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Confederate monument removed from Forest Hill Cemetery, given to Veterans Museum

January 10, 2019
A stone monument listing the names of buried Confederate soldiers in Forest Hill Cemetery was removed on Friday and given to the Wisconsin Veterans Museum. It sits in storage at an archive facility on Madison's Near East Side.

Almost a year after officials started discussing the fate of a Confederate monument in a Madison cemetery, the 112-year-old marker dedicated to Confederate soldiers has been removed.

The large, stone monument stood in a section of Forest Hill Cemetery where about 140 Confederate soldiers are buried, known as Confederate Rest. Now it sits in crates. The marker, which lists the names of the dead prisoners-of-war, was taken out of the cemetery at 1 Speedway Road on Friday, said Madison Parks Superintendent Eric Knepp.

He said the monument has been donated to the Wisconsin Veterans Museum, which was one of two organizations -- the other being the Wisconsin Historical Society -- the city intended to offer the monument to as part of authorizing its removal.

No damage was done to either the monument or the cemetery grounds when a forklift was brought in Friday morning to aid in the removal, Knepp said.

Michael Telzrow, director of the Wisconsin Veterans Museum, said the marker is in crates at the State Archive Preservation Facility on Madison’s Near East Side.

“There are no current plans for its exhibition either now or in the near future,” he said. “It’s highly unlikely that it would ever be permanently displayed.”

Telzrow said the museum at 30 W. Mifflin St. on Capitol Square accepted it as there are connections between the memorial and Union veterans from Wisconsin. Some state veterans helped raise money for the marker, and the local post of the Grand Army of the Republic -- a fraternal organization for Union veterans -- participated in the dedication ceremony, he said.

The United Daughters of the Confederacy donated the monument for the northernmost Confederate graveyard. It was installed in 1906.

In April, City Council members, on a voice vote, backed the removal of the monument, which has sometimes been referred to as a cenotaph. Some argued the United Daughters of the Confederacy is part of the “Lost Cause” movement in which the Confederate cause is painted in a romantic, heroic manner that minimizes the role of slavery in the Civil War.

Prior to the council vote, two city commissions supported the marker’s retention with signage being added to the graveyard to give it historical context, while a third commission backed the removal.

The city’s Landmarks Commission, though, temporarily put a halt to the plan in August after it denied an application to remove the monument from Forest Hill Cemetery, which has been designated a national landmark. But that decision was overturned by the City Council on a 16-2 vote in October, clearing the way for removal.

Not all of the monument is gone from Confederate Rest. The structure’s base remains in the cemetery. Knepp said it would be too costly to pursue a permit from the State Historic Preservation Office to disturb the cemetery’s ground in order to extract the base.

The base of the monument, which is made from granite, is estimated to weigh more than 4,000 pounds, according to a Madison memorial design business.

“Even with the time and money, there was no certainty that the permit would be issued,” Knepp said in an email to City Council members.

Instead, the top two portions of the monument were taken off the base and brought to the State Archive Preservation Facility, 202 S. Thornton Ave. The top-most portion listed 132 names of Confederate soldiers who died at Camp Randall when it was used as a Union military base.

The middle section stated: “Erected in loving memory by United Daughters of Confederacy to Mrs. Alice Whiting Waterman and her boys,” a reference to the woman who had maintained the graves and is also buried in Confederate Rest. Nothing is inscribed in the base.

“I ordered staff to efficiently and safely remove the upper two portions and dispose of them as authorized by the Common Council. My intent at this time is to let this issue rest here,” Knepp said in the email.

In August 2017, Mayor Paul Soglin ordered a smaller stone marker with a plaque just outside the borders of the graveyard be removed. That monument, placed in 1982, described the dead as “valiant Confederate soldiers” and “unsung heroes.”

Soglin’s decision to get rid of the plaque came after a protest over a Confederate statue in Virginia that involved white supremacists resulted in a counter-protester being killed and several others injured. The city began to explore the fate of the larger monument at Soglin’s behest last January.

Knepp said neither the Veterans Museum nor the Wisconsin Historical Society have expressed an interest in the plaque. It remains in storage at a Parks Division facility. Telzrow confirmed the Veterans Museum declined the plaque.

“That’s a much later addition and lacks, in our estimation, any historical connection or historical context to our mission,” he said.

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