The Confederate flags are flying again at the head-turning statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest on Interstate 65. While prominently displayed south of Nashville, this mysterious monument doesn’t make the state’s list of must-see attractions for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.
To get to this monument requires finding a hidden gravel road and have keys and combinations to the six padlocks on the gate. They act as a line of protection for this 25-foot tall statue. The Confederate general is raring on horseback with a saber raised over his head. He’s surrounded by 13 Confederate flags.
While this tactical genius has admirers, his hard-charging style still draws fire – literally. This statue has several bullet holes in it.
“They tried to cut the legs off of it. They tried to pull it down with a train. That didn’t work, twice,” says Bill Dorris, who owns this strip of land between the Interstate and train tracks.
“This is the rope that was tied over the horse,” he says. “The other end was tied over the railroad track out there.”
The statue may be sturdy enough to take on a slow-rolling rail car, but it’s no masterpiece. It’s the work of Jack Kershaw, an eccentric lawyer and amateur sculptor who died last year.
“As an artist, mediocre,” Dorris says. “As a thinker, he was way ahead of a lot of people of his time.”
Kershaw was a segregationist, a secessionist and attorney to James Earl Ray. He was also a friend to Dorris, who made his money fabricating bathtubs for the elderly out of styrene blocks and fiberglass.
“Jack got some materials that I use to make bathtubs with,” he says. “And he started with a butcher knife. That’s the end result that you see out there right now.”
“Hideous” is a term some have used. “Cartoonish” would be fair. Yet to Dorris, who is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Forrest’s likeness is more than a funny looking statue.
“He wrote the book on cavalry warfare,” Dorris says.
And he wasn’t just a strategy guy. He would join the charge. It’s reported that this Tennessee native had 30 horses shot out from under him in battle.
But Forrest is also remembered for what some historians consider a massacre of black Union soldiers. That was at the battle of Fort Pillow in West Tennessee. And then it’s hard to look over Forrest’s involvement in the early days of the Ku Klux Klan.
Dorris says he’s turned down requests from the KKK to hold rallies at the foot of his statue.
“The South Has Risen Again”
“Any monument is a symbol of racism if you are going to make it a symbol of racism. I don’t care what it is,” he says. “Now I’ve been accused of being racist. Now if I was racist…now if I’m a racist, why do I have so many blacks working for me?”
Instead of a racist symbol, Dorris wants the statue to scream, “the south has risen again.”
“I still consider this the sixth largest nation in the world, the Confederate States of America,” he says.
Dorris blames all of the vandalism attempts on what he calls “carpet-bagging Yankees.” “Forrest flustrated his enemies on the battlefield,” Dorris says, and he continues to even 150 years after the Civil War.