Memphis and The Civil War Vintage Drawings and Photos


Initially, most Tennesseans showed little enthusiasm for breaking away from the nation.  In 1860, they had voted by a slim margin for the Unionist John Bell, a native son and moderate who continued to search for a way out of the crisis.  In 1861, 54 percent of the state's voters voted against sending delegates to a secession convention, defeating the proposal for a State Convention.  If it had been held, it would have been very heavily pro-Union.  But with the attack on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, and Lincoln's call for 75,000 volunteers to put the seceded states back into line, public sentiment turned dramatically against the Union.


In a June 8, 1861 referendum, East Tennessee held firm against separation, while West Tennessee returned an equally heavy majority in favor.  The deciding vote came in Middle Tennessee, which went from 51 percent against in February to 88 percent in favor in June.  Having ratified by popular vote its connection with the Confederacy, Tennessee became the last state to formally declare its withdrawal from the Union.



Click on the small photos to see an enlargement.


In the 1860s, Memphis was a lively and thriving, riverboat town with more than its share of bordellos and saloons.  There was a Main Street and a Beale Avenue.  Along Main Street, one could find all types of shops and businesses, as well as numerous hotels, restaurants, and theatres.  Riverboats loaded with cotton lined the riverbank and nearly 400,000 bales a year were being sold in Memphis.  The city was on its way to becoming the largest cotton market of the world.

Memphis Landing


The Memphis Bluff 1864     Memphis Landing 1864 Main Street 1860s Beale 1860s


In 1862, Memphis serves briefly as the State Capitol when Nashville fell to the Union in March of  that year.  All the state records were stored in the Masonic Temple at Madison and 2nd.   =>

After the war, the Tennessee Governor convened the state legislature from this building. 


Masonic Temple



The Battle of Memphis ...


This naval battle was fought on the Mississippi River below the city on June 6, 1862.  The result was a crushing defeat for the Rebels and marked the virtual eradication of a Confederate naval presence on the river.  In spite of the lopsided outcome, the Union Army failed to grasp its strategic significance.  It's primary historical importance is that it was the last time civilians with no prior military experience were permitted to command ships in combat.   The battle remains as a demonstration of the ill effects of poor command structure. 


Battle of Memphis Battle of Memphis USS Essex Battle of Memphis

Union officer Charles H. Davis moved down the Mississippi with a squadron of ironclad gunboats.  Accompanying him were six rams commanded by Colonel Charles Ellet.  The Confederate fleet, commanded by James E. Montgomery, a riverboat captain with no military experience, was going to move south to Vicksburg, but was notified that there wasn't enough coal in the city to fuel his ships for the voyage.  While Montgomery technically commanded the fleet, each ship was run by it's own civilian captain, who was empowered to act independently once they left port.   Compounding that was the fast that the gun crews were provided by the army and served under their own officers.  But Montgomery's group decided to stand and fight. 


    C. H. Davis

As the Union fleet approached Memphis,  Davis ordered his gunboats to form a line of battle across the river, with the rams in the rear.  They opened fire on Montgomery's lightly armed rams.  They closed in and the battle engaged at close quarters deteriorating into a wild melee.  They succeeded in sinking all but one of Montgomery's ships.  With the fleet eliminated, Davis approached the city and demanded its surrender.  Union casualties were limited to one, while Confederate casualties are not known but most likely they were between 180 and 200.  The destruction of the Confederate fleet eliminated any Confederate naval presence on the Mississippi. 

Chas Ellet     


Battle of Memphis Battle of Memphis Battle of Memphis Battle of Memphis

<=   Thousands of Memphians watched the battle from the bluffs above the Mississippi in an area that would later be named "Confederate Park" .  The battle for Memphis lasted all of 90 minutes.

Thousands watch from this Bluff        


<=  After the battle, Union soldiers marched to the Post Office and lowered the Confederate flag on the roof, replacing it with the U. S. flag.  Confederate sympathizers closed a  trap door which locked the soldiers on the roof. The Union Commander threatened to shell the city if the city didn't surrender.  The soldiers were allowed to descend and within hours Memphis was occupied and for the remainder of the Civil War, it would be an occupied city.  The occupation probably saved it from  destruction, because the last few cities the Yankees had captured they burned to the ground.

Union Flag flies over Post Office   

Occupied Memphis ...

Ulysses S. Grant was ordered to Memphis to become district commander of the Union Forces.  At the beginning of the Memphis occupation, he made his headquarters at the Hunt-Phelan home on Beale Avenue, where he set up a tent on the lawn.  The home's library was used as his office but he slept in the tent as a bond with his men.   However, he soon moved to plush quarters at the nearby Hotel Gayoso, where he also had the comfort of being joined by his wife Julia and their children. 

Ulysses Grant  

Julia Grant-children


Photos of Ulysses S. Grant taken in Memphis Hotel Gayoso Hunt-Phelan Home Hunt-Phelan Library

Grant arrived in Memphis June 23, and found the city in “bad order, with secessionists governing much in their own way.” He wrote, “In a few days I expect to have everything in good order.” This included posting picket guards around Memphis, ordering clergymen to omit prayers for the Confederacy, and a provost marshal, backed up by three regiments, is directed to keep order in the city. Grant also orders his Union occupiers to behave themselves. Wandering about, pilfering, or straggling are forbidden, and the soldiers are told to stay in their camps.   Three articles appearing in the Daily Appeal describe incidents in the city shortly after the Battle of Memphis.  One  of them refers to  General Grant  =>


Daily Appeal 1862


1862 . Occupied 1862 Troops enter city 1865 Infantry at Memphis Union Camp near Mphs Union troops-Memphis


During occupation, Memphis becomes a center for troop disbursements and a major shipping center for supplies.  The Hunt Phelan house serves as a hospital and lodge for wounded Union soldiers.  After the war a Freedman’s Bureau school was established at the home.

Soldiers Hunt-Phelan 1863



Davies Manor Plantation:  Located just north of the stage route between Memphis and Nashville, This was a popular stop for soldiers from both sides. The plantation managed to operate throughout the war despite many family members joining the Confederate army.

Davies Manor Plantation



FORT PICKERING:   Confederate authorities had originally established Fort Pickering in 1861, building on the site of a frontier-era fort.  Union commanders took over and imposed martial law and posted garrison forces.  At first it was generally a lenient occupation, in the hope of winning over secessionist citizens, who comprised the great majority in Memphis.  But finding that these secessionists remained hostile and defiant, the authorities adopted an increasingly harsh policy.  This included the seizure and destruction of private property, the imprisonment or banishment of those who refused to take an oath of allegiance to the Union, and the forcible emancipation of slaves. 

     Fort Pickering


Ulysses Grant appointed General William T. Sherman as Commander of the Third Division of the Army of Tennessee.  Sherman  ordered Fort Pickering expanded after the Union takeover in 1862 and the site became one of the great supply and staging areas in the West.  Hundreds of slaves, escaping from surrounding states, found work here. Camps provided housing, churches and schools for the men. Later, some of the ex-slaves manned the fort’s guns as U.S. soldiers.  This was a rough point for white Memphians.  During his period in Memphis, Sherman had very little to do, so he spent the time planning his "March to the Sea".


        William T. Sherman


Sherman and Officers

Sherman's Tower Colored Regiment 1864 Sherman's Memphis Map Marker

Generals Hurlbut and Washburn:  Major General S. A. Hurlbut took command of Memphis after Grant and Sherman.  Like them he keep a tight clamp on the city.  Yet he continued their policy of allowing open trade on the Mississippi and a local government as long as the voters signed a loyalty oath.  He tells Grant he has it "under control, but is short of troops to stop the smuggling" and asks to stay in charge.  His successor is Major General C. C. Washburn.  He clamps down harder and closes the open trade policy and suspends the city government.  Washburn remained in control until the war ended.


Gen Hurlbut

Gen Washburn  


* Fort Pickering has its own comprehensive coverage on another page of this website >  Click here

Resistance, Smuggling, and Spying...

For most Tennesseans, Union occupation was a devastating experience.   Many left the city and became refugees for the duration of the war.  Those who stayed faced the agonizing decision of whether, and/or how to resist the enemy.  The great majority did resist to some degree.  The boldest went beyond defiant to engage in active resistance, smuggling and spying.  Memphians found themselves directly under the enemy's thumb and subject to constant scrutiny.  But there were also many advantages.  Army authorities provided police and fire protection, health services, and courts of law.  They doled out free provisions to the needy and permitted the operation of schools, churches, and markets.  The Military Government tried to get all Memphians to sign an "Oath to the United States"  = >

In 1863, the Memphis Chamber of Commerce sent Abraham Lincoln this interesting letter asking that occupied Memphis should be treated like a "loyal city".

Military occupation lasted more than three years and affected Memphians attitudes more than the war itself.  Although they lived a relatively normal life during this period, Memphians hated occupation rule and the city became a focus for illicit trade in raw cotton, which was in great demand by northern cotton mills.  This trade in illicit cotton also corrupted the Union Army officers.  Union Army officials refer to Memphis as "Gomorrah of the West".  Yet they legalize and regulate prostitution during their occupation - not that Memphis needed any help along these lines. =>



<=  DAILY APPEAL- This is an artist rendering of what was the Memphis Daily Appeal office in 1862. The retreat of the newspaper began June 6, 1862 when the printing equipment was loaded on a railroad flat car hours before Federal gunboats smashed the Confederate fleet and captured Memphis. Over the next three years, the newspaper published in Grenada, Jackson and Meridian in Mississippi, Atlanta, Georgia and Montgomery, Alabama until April 6, 1865, when Federal troops destroyed the type at temporary offices in Columbus, Georgia. Fortunately,  the press  had  already been smuggled  out  of town and hauled from  it's hiding place in Macon, GA to Chattanooga, 

where it was loaded aboard a steamer bound for Cairo, Ill. The newspaper resumed Memphis publication at No. 13 Madison Avenue on Nov. 5, 1865.


1862 - Hauling sugar and cotton from their hiding places for shipment north. The City Ice House (left) was damaged by a shell during the battle between Union and Confederate gunboats in the harbor that preceded the city's capture  =>


Burning Cotton

Ginny Moon-Spy

Lotte Moon-Spy

Ginny Moon

Belle Edmondson-Spy

Isabella Edmondson


Many Women actually served as soldiers in the army by  disguising themselves as men.  One famous example is Cuban born Loreta Velazquez who became a soldier and spy known as Harry T. Buford.  She switched back and forth from espionage and fighting in major battles to traveling between New Orleans, Memphis, Richmond, collecting information. 

Harry T. Buford - Loreta Velazquez

"Harry" in Memphis Bar


IRVING BLOCK PRISON:  During the Civil War, this row of office buildings on Second Street, opposite the northeast corner of Court Square had been a Confederate hospital. After the fall of Memphis in 1862, the Union Army turned it into a Civil War Prison to house Confederate sympathizers.   As a prison, conditions became so deplorable that even the prison commandant was dismissed in 1864, but he was re-instated at the request of General Grant. The prison had become known as "the filthiest place ever occupied by human beings". It was so notorious that it was eventually closed by order of President Lincoln himself in 1865.


Irving Block Prison The building 1907 Marker Two ladies to prison Restitution to Heirs

* Irving Block Prison had its own comprehensive coverage on another page of this website >  Click here


HOSPITALS:  Being an occupied city earned Memphis its status as a major medical center in the Mid-South.  Wounded prisoners came by boat and wagon to be treated at hospitals that began to specialize as the war progressed.   Prior to the war the city had one hospital. By the end of the war, there were 15.  The Union used the hotels and warehouses of Memphis as a “hospital town” with over 5,000 wounded Union troops being brought for recovery.  The Civil War was one of the "bloodiest" in history - with over 620,000 casualties.  The overwhelming operation performed in hospitals was amputations.   

  "Bloody" war


The new Overton Hotel at Main and Poplar was used as a hospital.  This Hotel had not yet opened when the Civil War began. During the war both sides used the building as a hospital and as quarters. After the war ended, it officially opened as a hotel in 1866.   The Woolen Building in Howard's Row is among the oldest buildings in Memphis and was an early cotton trading center. In the 1850s it also housed the large slave market of Isaac Bolton.   It also served as a hospital during the Civil War.


Overton "Hospital" 1861 Article 1863 Article 1865 envelope - Overton Hosp.        1865 Letter from Overton Hospital


Woolen Bldg today Woolen Plaque Vintage Woolen photo  

Woolen Bldg today


A section of the Gayoso Hotel was also used as an army Hospital, designed for the reception of wounded patients only.  Female nurses "prepared food, stocked shelves, and made the wounded as comfortable as possible."  The Gayoso team was led by Mother Mary Ann Bickerdyke, perhaps the most famous nurse of the Civil War.   She became well known for her ability to bypass bureaucracy.  And she was the only woman ever allowed in Sherman's camps.


Gayoso "Hospital" Mary Ann Bickerdyke Marine "Hospital" Hospital Ward

Hospital Ward


The army hospitals in Memphis were the Gayoso, the Adams, the Washington, the Webster, the Jackson, the Union, the Jefferson, the Marine Hospital, and a small Officer’s Hospital on Front Street.  Two hospitals were set aside for contagious diseases—the Smallpox Hospital, which was located in the enlarge state-owned Memphis Hospital, and the Measles Hospital, located in the First Baptist church.  Later in July 1863, the First Baptist was reorganized as the Gangrene Hospital.  Successful experiments in the use of the bromine treatment of gangrene were carried out there, which greatly reduced the mortality of that dreaded wound complication.


Webster "Hospital" Officer's "Hospital" Washington "Hospital" "Washington" Ad 1860

Adams "Hospital" *


* Letters from a Union Soldier to his wife:  Thomas Hannah, Jr., Illinois 95th Infantry, Company G, was stationed at Adams General Hospital, Number 3, in Memphis from 26 January 1863 to 30 July 1864, serving as Ward Master.  During this period he wrote over 100 letters to his wife Elizabeth Marshall Hannah in Belvidere, Illinois.   He discusses life in Memphis and speaks about the nurses with whom he worked.  Michael Bryan Fiske, great, great grandson of Thomas Hannah, Jr. has transcribed these letters and shared some of them with us.  They are all courtesy of the Family of Robert Huntoon Hannah, grandson of Thomas Hannah, Jr.  We think you'll agree that these letters are unique.  To visit a separate in-depth page on Thomas Hannah Jr.. with more letters ... Click here.


Thos. Hannah, Jr Eliz. Hannah Click on a letter above and it will open a pdf file transcription of that letter.

Union Casualties from the siege of Vicksburg were evacuated mainly by hospital boat up the river to Memphis.  Later the same hospital boats were used to transport patients from Memphis to St. Louis and on to Cairo.  Two of the more famous hospital ships were the City of Memphis and the Red Rover,


City of Memphis

Red Rover

Red Rover Ward

Reinforcements for Grant's army


The 2nd Battle of Memphis...  Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest became obsessed with freeing prisoners from Irving Block Prison, and it was upper most in his mind when he made a daring raid on the Union-held city in 1864. His raid had three objectives: to capture three Union generals posted in the city; to release Southern prisoners from Irving Block Prison; and to cause the recall of Union forces from Northern Mississippi. He struck early in the morning but didn't find the generals at Hotel Gayoso, although one, Major General Washburn made his escape to Fort Pickering in his night shirt. Union troops were also able to prevent the attack on Irving Block Prison. Although the raid had failed in two of Forrest's objectives, he was successful in influencing Union forces to return to Memphis from northern Mississippi, which did provide the city more protection.


Forrest` Hotel Gayoso Irving Block Prison Washburn Escapes

Battle of Fort Pillow AKA known as Massacre of Fort Pillow  Fort Pillow was located 40 miles north of Memphis and this famous battle was fought April 12, 1864.  The battle ended with a massacre of surrendered Federal troops by soldiers under the command of Confederate Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest.


The fort had been a Confederate fort, but the rebels had evacuated in order to avoid being cut off from the rest of the Confederate army.  Union forces took over and used the fort to protect the river approach to Memphis.  On this date Forrest and his troops attached the fort with considerable power, followed by frequent demands for surrender.  Union Major Booth refused to surrender.    After another attach, Major Booth was killed and the Confederates swarmed over the fort.  Up to that time few Union men had been killed, but immediately upon re-claiming the fort, the confederates seemed intent on indiscriminate butchery of the whites and blacks, including the wounded.  They were bayoneted, shot, or sabred - men, women, and children. The dead and wounded were piled in heaps and burned.  Out of the garrison of 600, only 200 remained alive.  300 of those massacred were negroes.

Union survivors claimed that the Confederates indiscriminately killed Union troops, even as they tried to surrender.  Forrest and his officers stoutly denied that a massacre had occurred and offered their own explanations of why so few Union soldiers survived.  A commission made up of North and South was appointed to investigate.  Both sides concluded that there had been a massacre.  Most historians accept this verdict.  What makes the issue so controversial is that so many of the Union dead were African Americans.

      Harpers Weekly 1864

      Leslie's Weekly 1864

Burying the dead ...

The Union held Memphis for the remainder of the war, taking advantage of its transportation links and founding several hospitals in the city to care for up to 5,000 wounded troops from across the region.  Many of these large concentration of injured troops died while in Memphis, creating the need for a cemetery.  A site, 32 acres in northeast Memphis was selected, and in 1867, the first burials were made. While originally called Mississippi River National Cemetery, the name was shortened to "National Cemetery" in 1869.

Memphis National Cemetery



Over 1,000 Confederate soldiers and veterans are buried in Confederate Soldiers Rest, in Elmwood Cemetery. Many other Confederates are buried elsewhere in the cemetery. The first burial was in 1861 and the final internment was in 1940. Union soldiers were also buried here in the 1860s but almost all were removed in 1868 and re-interred in Memphis National Cemetery. Two Union generals remain at Elmwood. There are 20 Confederate generals buried here.


Elmwood Cemetery Confederate section


The Sultana Riverboat Explosion of 1865 occurred when the ship's boilers exploded and the ship sank near Memphis.  It was the greatest maritime disaster in U. S. History. 1,800 were killed, most of them Union soldiers returning home after the end of the Civil War. Many of the victims were originally buried at Elmwood Cemetery.  When National Cemetery opened in 1868, these soldiers were re-interred there.  Unfortunately their wooden caskets were marked with chalk and that identification was lost due to a rain in route to the cemetery.  Thus Memphis National Cemetery has the second largest population of Unknown Soldiers in America.

Sultana before explosion

Sultana Marker  



Confederate Burials


Confederate soldiers couldn't be buried in National Cemeteries, and they, nor their widows, were eligible for benefits from the U.S. Government. The United Confederate Veterans  was founded in 1889 to help as a "benevolent, historical, social and literary Association".  Their primary functions were to provide for widows and orphans of Confederate soldiers, preserve relics and mementos, care for disabled soldiers, preserve records of service and to organize reunions and gatherings where funds could be raised to support their work.

Reconstruction ...

President Johnson wanted to restore the Union in as little time as possible. While Congress was in recess, the president began implementing his plans, which became known as Presidential Reconstruction.   His plan offered general amnesty to all who would take an oath of future loyalty.  Johnson returned confiscated property to white southerners, issued hundreds of pardons to former Confederate officers and government officials, and undermined the Freedmen’s Bureau by ordering it to return all confiscated lands to white landowners. Johnson also appointed governors to supervise the drafting of new state constitutions and agreed to readmit each state provided it ratified the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery. Hoping that Reconstruction would be complete by the time Congress reconvened a few months later, he declared Reconstruction over at the end of 1865.


Andrew Johnson

Reconstruction Idealic version of Emancipation Inciting Riot? No Confederate Money...

To coordinate efforts to protect the rights of former slaves and provide them with education and medical care, Congress creates the Freedman's Bureau. One of the bureau's most important functions was to oversee labor contracts between ex-slaves and employers.


Freedman's Bureau-1866 Settle disputes - 1868 Freedman's School-1865 Anti-Freedman Poster

The sudden emancipation of thousands of slaves, without property, education and means of economic support, could have created a demoralized class and led to total chaos and famine. The actual evidence suggests a smoother transition than one might have expected. But it was a lot for the Southerner to comprehend  right after losing a war for  "The Cause..." and the transition certainly was far from perfect ... 


Amnesty Oath Carpetbaggers Emmancipation Proc. Education 15th Amendment

First Vote


There was a strange "twist" at the end of the war in Memphis.  The city had escaped the destruction of so many other Southern cities and it had a booming economy.  When Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation which freed all slaves within "Confederate-held territory" and allowed African Americans to serve in the Federal army, Memphis was occupied by Union forces and no longer a Confederate city.  Ironically at war's end, slavery continued unabated, not only in Memphis but in all of Tennessee, as well.  Congress quickly passed the thirteenth amendment and Tennessee adopted the measure in December of 1865 - thus Slavery  ended in Tennessee.


The conflict between the races didn't end.  Confederate soldiers came home to a transformed society that gave as much legal protection to a black laborer as it did to a white planter.  Many of the returning vets found this intolerable and immediately set about to change things; if not to the way they were before the war, then to something similar. There were white-led race riots in Memphis, New Orleans, and a host of other Southern towns between 1874 and 1876, where whites finally restored their control over the cities. Thus, while the Civil War changed the legal status of race in America, it didn't change people's hearts.


KKK in Memphis


The Race Riots of 1866...

During the War, Memphis became a haven for freed slaves seeking protection from their former owners.  The black population increased from 3,000 in 1860 to 20,000 in 1865.  Racial tensions were heightened when black Union Army soldiers were used to patrol the city.  A riot was sparked on May 1, 1866, when the horse-drawn hacks of a black man and a white man collided. As a group of black veterans tried to intervene to stop the arrest of the black man, a crowd of whites gathered at the scene. Fighting broke out, and then escalated into three days of racially motivated violence, primarily pitting the police  against black residents. When it was over, 46 blacks and two whites had been killed, five black women raped, and hundreds of black homes, schools, and churches had been vandalized or destroyed by arson.



Harpers 1866 The Riots Burning Black Schools   Riot Marker

The official report:  Through early 1866, there were numerous instances of threats and fighting between black soldiers and white Memphis policemen, who were mostly (90%) Irish immigrants. Officials of the Freedmen's Bureau reported that police arrested black soldiers for the minor offenses and treated them with brutality.  Although black soldiers were commended for restraint, rumors spread among the white community that blacks were planning some type of organized revenge. Trouble was anticipated when most black Union troops were mustered out of the army on April 30, 1866. The former black soldiers remained in the city while awaiting discharge pay.

On the afternoon of May 1, the chronic hatred between the city police and the now discharged black soldiers erupted into armed conflict. Details of the specific incident that initiated the conflict vary. The most widely held account is that policemen were attempting to take into custody several ex-soldiers for disorderly conduct and were resisted by a crowd of their comrades. Some historians attribute the inciting incident to the collision between two carriages of a black man and a white man. After a group of black veterans tried to intervene to stop the arrest of the black man, a crowd of whites gathered at the scene, and fighting broke out.  In each incident there was confrontation between white police officers and black Union Army soldiers. There also appeared to have been multiple confrontations followed by waves of reinforcements on both sides, extending over several hours. This initial conflict resulted in injuries to several people and one policeman's death, possibly self-inflicted due to the mishandling of his own gun. 

The initial skirmish ended after dusk and the veterans returned to Fort Pickering, on the south boundary of downtown Memphis. Having learned of the trouble, attending officers disarmed the men and confined them to the base. The ex-soldiers did not contribute significantly to the events that followed.

The subsequent phase of the riots was fueled by rumors that there was an armed rebellion of Memphis' black residents.[5] These false claims were spread by local officials and rabble rousers. Matters were made worse by the suspicious absence of Memphis Mayor John Park and the indecisive commitment of the commander of federal troops in Memphis, General George Stoneman. When white mobs gathered at the scene of the initial skirmish and found no one to confront, they proceeded into nearby freedmen's settlements and attacked the residents as well as missionaries who worked there as teachers.  The conflict continued from the night of May 1 to the afternoon of May 3, when General Stoneman declared martial law and order was restored. 

No criminal proceedings were held for the instigators or perpetrators of atrocities committed during the Memphis Riots. The United States Attorney General, James Speed, ruled that judicial actions associated with the riots fell under state jurisdiction.   However, state and local officials refused to take action, and no grand jury was ever invoked. Although criticized for his inaction, General Stoneman was investigated by a congressional committee and was exonerated. The Memphis Riots did not mar his political career as he was later elected governor of California (1883–87).

Tennessee was the first of the seceding states readmitted to the Union on July 24, 1866.  Because Tennessee had ratified the Fourteenth Amendment, it was also the only one of the secessionist states that didn't have a military governor during the Reconstruction period.


Post Reconstruction ...


After the formal end of Reconstruction, the struggle over power in Southern society continued. For generations white Tennesseans had been raised to believe that slavery was justified.  Some could not accept that former slaves were now equal under the law.  With violence and intimidation against freedmen and their allies, White Democrats regained political power in Tennessee and other states across the South in the late 1870s and 1880s. Over the next decade, the state legislature passed increasingly restrictive laws involving African Americans.  In 1889 the General Assembly passed four laws described as electoral reform, with the effect of essentially disfranchising most African Americans, as well as many poor Whites. Legislation included implementation of a poll tax, timing of registration, and recording requirements. Tens of thousands of taxpaying citizens were without representation well into the 20th century.


The Jim Crow laws and "separate but equal" restrictive laws will continue as a way of life for decades in the South, and to some degree in other parts of the country.  Racial segregation will "officially" end with the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

  Colored Only Fountains Colored Waiting Rooms

Confederate President Jefferson Davis was imprisoned for 2 years and then the treason charges were dropped.  He had no money, property or income.  Finally he is offered a job as President of the Carolina Insurance Company in Memphis.  He and his family move to the city and live here from 1869- 1873.  His daughter is married in the house on Court.  A young son dies in one of the Yellow Fever epidemics and is buried at Elmwood Cemetery.  The Insurance Company goes bankrupt and the family relocates to Biloxi, Mississippi where he dies in 1889.

Jefferson Davis

Memphis Home


Confederate Park was dedicated in 1908 and planned as a Memorial to the Civil War.  It was part of the great designer George Kessler's "Grand Design" for Memphis. During the War, the Mississippi River below this park was the sight of an intense battle between the Union and Confederate forces.  Many lives were lost and they are remembered at Confederate Park.  Today, the park provides a great perspective where the battle occurred and there are markers to read first-hand accounts of the battle.

  Davis Statue Confederate Park

Forrest Park was established in the early 1900s and was another of George Kessler's "Grand Designs for Memphis" parks. The sculpture of Forrest is by Charles H. Niehaus, whose work can also be seen at the Library of Congress. His sculpture is considered one of the finest equestrian public park statures in the U.S. It took him 3 years to model and nearly nine months for the casting. It's 21' 6" high. The cost of $32,359.53 was raised by private organizations. The bodies of Forrest and his wife were re-interred from the Forrest family plot at Elmwood Cemetery to Forrest Park in 1904.

   Forrest Park - Statue  
* Forrest Park and the story of the statue are thoroughly covered on another page of this website >  Click here

When Riverside Drive was constructed in the mid-1930s, Jefferson Davis Park was built on what had been an old dumping ground for construction debris and dredge materials from the Mississippi River. It was enlarged to its present size in 1937, using more material dredged from the river. The Park was named after Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy, who lived in Memphis from 1869 to 1873 and who was president of an insurance company here.

Jefferson Davis Park  

United Confederate Veterans Reunions ... 1901, 1909, 1924  Memphis is the only city to host three of the United Confederate Veterans Reunions - which brought millions  of dollars into the city. In 1901, the Reunion was considered so important to the city that an astonishing $80,000 was raised to construct an 18,000 seat Confederate Hall on the site of Confederate Park - the building to be demolished at the end of the 3 day reunion.  One of the largest single donations of $1,000 came from the first black millionaire Robert Reed Church.  That first reunion in 1901 drew 125,000 visitors to the city.  That's a lot of money.   

1901 Front St 1909 Bijou Theatre 1909 Grand Parade 1909 Grand Parade 1924 Parade

* The UCV Reunions have their own comprehensive coverage on another page of this website >  Click here



2013 Updates ...


Confederate Park

Forrest Park

Jefferson Davis Park


In February 2013, without public notice, the Memphis City Council dropped all three names of these parks and removed the names from the signs at the parks because it said the names "evoked a racist past and were unwelcoming in a city where most of the population is black".  As yet they have not come up with "acceptable" alternate names for the three parks, but Confederate Park may become "Memphis Park" or "Promenade Park".  Forrest Park may be named  "Health Sciences Park" or "Civil War Memorial Park" and Jefferson Davis Park may become "Mississippi River Park" or "Harbor Park".   There is also a movement to rename one of the parks after civil rights activist Ida B. Wells, and Mayor Wharton wanted to name one of them after Maxine Smith, who fought for decades to have the graves and the statue removed from Forrest Park.   The outcome of the park statues has not been decided.  If past history is any indication, the statues will be removed, placed in storage... and quietly forgotten. 

Update 2017:   In December the Memphis City Government quietly changed some laws giving the city permission to sell Forrest Park (Health Sciences Park) to a non profit company for $1000.  The non-profit had been created for this purpose and as soon as the bill of sale was signed, large cranes went into action and removed the Forrest statue and moved it to an unknown location.  They also sold Confederate Park (Memphis Park) and removed the statue of Davis.


Historic-Memphis website note:  FACT:  There was an American Civil War.  It was all about slavery.  Changing some names of Memphis Parks won't change that.  No matter what  new name is applied to these parks, there will always be a footnote about the original names that stood for over a hundred years.  Renaming these parks will not erase the South's greatest shame.   What the city council has done with this 2013 ruling creates an even greater divide in Memphis racial relations.  As offensive as some find Confederate symbols, those symbols represent Memphis  history. That history should not be denied.  It is part of the South's good, bad and ugly, as well as the nation as a whole.  To change names that are historically relevant is an attempt to change the course of history.  For a city government to attempt to bury the past by pretending it didn’t exist is a major exploitation of power.  Will the burning of history books be next on their agenda?


It's rare to find a large southern city that was virtually untouched by the destruction of the Civil War.  Memphis is one of those rare cities.  It should be the major treasure-trove of great early southern architecture in America.  Yet, virtually no buildings from before the Civil War remain in the city.

Memphis continues to have this tendency to erase it's history or not to come to terms with its historic identity.


Masonic Temple  .  Madison and 2nd

The building, dating from 1850, was demolished in the 1950s.


Hotel Gayoso .  Main Street

This building burned in 1899.  A grander Gayoso replaced it in 1902, but never quite achieved its former glory.  That building still exists and has now been restored for use as apartments, restaurants, and offices.


Hunt-Phelan Home .  Beale Street

The building from 1828 still exists.  Almost all the land has been divided and the home itself is now on the "endangered list".


Davies Manor Plantation .  Bartlett

The home from 1807 still exists.   It's built as a 'log and chink' house made of squared white oak logs.  The name comes from Logan Davies who acquired the building in 1851. He and his brother eventually added 2000 acres and put the land to use as a plantation.


Fort Pickering .  on the Bluffs

The fort was demolished in 1866.  Not one trace of it exists on the bluffs above the Mississippi.


Irving Blum Prison .  2nd - at Court Square.

The buildings were demolished in 1937


Woolen Building .  Union Avenue

This building still exists in the section known as "Howard's Row" on Union Avenue..


Overland Hotel  - Main and Poplar

The Overland was sold to the city in 1874 and then used as a court house until 1919.  It was demolished in 1920 so Ellis Auditorium could be built on the site.


Bijou Theatre  -  Main and Linden, Approximately where the Chisca Hotel is located.

The Bijou Theatre was as large as the Orpheum.  It  burned in 1911 and was not rebuilt.


Jefferson Davis Home - 129 Court

This building was demolished in the 1930s




Civil War Memorabilia ...


Confederate Coins, Bonds, and Currency... 

It's worth more now than when it was in circulation (It was almost worthless when it was in circulation).  Be careful because the market is overrun with counterfeit Confederate money.

  Very Rare Coinsq Confederate Bonds Bonds

20 CSA Dollars 100 CSA Dollars 500 CSA Dollars

Canon Bugle Drum Uniform 1861 TN War Vets

Confederate Postage 1861 1884 Reparation Civil War Dress "Hard Tack" 1863 Letter from Memphis

CSA Paid 5 Cents 1861 C.W. Amputation Kit C.W. Medicine Case

1865 Lee Surrenders...


1864 Freedman's Documents

1863 Telegraph

1862 Order

1863 Letter: Lady to Husband

1864 Ordnance


1864 Letter from Memphis






The Historic-Memphis website does not intentionally post copyrighted photos and material without permission or credit.  On occasion a "non-credited" photo might possibly be posted because we were unable to find a name to give credit.  Because of the nature of our non-commercial, non-profit, educational website, we strongly believe that these photos would be considered "Fair Use.  We have certainly made no monetary gain, although those using this website for historic or Genealogy research have certainly profited.  If by chance, we have posted your copyrighted photo, please contact us, and we'll remove it immediately, or we'll add your credit if that's your choice.  In the past, we have found that many photographers volunteer to have their works included on these pages and we'll  also do that if you contact us with a photo that fits a particular page. 


The "Historic-Memphis" website would like to acknowledge and thank the following for their contributions which helped make this website possible:  Memphis Public Library, Memphis University Library, Memphis Law Library, Memphis Commercial Appeal, Memphis Press Scimitar, Shelby County Register of Deeds, Memphis City Schools, Memphis Business Men's Club, Memphis Chamber of Commerce, Memphis City Park Commission, Memphis Film Commision, Carnival Memphis, Memphis Historical Railroad Page, Memphis Heritage Inc, Beale Street Historic District, Cobblestone Historic District, Memphis Historic Districts, Vance Lauderdale Family Archives, Tennessee State Archives, Library of Congress, Kemmons Wilson Family, Richard S. Brashier, Lee Askew, George Whitworth, Woody Savage and many individuals whose assistance is acknowledged on the pages of their contributions.  Special thanks to Memphis Realtor, Joe Spake, for giving us carte blanche access to his outstanding collection of contemporary Memphis photos.

We do not have high definition  copies of the photos on these pages.  If anyone wishes to secure high definition photos,  you'll have to contact the photographer  or the collector.  (To avoid any possibility of contributing to SPAM, we do not maintain a file of email addresses for anyone who contacts us).