Madison should rename Wilson Street
For 112 years, a large stone monument has stood at the entrance to Confederates Rest, in Madison’s Forest Hill Cemetery.
In its long history, the stone was garlanded by aging survivors of the horrors of the Civil War — Union soldiers who saw the fighting first-hand and knew they fought for freedom but now was time for conciliation.
For five score and 12, the stone survived the elements but not the cheap and easy virtue-signaling of the Madison Common Council on April 10, 2018.
Following the lead of Mayor Soglin, the Council Tuesday night voted to bring out the forklift and the flatbed truck. The cenotaph, itself a vital artifact of the history of Madison, will be uprooted and shrouded in a dark and secret location, shrouded in canvas, according to the city’s parks director.
The Blaska Policy Werkes now directs the Emerald City’s attention to any and all markers designating the presence of the Democrat(ic) Party, the party of slavery and secession.
A testament to compassion
The cenotaph at Confederates Rest was erected as testament to a Madison woman, Alice Whiting Waterman, who — alone at first — cared for the graves of 140 otherwise forgotten Confederate soldiers captured on the Mississippi River and imprisoned at Madison’s Camp Randall, who died of their injuries and disease in 1862.
Moving to Madison in 1868, Mrs. Waterman replaced the crude wooden grave markers when weather took their toll. She mounded dirt over the graves. Planted hedges. Erected a fence, which she ultimately replaced with the low stone border seen there now.
Along the way, her efforts attracted the notice of Wisconsin governors, people like Cadwallader Washburn, a general who served at Vicksburg with Grant. According to the Wisconsin State Journal, 29 May 1885.
In her work, Mrs. Waterman attracted the support of former Governor Lucius Fairchild [himself commander in chief of the GAR from 1886-87], Fred Phillips, and Captain Hugh Lewis — all one-armed veterans and members of the G.A.R.
It was Mrs. Waterman’s dream that, one day, the names of the dead — so far from their homes in Alabama — would be engraved permanently in stone. It was a dream that went unfulfilled at Mrs. Waterman’s death in 1897. As was the custom of the day, her funeral was held at the home provided her by the family of Union veteran Major F. W. Oakley on N. Carroll St.
But a fund-raising campaign in the South produced a stone engraved with the names of the 140 dead and this inscription:
“Erected in loving memory by the Daughters of the Confederacy to Mrs. Alice Whiting Waterman and her boys.”
That’s it. No history is rewritten. No subliminal defense of slavery. No mounted Confederate general waving a saber.
It was one-armed Captain Lewis and Major Oakley who would unveil the memorial stone to Mrs. Waterman in 1906. Joining its dedication the Lucius Fairchild Post #11 of the Grand Army of the Republic of Madison. The G.A.R. was the American Legion of its day for Union civil war veterans.
The gravestones now dotting on the grounds were placed three years later.
At the 1937 National Encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic, GAR commander in chief William Ruhe — well into his 90s — laid a wreath at monument in an act of reconciliation thus making the monument part of GAR history and history of the country.
Two separate city commissions, Landmarks and Parks, recommended keeping the cenotaph but adding a sign to explain the site.
“We found that the structure does not extol the Confederacy or the secession, but functions as a grave marker,” Landmarks Commission chairman Stu Levitan told the Council last night.
Unsurprisingly for a body that sees everything through the lens of racism, the Madison Taliban took the recommendation of the Equal Opportunities Commission to remove the stone. (When your job is to look for racism, racism is all you see.) This is a city that erected a monument to Communism at James Madison (slaveholder) Park.
No doubt that the Daughters of the Confederacy a century ago took a more benign view of their fathers and their cause than my generation, who — like your Squire — marched for civil rights in the 1960s.
Somehow, what was acceptable to the men who survived the slaughter of the fight against slavery and secession now troubles the consciousness of Madison’s most enlightened.
They fret that the monument at Confederates Rest cemetery is some kind of subliminal, Trump-inspired mind-bot for the Lost Cause is a bit paranoid. The Daughters are hardly the KKK.
The Council’s authorizing resolution states “the United Daughters of the Confederacy aligned itself with white supremacists and racists in its effort to obfuscate the truth that the South fought the Civil War to preserve slavery and segregation.”
The party of Jim Crow
For that matter, so did the Democratic party. Historians Eric Foner and George C. Rable called the Ku Klux Klan “the Military arm of the Democratic party.”
Frederick Douglass urged the re-election of President Grant in 1872.
“If as a class we are slighted by the Republican party, we are as a class murdered by the Democratic Party.”
It was Democrats who instituted apartheid throughout the south after Reconstruction ended in 1877.
Woodrow Wilson banned the hiring of blacks in federal government. He was an avid fan of Birth of a Nation, which restarted the second wave of the Klan. George Wallace, Lester Maddox, and the Dixiecrats, anyone?
If you want some history.