended.
Mr. Turner said “there was never going to be peace” at what is now called Health Sciences Park as long as Forrest remained buried there. Work to fully dismantle the monument is expected through June.