'Lest We Forget'

Memory, Monument and the Civil War in Madison

More than 70,000 soldiers passed through Camp Randall during the Civil War. The debate on how to honor them continues.

The Arch at Camp Randall
The Arch at Camp Randall

Fans pass beneath the arch on a Badger football game day, as two statues watch over the crowd. Photo: Jeff Miller, University of Wisconin-Madison Communications. 

On fall weekends, tens of thousands of Badger football fans swarm the grounds of Camp Randall on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. Standing guard over them are two statues positioned on either side of an imposing arch that the UW marching band passes through on its way to the game.

Few read the inscription on the inside of the arch. Few know that more than 150 years ago, thousands of young men passed over the same ground preparing to fight and potentially die for their country. Of the more than 70,000 soldiers who passed through the gates of Camp Randall to fight in the Civil War, 12,000 never returned from the battlefields. 

The arch stands as a testament to their sacrifices, and so does the entire Camp Randall Memorial Park, which contains other artifacts and monuments. Monuments commemorating the history of the Civil War and Wisconsin’s contribution to it are scattered throughout the Madison area, like the cannon and artifacts in the Wisconsin Veteran’s Museum and the gravestones in Forest Hill Cemetery. 

The arch was built in the midst of controversy, however, and almost 150 years after the end of the war, historians, public employees and Madison residents still debate how to best remember the sacrifices that their ancestors made. 

The Memorial Arch

Flanking the sides of the arch are two statues. One is a young soldier, who stands on a pedestal that the inscription 1862; the other is a veteran, wearing a medal of the Grand Army of the Republic that on a pedestal with the date 1912, the year the arch was dedicated and built.

The Dedication of the Camp Randall Memorial Arch
The Dedication of the Camp Randall Memorial Arch

The dedication of the Camp Randall Memorial Arch on June 19, 1912. Image Source: The Wisconsin Historical Society, WHS-11270.

During the Civil War, Camp Randall served as a training ground for recruits. But after 1865, it returned to its original purpose as the state’s fair grounds. The Legislature purchased the land in 1893 for use as a UW athletic facility and as a memorial park. 

The creation of the memorial park was a goal of Wisconsin Department of the Grand Army of the Republic, a powerful veterans organization that sought to protect the veterans and their heritage. Hosea Rood, G.A.R. Wisconsin Department Patriotic Instructor, lobbied hard for the creation of a memorial arch to commemorate the story of the war.  Rood wrote

“We ask you not to delay this matter. The very youngest of that rapidly diminishing army of boys and young men who rescued our country from dissolution is now nearing his allotted three score and ten. We are marching rather rapidly down the sunlit slope and it will not be very long before we shall have gone into the camp beyond the river. If we are to rejoice in the fact of this memorial, it must be built before long.” 

In 1911, the Legislature allotted $25,000 for the creation of a monument. The plans for the arch upset Richard Lloyd Jones, the editor of the Wisconsin State Journal. 

Jones described the arch as having been designed by “nothing more or less than a draughtsman in the employ of a granite quarry.” His public protests received support from some Madison residents. 

Camp Randall Soldier
Camp Randall Soldier

The statue depicting the young soldier on the 1862 pedestal at Camp Randall.

But by the time he was brought onto the project to appease discontent with the arch, it was too late, said Daniel Einstein, UW Historic and Cultural Resources Manager. The statues of the two soldiers had already been chiseled and only a few minor design tweaks could be made on the monument. The arch was built and finished by June 1912.

While the arch was meant to preserve the memory of the Union soldiers, it has been misinterpreted at times, Einstein said. E.B. Fred, a former president of the university, wrote a guidebook to Madison, published in 1978, in which he incorrectly identified the two statues. Rather than describing them as a solider and a veteran, he claimed one was a Confederate soldier and the other was a Union soldier.

A student newspaper and other publications have also reported Fred’s story. 

“One of the problems is that people get it wrong. Then they go to secondary sources and they replicate bad information because it comes from a reliable source,” Einstein said. “I’m reading this stuff, and I’m going ‘Where did this come from? How did they get it wrong? Well, E.B. Fred looked at it and he decided the statue looked like a Confederate soldier.” 

The Guns of Camp Randall

E.B. Fred’s description of the arch was not the only source of potential confusion about the monuments of Camp Randall Memorial Park. Up until 2010, a Spanish-American cannon was among the five cannons that used to be in the park commemorating the Civil War. Adding to possible misinterpretation, the carriage that supported the barrel of the gun had been fabricated, likely from a railroad handcar axle and wagon wheels, according to a cultural landscape inventory of the site. The cannon would never have used such a carriage because it was designed for placement in a fort.  

Einstein oversaw the removal of the cannon because he said it was not relevant to the historic period of the site. The city essentially placed the gun in the site because it was a military memorial that had other cannons, Einstein said. 

“If you’re looking to commemorate a specific historical period, the Civil War, throwing a cannon over there makes no sense at all,” Einstein said. “It just has no relationship."

Shortly after the cannon was moved, Einstein received a call from a man who was upset because he used to climb on the cannon as a child and had vivid memories of it. The man argued that the cannon belonged at Camp Randall as much as the other cannons did.  

Einstein explained to him that the cannon was removed because it was cast in Spain, captured in Cuba and placed in a Civil War memorial.  

“To him, that was irrelevant,” Einstein said. “It was a cannon, cannons are old, this is a place for old stuff. So, in the telling of history, we sometimes lose important details. Some people would say it’s a cannon, but it had a whole different story to tell. It had nothing to do with slavery and everything to do with imperialist ambitions and defeating the Spanish empire.”

Three other cannons remain on the Camp Randall site, but nobody knows their wartime provenance, which describes the story behind the cannon such as where it was located during the war and what battles it was involved in, Einstein said.

Private Jacob Bender's Cap

The Spanish-American war cannon is now in the storage of the Wisconsin Veteran’s Museum. The university also sent another cannon located at Camp Randall that has a strong provenance to the veteran’s museum as well; it sits near the front entrance of the museum’s galleries. The Confederate cannon was captured at the Battle of Shiloh, which occurred in Tennessee in April 1862. 

As Kevin Hampton, ‎Curator of Research and Public Programs at the museum, notes, the soldiers carved the story of how they captured the cannon into its barrel.

“They created their own narrative in their description after they captured the gun and brought it up here to Madison so that it would stand as a monument in and of itself,” Hampton said. “This is something they etched almost a 150 years ago into this gun, so that’s the unique part – that it’s a monument almost from the moment it arrives in Madison, a testament to the story.”

The Veteran’s Museum originated in the G.A.R. Memorial Hall, established in 1901 in the state Capitol. A large part of the museum's permanent collection consists of Civil War artifacts. 

The museum focuses on balancing the individual story of the soldiers with the general story of Wisconsin’s involvement in the Civil War and other wars, Hampton said. Some aspects of Wisconsin’s Civil War history cannot be ignored, he said, such as the Iron Brigade, which the permanent exhibits of the museum focus on. 

The Iron Brigade suffered the most casualties of any battalion in the Union Army during the war. The Second Wisconsin regiment, part of the brigade, had the highest causality rate as a regiment than any other regiment in the war, which was 77 percent. The permanent exhibit illustrates the more personal stories of the battlefield, however, rather than important dates and locations of battlefield, which many historical monuments do. 

“If you look at Camp Randall, the arch itself is a monument to the overall story,” Hampton said. “Here we tell the individual story.”

For instance, the hat of a Union solider rests in a display case near the front entrance of the museum, which was worn by Private Jacob Bender, who was part of the 24th Wisconsin Regiment. The hat not only exemplifies the clothing of the Union army, but tour guides at the museum can use it to tell other stories too, Hampton said. 

Private Jacob Bender's Hat
Private Jacob Bender's Hat

The hat that Bender was wearing has a hole the size of .55 caliber bullet above its bill. Photo from the Wisconsin Veteran's Museum.

The 24th Wisconsin Regiment has special significance for UW as it inspired the fight song and slogan “On Wisconsin.” In 1863, Arthur MacArthur Jr. led the 24th up the slopes of Missionary Ridge, reportedly yelling “On Wisconsin, On Wisconsin!” He received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his contributions. 

MacArthur was also the father of Douglas MacArthur, an army general who played a prominent role in the Pacific theatre in World War II. 

Hampton said the hat not tells that story but the story of Bender, who was wounded during the war in the head. Located on the cap are two holes, which museum workers originally thought had happened due to old age or damage. That was until one of Bender’s descendants visited the museum and told its workers that the cap had been shot off of Bender’s head.

The museum examined the hat and found the hole in the front of the cap was the size of a .55 caliber bullet. 

“So we can now tell not only the story of the 24th Wisconsin and its battle history, we can tell about the people themselves, the citizens of Wisconsin at the time,” Hampton said. “And that’s really what this is about. It’s about trying to find those personal connections throughout the overall storyline.”

The Monuments of Forest Hill

The Veteran’s Museum is not the only place in Madison that tells the personal stories of Civil War veterans. In Forest Hill Cemetery stands a marble monument, telling the story of Theodore Reed, who became a brigadier general in the Union Army.

A few days before the end of the war, Reed was sent to destroy a bridge that Confederate General Robert E. Lee wanted to use to cross a river on the road to Appomattox, where he later surrendered. Outnumbered, Reed and his men fought bravely, although Reed was killed in battle.. 

According to Mark Gajewski, President of Historic Madison, Inc. and author of books about Forest Hill Cemetery, Reed’s father purchased the monument, which details the exploits of Reed, the way he died and the story of his enlistment. 

“In this case, this family wanted everyone to know what happened and his importance,” Gajewski said. 

Reed's Monument
Reed's Monument

Theodore Reed's story has almost been worn away on his marble monument in Forest Hill Cemetery. 

Other gravestones detail stories of those who were on the battlefield and impacted by the war. Cassius Fairchild, son of the Madison’s first mayor, has the battles he participated listed on his obelisk, which also notes that he was wounded at Shiloh on April 6, 1862. 

Engraved on the tombstone of Cordelia Chester, whose first husband was Wisconsin Governor Louis Harvey, is the story of how she established the first northern hospital for soldiers during the Civil War in Madison. The hospital later became a home for soldiers’ orphans

Eight orphans died there, and they are buried in Soldiers’ Lot. Eight small head stones bearing their initials mark their graves. An obelisk in the middle of the group is inscribed with their names, although Gajewski said these are not the correct names because poor records were kept at the lot. Many of the tombstones simply say unknown.

A short distance away in a different plot from the same time period, however, the story is different. Confederate Rest contains the graves of 140 Confederate prisoners, who died at Camp Randall during the war. Almost 1,000 prisoners captured at Island No. 10, located in the Mississippi River, were held at Camp Randall in April and May of 1862. 

Confederate Rest
Confederate Rest

A flagpole stands without a flag at Confederate Rest. 

Confederate Rest, the northernmost Confederate cemetery in the country, has excellent records of where the soldiers are buried due to the efforts of Alice Waterman, a southern widow who moved to the North after the war. She took care of the plot, paying for the barrier around Confederate Rest as well as for the soldiers' tombstones, keeping better records than the city did of the soldiers who were marked with wooden gravestones in the Soldiers’ Lot. She is buried in the cemetery, alongside the soldiers who she called “her boys.”

The Flags of Confederate Rest

Confederate Rest controversy in the early 2000s because of the placement of Confederate battle flags on the soldiers' graves. Einstein, the university’s landscape manager, objected, and the city stopped flying the Confederate battle flag at Confederate Rest. 

“Symbols are important. People died for flags. Flags are stand-ins for people’s beliefs,” Einstein said. “When I was at Forest Hill Cemetery one day and I saw a Confederate flag flying on a high flag pole, I was intimidated because for me a Confederate flag in the contemporary sense represents racist beliefs.”

White supremacists have adopted the Confederate battle flag as their symbol and use it to intimidate people, Einstein said. He felt the flag should not be flown in a city park.

“I felt it was inappropriate given the history of that symbol that my government was buying those flags and employees of my city were raising those flags on a flagpole,” Einstein said. “And the analogous situation would be had some German Nazi soldiers died, we certainly would not be raising a flag of the Third Reich.” 

Gajewski, however, disagreed and said he approached the flags from a historic perspective, treating Confederate Rest as an artifact. 

“If you go to a battlefield anywhere in the North, you’ll see Confederate flags where there are Confederate graves. To me, it was the same thing,” Gajewski said. 

He added that cemeteries still fly the U.S. flag too, which could be offensive for some of the nation’s citizens. 

“If I were a Native American, I would look at that flag and I would say these people came and stole the land from me. Why should you have that?” Gajewski said. “To me, it’s like if you take away one, you should take away all because other people have exactly the same kind of viewpoint.”

Gajewski added that the soldiers who fought in the Civil War had no problem with them being placed in the cemetery. 

Memorial Day, 1872

Madison's veterans were among some of the first to participate in a ceremony of reconciliation between the two sides who fought in the war, Gajewski said.

In a speech on Memorial Day in 1872 in Forest Hill Cemetery, Wisconsin Governor Cadwallader C. Washburn, who was a general in the Union Army during the war, said he did not want the ceremonies that honored the Union dead to keep resentments alive but rather to remind “us of the priceless value of our glorious union.”

“Misguided as the last were, you wage no war with lifeless clay and your resentments stop with the grave,” Washburn said. “Let us then after we shall have decked the graves of our brave defenders, scattering pansies, forget-me-nots and the ‘rosemary of remembrance,’ not forget the lowly bed of those who sleep so far away from their once happy and sunny homes.”

More than 40 years later, the state would again commemorate the lives of those who perished in battle by building the Camp Randall Memorial Arch, a stone “forget-me-not.” Inscribed in the side of the arch at Camp Randall is a plaque that reads:

"Erected by the State of Wisconsin to mark the entrance through which passed seventy thousand of her soldier sons and five hundred thousand relatives and friends during the war from 1861 to 1865.

"Lest we forget."

When the arch was built, the G.A.R., other veterans groups and the university placed a time capsule within it, filled with photographs, copies of newspaper articles, medals and newspapers of the 1860s to commemorate the history of the site. The time capsule remains in the arch, still waiting to be opened.

The view from the statue of the young soldier at Camp Randall

Much thanks to the Daniel Einstein, Kevin Hampton and Mark Gajewski for their help with this project.

All images were taken by Sean Kirkby, unless noted, except for the images of the Confederate Flags at Confederate Rest, which is courtesy of Mark Gajewski.

Much of the information about Memorial Arch and Camp Randall came from three main sources: The Wisconsin Public Television program "The Camp Randall Memorial Arch"  and the cultural landscape inventory conducted by the university of Camp Randall Memorial Park and Historic Madison, Inc.