Wisconsin's Complex History Involving the Civil War


What does Wisconsin have to do with the Civil War? It turns out, quite a bit.

The Civil War started because the southern states, called the Confederacy, hoped to form their own country with their own laws. Specifically, they wanted to continue using slaves. The northern states, called the Union, wanted to keep all the states together and abolish slavery, a principle backed by President Lincoln. On April 12, 1861, the Confederate army attacked the Union army. This started the Civil War.

Wisconsin supported President Lincoln’s idea of helping the US stay together. Many men from Wisconsin volunteered to join the Union Army. The state fairgrounds in Madison were used as a camp to train the soldiers. The training camp was named Camp Randall in honor of Alexander Randall, the governor at the time. A soldier would usually go complete their basic military training at Camp Randall, before going to fight in the war. By 1864, Camp Randall became Wisconsin’s largest training camp for soldiers.

The Civil War lasted four years and many soldiers were killed. Madison sent 722 soldiers to the war and 171 of them died. While the war was going on, the Union Army caught more than 1,000 Confederate soldiers and brought them to Camp Randall. They were in very poor health and 139 of them died. A lot of Civil War soldiers were buried in the Forest Hill Cemetery. This cemetery is located near West High School in Madison. Soldiers buried there are mostly from the Union Army, but some Confederate soldiers are buried here too.

On April 9, 1865, the Confederate Army surrendered to the Union Army. After four years, the war was finally over. Madison celebrated the end of the war with a big bonfire and many bell-ringings. When the war was over, Alice Waterman, a woman who moved from Louisiana to Madison, became very interested in the Confederate soldiers buried at Forest Hill Cemetery. She took care of their graves. When she died, she was buried with all the Confederate soldiers. After the war, Camp Randall became a part of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is now the home to Badger Football.

The wife of the Wisconsin governor during the war, Cordelia Harvey, visited battlefields and hospitals where the injured soldiers were being taken care of. She was distraught by the poor care given to the sick soldiers. She opened the Harvey Hospital with the help of President Lincoln. A new hospital was built later for the injured soldiers, now named The Veterans Hospital. The Octagon House, located near Lake Monona, served as the formal hospital during the war; after the war, it became an orphanage for children. It was named Home for Soldiers’ Orphans. Over 650 children were educated and cared for until it closed down in 1874.

Madison was deeply involved in the Civil War, with Wisconsin soldiers trained at Camp Randall and fought for the Union Army. If it wasn’t for Wisconsin’s contribution to the war effort and commitment to maintaining the union, much of our Madison’s history, like the famous Camp Randall, wouldn’t be what it is today.

[Source: Madison - City of Four Lakes]

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