Above: Photograph, “The Capitol Nashville (Tenn.),” by George Barnard, 1864, Tennessee Historical Society Collection
How Tennesseans have chosen to remember their pasts has changed over time. One example of this type of change concerns the recent relocation of sculptures of Confederate Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest, U.S. Admiral David Glasgow Farragut, and U.S. Admiral Albert Gleaves from the Tennessee State Capitol to the Tennessee State Museum. The relocation occurred in accordance with votes by the Tennessee State Capitol Commission on July 9, 2020, the Tennessee State Historical Commission on March 9, 2021, and the Tennessee Building Commission on July 22, 2021.
The Capitol is a working government center, a historic building, and a symbolic public space. Throughout its history, many military figures have been represented in public art. The Museum is displaying these sculptures together with portraits that were also once installed at the State Capitol – portraits of Union Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas, Admiral William Banks Caperton, and Rear Admiral Charles St. John Butler. Together, these objects show how public art in the Capitol has changed and continues to change in this public space. They are exhibited on the Museum’s second floor.
GEORGE HENRY THOMAS (1816 – 1870)
Major General, United States Army, Mexican-American War, Civil War
Oil on Canvas, by George Dury, 1866
Union Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas (1816-1870), a native Virginian and Mexican-American War veteran, remained loyal to the Union at the outbreak of the Civil War. After fighting in many battles in Tennessee and other states, Thomas led the Army of the Cumberland to a decisive victory at the Battle of Nashville in December 1864. He remained in Nashville as a military commander until 1869.
In 1866, the Tennessee General Assembly passed a resolution commissioning artist George Dury to paint a life-size portrait of Thomas. The resolution stated the painting would “be placed within the Capitol Building of the State of Tennessee, in memory and honor of his fidelity to, and services as a soldier in defense of the Constitution of the United States….” Beginning in 1869, some citizens and legislators began advocating for the removal of Thomas’s portrait. In 1905, The Nashville American published a letter from a Confederate veteran who wrote, “yes Mr. Editor, let the [Thomas] portrait come down, …we insist that its appearance on the walls of our State Capitol has long been a source of discomfiture to thousands of Tennesseans.”
Artist's mark on bust of NATHAN BEDFORD FORREST (1821 – 1877)
Lieutenant General, Confederate States Army, Civil War
Bronze, by Loura Jane Herndon Baxendale, 1977
Confederate Lt. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest (1821-1877), was born in Chapel Hill, Tennessee, and became a wealthy Memphis slave dealer and plantation owner. His success as a cavalry commander and raider thwarted Union efforts in the Western Theater throughout the war. He commanded Confederate forces at the controversial Battle of Fort Pillow. This battle was characterized as a massacre in the North, and “Remember Fort Pillow” became a rallying cry for African American Union soldiers. Following the war, Forrest was an early member and leader of the Ku Klux Klan.
In the mid-1970s, the Sons of Confederate Veterans funded the creation of a bust of Forrest to be placed in the State Capitol. Sculpted by Loura Jane Herndon Baxendale, it was installed in the Capitol in 1978. Shortly after its installation, The Nashville Tennessean reported local citizens protesting its location in the Capitol. Opposition to the bust continued in the decades that followed, gathering significant and organized momentum in recent years.
ADMIRAL ALBERT GLEAVES (1858-1937)
United States Navy, Spanish-American War, World War I
Oil on canvas, by Cornelius Hankins, 1919
On Display in the Museum's Tennessee Time Tunnel
During World War II, The Nashville Tennessean reported that there was a push to create a “Snug Harbor” to recognize sailors from Tennessee. Located on the second floor of the State Capitol, the area featured both portraits and statues of naval servicemen. The bust of Admiral David Glasgow Farragut by Belle Kinney was commissioned as part of this effort. In addition to other naval commanders, the area featured portraits of Admiral William Banks Caperton by Max Westfield, Rear Admiral Charles St. John Butler by Eleanor McAdoo Wiley, and Admiral Albert Gleaves by Cornelius Hankins. Eventually, a bust of Admiral Gleaves by Belle Kinney was transferred to the Tennessee State Capitol.
Admiral David Glasgow Farragut (1801-1870), born in Campbell’s Station, Tennessee, joined the U.S. Navy early in life. He served during the War of 1812, Mexican-American War, chose to remain with the Union, and became the first admiral in the U.S. during the Civil War. He played important roles in the captures of New Orleans, Vicksburg, and Mobile Bay.
Admiral Albert Gleaves (1858-1937), originally from Nashville, Tennessee, committed his life to the service of the United States as part of the Navy. Gleaves commanded ships in the Spanish-American War and World War I, earning the Navy Distinguished Service Medal. Gleaves’s lasting contribution to military science came from perfecting torpedoes, turning them into precision weapons prior to World War I.
Admiral William Banks Caperton (1855-1941), born in Spring Hill, Tennessee, had a lengthy and distinguished career in the U.S. Navy. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. He commanded the Pacific Fleet from 1916 to 1919 and received the Distinguished Service Medal for his actions during World War I.
Rear Admiral Charles St. John Butler (1875-1944), a native of Bristol, Tennessee, graduated with a medical degree from the University of Virginia, before offering his service to the United States Navy. Butler had a distinguished career working in the Naval Medical Corps, notably as an instructor at the U.S. Naval Medical School, commander of the U.S. Naval Hospital in Brooklyn, New York, and the U.S. Naval Medical Center in Washington, DC.
Stereoview Capitol Library by Thuss Koellein & Giers 1884 to 1885
Museums preserve artifacts for future generations and offer public spaces for reflection. They provide visitors with tangible connections to the past. Some of the stories told by artifacts are difficult and painful, but important for understanding our history. Questions about how best to remember these often-complex legacies, particularly those associated with the Confederacy, remain a vital part of public discourse today.
In addition to the objects displayed in Temporary Gallery 2, exhibits in the Museum’s Time Tunnel, Forging a Nation, Civil War and Reconstruction, and Change and Challenge galleries contain additional information and help place the stories of these individuals and their military service within broader contexts of Tennesseans’ histories.