A majority of Madison City Council members imagine they have struck a blow against slavery by ordering the removal of the memorial cenotaph at the Confederate Rest in Forest Hill Cemetery.

But the stone was placed there 112 years ago at the behest of the survivors of the great Union fight against slavery and secession.

In 1906, the Wisconsin State Journal reported that Madison native Hugh Lewis, a captain in Wisconsin’s famed Iron Brigade, appealed to Confederate veterans in Washington, where he served as official doorkeeper for the House of Representatives, to fund the monument.

The cenotaph would be the first permanent record of those interred in what the 1906 article called “a potter’s field.” It would also honor the volunteer efforts of Alice Whiting Waterman, who cared for Confederate Rest until her death in 1897.

Joining the Daughters of the Confederacy in dedicating the monument was the local veterans who served in the Grand Army of the Republic.

At one of the last national encampments of the G.A.R. -- its dwindling members well into their 90s -- commander in chief William Ruhe laid a wreath at the cenotaph. It’s pictured in the Sept. 8, 1937, State Journal under the heading, “Once were enemies, but no more.”

Tell that to Madison city government, 2018.

Dave Blaska, Madison

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