Improvement plan to give Confederate Circle ‘new look’

June 27, 2012

SELMA — A lot of money is being raised to improve security for a monument honoring one of the most admired, most despised officers of the Civil War.

Earlier this year, a bust of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest was removed from a concrete pedestal at Selma’s Live Oak Cemetery.

The person or persons who did it haven’t been caught despite an ongoing investigation and a $20,000 reward, but Forrest’s fans don’t plan to wait for results.

“We’re not going to stand here whining and moaning,” said Virginia engineer Todd Kiscaden. “We’re taking control of the situation and planning to maintain the circle ourselves.”

He referred to the Confederate Circle — located near where Yankee cavalry routed outmanned Rebel defenders under Forrest’s command in the waning days of the Civil War.

Kiscaden’s engineering input is appreciated by Confederate descendants whose anger has not subsided much since last March when the bust was removed from a heavy pedestal listing Forrest’s military accomplishments.

“We’re doing it in a legal way according to the Alabama code and the state historic commission,” said Patricia Godwin, one of Forrest’s most loyal supporters. “We’re taking steps to make sure all is being done properly.”

Kiscaden said improvements to the site honoring Forrest, who is buried in Tennessee, are slowly under way with subterranean radar equipment being used to find out if “hits” mean evidence of final resting places of Confederate troops beneath the circle.

Lee Harrison, president of Geoscience Consulting in Montgomery, is spending part of this week focusing electromagnetic beams on the ground encompassing the one-acre area.

Harrison said his equipment won’t uncover skeletal remains but could help provide a better understanding of the terrain.

“We could find water pipes or maybe indication of burial sites,” he said Harrison. “Right now we don’t know, but should have something to report by the end of the week.”

Kiscaden said it’s costing $6,000 for the study, but he feels it’s necessary to determine what’s there and how it might affect the improvement project.

Kiscaden said a circular fence will be placed around the Forrest monument along with “low intensity flood lighting accompanied by surveillance cameras” attached to it.

Godwin said the Selma City Council deeded one acre at the cemetery to the Ladies Memorial Society in 1877 as a prelude to building the Confederate Circle.

She said it is owned today by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

She and Kiscaden indicated that the initial beautification goals will include landscaping, benches and other improvements at the site surrounded by sprawling, moss-covered oak and magnolia trees.

The biggest change, she said, will be moving the Forrest statue several feet from its current site and positioning it near the much larger Confederate monument. It will be on a 3-foot-tall pedestal to increase the height and to make it “more difficult for anybody to lift the bust off.”

The Confederate monument built more than 130 years ago cost $2,500, with funds raised by relatives of soldiers killed during the Civil War or troops who died years later but wanted to be buried near their friends.

The names of those buried at marked grave sites were carved into Alabama-mined marble blocks at the base of the huge monument.

The Forrest monument originally had been placed outside a former Confederate hospital and dedicated in 2000. It wasn’t long before it was vandalized by upset black residents in the neighborhood who tossed garbage at it several times.

A leader of the Ku Klux Klan after the end of the Civil War, Forrest soon left the racist organization, but his name continues to anger black activists led by Faya Rose Toure, the wife of state Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma.

Members of the Selma City Council stepped in as the controversy increased and had the monument sent to the Confederate Circle about a mile away.

The thief or thieves who took the bust in March carefully removed eight bolts affixing it to the pedestal and departed without leaving many scratches.

The Maine sculptor who created the first bust has finished a similar one, and a ceremony will be held when the improvements are completed at Live Oak Cemetery.

Godwin said the costly project, estimated at about $50,000, will amount to perpetual care for the site, but acknowledged that no amount of security short of 24-hour guards is likely to stop anyone from doing what was done earlier this year.

“What happened was a felony offense, a blatant crime,” said Godwin. “(The Forrest bust) was stolen from private property at a historic cemetery on the National Register.”

Kiscaden said that by the time the new Forrest monument is put into place and other improvements are completed, the Confederate Circle will have a “new look.”

“We want to enhance the entire site,” he said. “This will be something that people will enjoy visiting.”

During the annual Battle of Selma recreation in April, Confederate re-enactors stop at the circle for a brief program.

Copyright © 2012

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