Catching up with history
We think the Madison Council will move on
Sorry to break this to you, but Blaska does not possess every super power. Yes, he has the amazing ability to look into the past. He possesses an incredible command of the obvious. But he cannot be two places at once.
The squire of the Stately Manor chose the Madison school board Monday, much to the delight of the social justice warriors who blame racist police and teachers for enforcing school discipline. Which meant he could not haunt the city’s Landmarks Commission, chaired by my worthy adversary Stuart Levitan.
After attending previous meetings, it appeared likely the commission would refuse to grant a “certificate of appropriateness” for the removal — ordered by the Madison Common Council — of the monument marking the 140 graves of Johnnie Rebs who died as POWs in Madison during the Civil War. It did so Monday (08-27-18) by 3 to 1 despite Mr. Levitan’s volte face in favor of removing the stone. Oddly, the chairman of Landmarks votes only in a tie, which is just plain dumb. The president of the Common Council votes always, as does the chairman of the county board, as does the Speaker of the House. Why would the chair of the Landmarks Commission not vote?
The WI State Journal has been stalwart in defense of history, even if historian Levitan is not. We are going to quibble with the city’s newspaper of record for reporting:
The monument was installed in 1906 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, an organization some have argued attempts to romanticize the Confederate cause as part of a “Lost Cause” movement.
Yes, the Confederate Daughters collected the money to pay for the stone but we would argue it was installed by the Madison chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union soldiers’ VFW of the time. It was the GAR that conducted the ceremony. The Daughters sent the money up to the GAR unit elder, former Union Captain Frank Oakley. He, in turn, contracted with a local stone mason to carve the monument and presided over the ceremony.
Indeed, the subheadline over the State Journal news account of the time reads:
Monument to be Unveiled at Confederate Rest
by Local Grand Army Post.
Fellow Union veteran Hugh Lewis shared emcee honors that day 112 years ago. He lost an arm at Gettysburg. So, unlike the 14 alders who voted its removal, Major Lewis had, shall we say, skin in the game.
In a conversation with your humble bloggeur at the time, Stu defended his opposition saying the stone was, somehow, “too big.” Blaska argued that the laws of physics mitigate against inscribing 140 names on a post card. In any event, the stone was no larger than surrounding grave markers in that old section of Forest Hill Cemetery, big stones being the custom of the time. Levitan also argued, very oddly, that Madison had voted for George McClellan. Removing the stone, apparently, would be their comeuppance for voting Democrat in the election of 1864. (Now, there is irony for you!)
Aside from which, the stone was the first permanent grave marker, supplanting the second generation of wooden boards then weathering away. Furthermore, one must assume that a few of the subscribers to the fund drive were relatives of the dead soldiers. Have we been reduced to erasing history, even to the point of yanking out grave markers? At the risk of invoking Godwin’s law, isn’t that what the Nazis did?
The real sin of the stone is its inscription:
Erected in loving memory by United Daughters of Confederacy to
Alice Whiting Waterman and her boys.
That’s it. No justification for slavery or insurrection. No glorification. No sword-wielding general aboard a prancing horse.
The trigger words are three: “United,” “Daughters,” and (especially) “Confederacy.” Progressives like Alder Marsha Rummel — the lone vote on Landmarks — object to the Confederate Daughters for sanitizing history through the Lost Cause movement in the decades bracketing the turn of the last century. We have no doubt they took a more benign view of their history and brethren than we northerners are apt to today. But
Mrs. Waterman, if memories need refreshing, had tended the once-forgotten burial ground until her own death in 1897, attracting two governors who themselves had been Union generals. She died residing in the home of Union Captain Oakley!
Will the Common Council appeal the Landmark Commission decision? I don’t know, either. (Another of my un-super powers and the Eisenhower era mainframe Ol’ Sparky is in the shop for another product recall. Something about spontaneous combustion.)
But we got to think the Council has bigger fish to fry than rewriting history— like a flooded city, perhaps?