Madison and History

The City of Madison; what an interesting place and contradictory place. They have a Landmarks Commission which advises the Common Council on preserving historic sites. Recently the Common Council listened to the Commission recommendation on leaving alone the monument listing the names of 140 Confederate soldiers who died in captivity in Madison. Then the Council ignored that recommendation and directed it to be removed from the “Confederate Rest” section of the Forest Hill Cemetery, imagining that the monument had something to do with slavery.

Actually, only six percent of adult males in the antebellum southern United States owned slaves, which means that the average Confederate soldier was not fighting to preserve a system that actually was not in his advantage economically. The average Confederate soldier was a yeoman farmer. Most Southerners were more interested in getting away from Yankee political and economic domination.

WTSherman.jpgBut, are there any other uncomfortable reminders of the 19th century the Common Council might want to eradicate? October is the 154th anniversary of General William Tecumseh Sherman’s infamous “march to the sea.” Are there any local public places named after Sherman, the war criminal, or his accomplices? Maybe the Landmarks Commission might want to take a look, if their conclusion would be respected.

The West Point Military Academy taught cadets that armies fight armies and do not target civilians. That was not the case under Sherman and it had nothing to do with slavery. 

Historian Thomas DiLorenzo explains, “South Carolina suffered more than any other state at the hands of Sherman’s raping, looting, plundering, murdering and house-burning army because that is where the secession movement started. It was NOT because there were more slaves there than in other states, or because of anything else related to slavery. It was because South Carolinians, even more than other Southerners, did not believe in uncompromising obedience to the central state.”

While it was common for armies on the march to forage for food and supplies, Sherman’s army took what they needed and then destroyed what was left. That meant that thousands of Americans, both black and white, would die from starvation, exposure, and disease that winter. Ironically, Sherman’s victims were supposedly the people the Union wanted back.

But since we observe Indigenous Peoples Day in October, there is more to the story.

Just three months after General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, the very same army commenced a campaign of ethnic genocide against the Plains Indians. In July of 1865 Sherman was given the assignment to eradicate the Plains Indians in order to make way for the federally subsidized transcontinental railroad. 

Generals Sherman and Phillip Sheridan are associated with the statement that "the only good Indian is a dead Indian." The problem with the Indians, Sherman said, was that "they did not make allowance for the rapid growth of the white race.” And, "both races cannot use this country in common" sand_creek.jpg

DiLorenzo wrote, “Most of the raids on Indian camps were conducted in the winter, when families would be together and could therefore all be killed at once. Sherman gave Sheridan "authorization to slaughter as many women and children as well as men Sheridan or his subordinates felt was necessary when they attacked Indian villages.” All livestock was also killed so that any survivors would be more likely to starve to death.” (Like South Carolinians.)

By 1890 Sherman’s "final solution" had been achieved: The Plains Indians were all either dead or placed on reservations.

But, there must not be any reminders of scores of Confederate soldiers who died in captivity in Madison, Wisconsin. They were alive when they got to Wisconsin. Questions remain on that page of history. Maybe a historic tablet in Forest Hill Cemetery could explain. 

Happy Indigenous Peoples Day.

James Maas
Marathon County Libertarians (opposed to uncompromising obedience to the central state)

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