While the rest of the world was facing rising racial tensions during the pandemic and a turning away from Southern Civil War iconography, the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) quietly opened a new $5 million museum in Columbia, Tennessee called the National Confederate Museum. It is located at 2357 Park Plus Dr, Columbia, TN. They also moved the remains of the body of the ever-divisive General Nathan Bedford Forrest and his memorial to the grounds from Memphis. Now the museum is open to the public to complete their mission to provide a Southern perspective of the War Between the States and to educate all generations on the history of the war and its ongoing legacy.
It is an oddity in a troubled time, but as the website states, no government funding was used to construct the museum, nor will government money ever be used to operate the museum. “This museum is owned and operated by the Sons of Confederate Veterans and all of the exhibits will be created by the Sons of Confederate Veterans.” The SCV is a 501(c)3 non-profit made up of about 30,000 male descendants of Confederate combatants with a mission to preserve the history and legacy of the Confederacy.
“The museum building was designed to resemble a large carriage house, one that might accent the style and age of historic Elm Springs,” says the website. Elm Springs is the former home of Confederate Colonel Abram M. Looney, and served from 1992 until the new building opened as the national headquarters for the SCV on almost 80 acres of rolling hills. With more than 18,500 square feet of space under an unfinished outer shell, the organization has used only a portion of the new space for the museum, a research library, a gift shop, and their new headquarters offices.
According to an article in The Daily Beast, “The SCV failed to point out, however, that there is already a museum devoted to the Confederacy located in its former capital of Richmond, Virginia. It is also a museum that many SCV members now largely reject as having distorted the history of the Confederacy and the South and betrayed the men and women who sacrificed in its name.” Members of the SCV consider the story it tells as a watered-down version of the truth fabricate by modern “scholars”. The Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond has since merged with the American Civil War Museum, now presenting a much more diverse view of the war aligned with changing times and changing points of view.
In spite of all the controversy, visitors who are not fully aware of what they have walked into have commented that the National Confederate Museum is impressive and well done. Several said that it impressed them more than any of the other museums in town. It does tell the story of the Civil War, although SCV members may say that there was nothing civil about it. And there are reenactments on the grounds at various times showing visitors what it was like to be on a battlefield during that time.
Also on site is the grave of Nathan Bedford Forrest and his wife. According to an article in the Columbia Daily Herald, SCV Commander and Chief Larry McCluney, Jr. said, “It is an honor and a privilege to have his remains reinterred there. It seems fitting that he will be there. It is basically like almost bringing him back home. This is an area that Forrest knew well.” Forrest’s childhood home was once located in nearby Chapel Hill.
Leaders in Columbia have mixed views on the subject, but many feel it is time to let animosity go and to let the SCV have their museum. In the same Columbia Daily Herald story as noted above, Paco Havard, president of the Maury Chapter of the NAACP said, “We have got to move on. Let him lay in that crypt. Let him rest in the Confederate museum. Why put any energy behind it? All you can do is waste your energy. Why not try to uplift the good?”
The National Confederate Museum is open Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. Tours of Elms Springs are also available. In the end, whether the museum is a relic to a dying breed or simply a different perspective on a war that still reverberates through our lives is up to the beholder.
National Confederate Museum
2357 Park Plus Dr, Columbia, TN
Hours of Operation
Monday – Friday
9 AM – 4 PM
$5.00 – Non-members Museum
$12.99 – Non-members Museum/House Combo
$3.00 – Members House or Museum
$10.00 – Members House/Museum Combo