Landmarks Commission right to keep Confederate marker in Madison

August 29, 2018

The Madison Landmarks Commission wisely bucked the City Council and its own chairman this week in denying a request to remove a small Confederate monument from Forest Hill Cemetery.

The granite marker lists the names of about 140 Confederate soldiers buried at the Near West Side cemetery. The rebel soldiers were captured during the Civil War and brought to Camp Randall, which served as a prison camp.

Some of the individual headstones of the Southern soldiers who died here are so worn they are unreadable. So the 4-foot stone monument helps identify who is buried at the “Confederate Rest,” the northernmost Confederate graveyard in the nation.

“We can move it,” Landmarks commissioner Anna Andrzejewski said at Monday’s meeting. “But personally to me as someone who is interested in telling history on a basis of physical things, that changes what histories people can tell in the future.”

She’s right. And along with fellow commissioners Richard Arnesen and David McLean, Andrzejewski voted 3-1 to retain the historic marker. Only Ald. Marsha Rummel, the City Council’s representative on the commission, voted to remove the stone. Commission chairman Stu Levitan didn’t vote but had previously said he supports removal, as did a majority of the City Council in April.

Instead of taking information away from people who visit the cemetery, the city should erect a sign with more information. Such a sign could explain who the Confederate soldiers were and how they arrived and died in Madison in 1862. That’s something the Landmarks Commission also recommended Monday.

The only other change to the site should be to adjust the monument so it doesn’t sit directly in front of the headstone of rebel soldier William Green, which is disrespectful of the dead and blocks the public’s view.

The United Daughters of the Confederacy erected the monument in 1906, and its name appears below the names of the soldiers’. Ald. Rummel claims the monument is “an emblem of the whitewashing of history that the United Daughters of the Confederacy engaged in.” That’s a stretch. Mayor Paul Soglin already removed the only part of the Confederate Rest that was offensive — a plaque hailing the rebel soldiers as “unsung heroes.” And the Daughters of the Confederacy had nothing to do with that.

As Andrzejewski explained, the stone’s real purpose is as a “historic communal marker.” And according to city staff, removing it would violate Madison’s historic preservation ordinance.

The City Council should respect the Landmarks Commissions’ decision and let the historic stone stand with more — not less — information for the public.

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