By Ruth A. Ringelstetter
Beginning in 2011 and continuing through 2015, many sites around the country are commemorating the Civil War and its battles. One of the most famous, the Battle of Gettysburg, was commemorated this year at the beginning of July.
On Memorial Day of this year, Joann and I decided to visit the northernmost Confederate Cemetery. We didn’t have far to drive. The cemetery, called “Confederate Rest,” lies within Forest Hill Cemetery in Madison, Wisconsin.
Wisconsin was a Union State and no battles were fought here during the Civil War. So how did this Confederate cemetery end up here?
Camp Randall, although now known for the Wisconsin Badgers football team, was originally the site of the Wisconsin State Fairgrounds. With the outbreak of the Civil War, it became a U.S. Army camp for the training and organizing of Wisconsin militia. More than 70,000 recruits were trained there.
In the spring of 1862, the camp was surprised to learn that some 1300 prisoners would be heading their way. A corner of the camp was stockaded and numerous wooden frame huts were built to house the prisoners.
The prisoners were brought to Wisconsin after the Battle of Island Number Ten, which no longer exists. It was located near what today is called the New Madrid Bend, south of Cairo, Illinois.
When the prisoners were brought to Madison, many were suffering from battle wounds, malnutrition, and various diseases. They arrived on April 20th and 24th of 1862, with many townspeople turning out at the train station to get a glimpse of their arrival. The second train of men included many who were severely ill, and over the next four weeks at least several died each day until 145 had died.
There are 140 graves at Confederate Rest that are marked by name and regiment. It is said there are also 5 unmarked graves of the unknown. The men were buried far from their homes and families in Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas.
In 1868, Alice Waterman, a widow who had been born in Louisiana and had lived most of her life in the north, moved to Madison. She did not know any of the soldiers buried at Confederate Rest. Even so, she took a great deal of interest in the cemetery, removing weeds, improving the landscape, and placing new headboards on the graves. She did all of this at her own expense.
When Alice Waterman died in 1897, she was buried at her request in the same plot as the men whose graves she had tended, but had never known. She always referred to them as “my boys.”
The Camp Randall Memorial Arch was dedicated in 1912 and serves as the entrance to the Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Park. The arch is flanked by two statues; one an enlisted soldier, and one an officer. They have no names as they represent all of Wisconsin’s Civil War soldiers. Down the street from the arch is one of the prisoner stockades.
If you’re ever in Madison, visit Confederate Rest at Forest Hill Cemetery, the Memorial Arch, or view the single remaining stockade.