John McGlone, The Daily News Journal, March 31, 1989
Commentary from Dr. John McGlone, Middle Tennessee State University
Southerners are acutely – sometimes painfully – aware of their heritage, and Rutherford Countians are no exception.
The 30th century is often perceived as too crowded, fast-paced, stressful and less genteel, while the heroic ages of the 19th or even 18th centuries are often as close as a family story, a sword over a fireplace or a faded photograph.
Rutherford County is named for a Revolutionary War general and Indian fighter Gen. Griffith Rutherford. Soldiers from the county marched off with Andrew Jackson to fight the Creeks and Redcoats in the War of 1812. a home still stands on Betty’s Ford Road (no, the road was not named for President Ford’s wife, yes it is Betty’s Ford over a branch of the Stone’s River, and it was the site of a tragic accidental drowning of slaves in pre-war days) where Andrew Jackson was a frequent visitor.
The quiet, tree-lined beauty of East Main Street once saw a sad procession that was to be remembered in the annals of history as the ‘Trail of Tears’. Native Americans who were being forcibly moved west were once sadly marched through our town at bayonet point.
More ghosts crowd in. The county played a major role in ‘the’ war. For non-Southerners, it was otherwise known as the Civil War. Six future Confederate generals were born in Rutherford County, and the largest battle of the War in the Western Theater was fought here December 31, 1862 to January 2, 1863.
Two other smaller Battles of Murfreesboro were fought here when Nathan Bedford Forrest raided the place in 1862 and led a diversionary attack here in 1864.
Until recent ‘restoration’, the county Courthouse bore the pockmarked bullet scars of battle.
Smyrna was the boyhood home of Sam Davis, boy hero of the Confederacy, who chose to die on the gallows rather than divulge information to the enemy.
An almost forgotten cemetery near the post office contains the remains of ‘Buffalo Soldiers’, black Indian fighters, and Spanish American War Veterans.
Of the six markers to Revolutionary War soldiers in the Old City Cemetery, one commemorates a black man who fought for American independence.
This burden of Southern history is always with us. It is in our language and humor, our place names and our view of the world. New Rutherford Countians from Michigan or Pennsylvania, Japan or Vietnam may find this difficult to understand, but since its beginnings in Jamestown in 1607, the South has been unique, different, sometimes ornery, but always interesting.
Rutherford Countians celebrate their heritage in many and divergent ways. Unknown to many are the various patriotic and civic organizations which meet in the county.
The Rutherford County Historical Society meets regularly with guest speakers and experts on various historical topics. Of a more specialized nature is the Daughters of the American Revolution (a past president, Sarah King, is a Rutherford Countian), and the Sons of the American Revolution as wells as the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Daughters of the Confederacy.
An academic quarterly entitled the ‘Journal of Confederate History’ published in Rutherford County and Middle Tennessee State University is the home not only of a fine history department, but of a renowned historic preservation program.
Many of these individuals and organizations contribute time and energy with little recompense except the satisfaction of preserving a part of their heritage.
Ronald T. Clemmons, a prominent local history figure and former editor of the ‘Confederate Veteran’ magazine works untold hours to have commemorative busts erected to the six Confederate generals who fell at Franklin.
Two local historic homes, Oaklands Historic House Museum and the Sam David Home, are open to the public and are largely sustained by volunteer efforts.
Lest anyone think these organizations are simply traditional elitists groups which seek to perpetuate the status quo, it must be said that these alliances sponsor educational programs and scholarships, erect monuments and markers, publish and are generally in the forefront of saving the memory and memorabilia of those who came before us.
A more recent manifestation of the desire for people to remember and preserve a part of the past is the field of historic preservation, and it, too, is alive and well in Rutherford County.
Rutherford County is the home of an internationally reknowned historic preservation program at MTSU. Eager students, clipboards in hand, can often be seen evaluating and re-evaluating the historic properties along and near East Main Street.
The Good Book enjoins us to ‘remove not the ancient landmark which thy fathers have set’, but Americans, in the name pf progress, have for generations demolished, destroyed and paved over their heritage. That trend is gradually being reversed.
The chaotic construction going on around the Square is an effort to preserve a real or imagined past; and the noteworthy Main Street Program, as well as the individual efforts of Murfreesboro businessmen, has begun to have a positive effect on the appearance of the downtown area.
One has only to look at some of the beautifully restored buildings on the west side of the Square to see what was and what might be, but is too little and too late?
Americans have often bartered their heritage for the elusive goal of ‘progress’, and Rutherford County is no exception. The Square is no longer square, but is missing a corner at the west side.
The home that once stood there was once visited by Jefferson David, the president of the Confederacy, when he was a guest at the wedding of Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan to a local belle, Martha Ready. That home has been replaced by a barren gap which could only be jokingly called a park.
The largest earthenwork fort ever constructed in North America, Fortress Rosecrans, has already become in part a golf course and is fast becoming a new shopping mall. Not that all shopping malls and golf courses are not needed, but they do not necessarily need to be build over the bones of Civil War dead.
The accompanying Civil War sketch shows Murfreesboro as a sleepy village with its proud Courthouse prominent at its highest point.
That Courthouse is now being dwarfed and over shadowed by modern construction. A visit to the capitol at Nashville will provide one with a feeling of what happens when the 20th century seeks to obliterate all remnants of the past. The beautiful state Capitol is virtually surrounded by giant monoliths of buildings which destroy the visual impact of the Capitol.
What had been a beautiful square in Nashville a generation ago is now a municipal parking lot and road system.
The same thing must not be allowed to happen in Murfreesboro or Rutherford County in the name of progress.
One if often tempted to quote the 19th century philosopher Santayana, who said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.“
What is needed is an awareness and sensitivity to our history. Progress, yes; desecration, no.
John McGlone, who holds a doctorate in history from MTSU, is editor of the Journal of Confederate History. He lives in Murfreesboro.