Anyone interested in the War Between the States knows that Memphis is the site of many historically significant events. Tennessee ranks second in the number of battles that took place there (Virginia, of course, had the most). It isn’t surprising that, over the course of over 150 years, many places have disappeared beneath strip malls, golf courses, or kudzu. Some, however, still remain intact.
One of the most notable places is Elmwood Cemetery, where Nathan Bedford Forrest’s family is buried. (Historian and author, Shelby Foote, is interred beside them, and General Forrest is now buried at Forrest Park.) Also in the cemetery are numerous slave’s graves, Confederate soldiers’ graves, and victims of the 1878 yellow fever epidemic.
Jefferson Davis Park, on the banks of the Mississippi River, and Confederate Park nearby, both escaped flooding this spring. Many antebellum homes, including the beautiful Hunt-Phelan House, still exist, as does evidence left over from battles, such as a street sign marking Union General Washburn’s escape from General Forrest’s cavalry forces. A home that was part of the Underground Railroad still stands on North 2nd Street, and the Memphis newspaper, The Commercial Appeal, is still in publication. (During the war, the press was moved several times to avoid capture. The Commercial Appeal now publishes Civil War news every Sunday)
A fascinating relic from the War Between the States still exists in downtown Memphis. Known as Slave Haven, or the Burkle Estate, the small white clapboard house (built between 1849 and 1856) on 826 N. 2nd Street is believed to have been a way station of the Underground Railroad. The house was built by Jacob Burkle, a German immigrant, who also assisted slaves to their freedom by hiding them in a cellar until they could escape north through tunnels leading to the Mississippi River. Slaves then obtained passage on boats traveling up to the Ohio River.
There are four underground tunnels in Memphis that were major arteries of the Underground Railroad. The house is marked by two large magnolia trees that were a signal to slaves because of their evergreen leaves. The house is furnished with Victorian furniture, and one room displays quilts that were used by slaves as maps to their freedom. In 1978, the family revealed that the Burkle Estate had been part of Underground Railroad, and the house was opened as museum in 1997.