The Confederate soldiers buried in Madison were not heroes, as a small plaque had claimed.
They were young men who fought on the wrong side of history for the ugly goal of preserving slavery.
But they do have names. They died at a Camp Randall prison. They are a part of our history that should be told, not shunned.
Madison should explain to visitors of Forest Hill Cemetery who these 140 rebels were and how they got here.
Instead, the Madison City Council this week tried to bury the past. The council unanimously voted to remove a stone monument from the Confederate gravesite on the Near West Side. The 4-foot stone lists most of the names of the soldiers buried there, which is helpful to visitors because many of the rebel tombstones are so worn they are no longer legible. The names are vanishing from sight.
The council also voted 13-5 against displaying historical information in front of the graveyard, which is called the Confederate Rest. Credit Alds. Paul Skidmore, Mike Verveer, Zach Wood, Steve King and David Ahrens for being the only council members who sided with an open approach to the past. And fault the rest of the council (though not Alds. Maurice Cheeks and Denise DeMarb, who were absent) for trying to obscure what happened 156 years ago.
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Forest Hill visitors deserve answers about the curious site, not a mysterious void. The Rest is noteworthy as the northernmost Confederate graveyard in the nation, and it can still teach lessons.
Madison Mayor Paul Soglin removed a small plaque last year from in front of the Rest. His action was justified because the plaque, set there in 1981, erroneously claimed the rebel soldiers were “unsung heroes.”
But the larger monument, placed in the middle of the site in 1906 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, should stay somewhere nearby to list the names of the dead. The Daughters of the Confederacy has obnoxiously pushed a false narrative about Southern secession and slavery. Yet no such claims appear on the stone — only the group’s name. And that alone shouldn’t require the monument’s removal.
Soglin has been open to keeping the stone somewhere on the site and wisely called for adding a marker with factual information. Soglin should veto the council’s decision and demand more information be displayed. A historian should draft a brief summary of the Confederate Rest’s history.
Historical information appears in front of the tombstones of Union soldiers at Forest Hill. A similar sign should explain why the rebels are there.