Forest Hill Cemetery (Madison, Wisconsin)

Forest Hill Cemetery is located in Madison, Wisconsin, and was one of the first U.S. National Cemeteries established in Wisconsin.[1][2]

Founding of cemetery

After the first permanent European-American settlers arrived in Madison in the 1830s, the first non-native burials occurred on the current University of Wisconsin–Madison campus, near Bascom Hill. In the following years other areas within the area were established as informal burying grounds and the first official village cemetery was established in 1847 near what is now Orton Park.

In the mid-1850s, a committee was formed to search for another appropriate site in the area to form an official Madison cemetery. The committee members chose the current site, then on the far west side of the city and subsequently bought the original 80 acres (320,000 m2) of land for $10,000 from John and Mary Wright. The Wrights had obtained the land from land speculator James Duane Doty, who had obtained it from Alanson Sweet. Sweet was a territorial council member from Milwaukee who led the fight that made Madison the territorial capitol of Wisconsin.

In 1863 the city sold a portion of land from the original purchase to the Roman Catholic Societies for $170. They in turn developed that property into a Catholic cemetery, now known as Resurrection Cemetery.

In the 1860s a receiving vault was built on site. During and following the Civil War, the Soldiers Lot[3] and Confederate Lot were created and in 1865 a well was dug near the plot of Governor Harvey and a windmill was erected over it. In 1878 a chapel was built following a contribution by the family of John Catlin.


In 1928 another 80 acres (320,000 m2) were purchased, 60 of which are part of the Glenway Golf Course directly behind the present cemetery.

Effigy mounds

The cemetery protects seven precontact effigy mounds, dating from 700 to 1200 CE. The earthworks are shaped like flying goose, two panthers, and four linear shapes. The mound group is listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.[4]

Confederate Rest

A section of the cemetery is known as Confederate Rest. On it lie about 140 Confederate prisoners of war who died while in confinement in a Union camp in Madison, Camp Randallǂ,[5] in 1862.[6] A stone marker or cenotaph lists the names of 132[7] of the prisoners who died in custody. In October 2018, the Madison City Council voted 16 to 2 to destroy the marker with the list of buried prisoners, overturning the Landmarks Commission, which had denied a permit to remove the marker,[8] which was built in 1906.[9] The eradication of the cenotaph was seen by some in city government as a "reparation,"[10] and was supported by the Equal Opportunities Commission of the city government.[11]

The removal of the cenotaph was opposed by the Dane County Historical Society.[12] The editorial board of the Wisconsin State Journal, noting Confederate Rest is the northernmost Confederate graveyard in the nation, also opposed the removal.[13]

Notable interments


  1. "Forest Hill Cemetery Dane County, Wisconsin)". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey.
  2. City of Madison Parks: Forest Hill Cemetery
  3. "Forest Hill Cemetery Soldiers' Lot". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey.
  4. "Forest Hill Cemetery Native American Mound Group". Play Madison Parks: Historical Features. City of Madison. Retrieved 9 January 2016.
  5. "Advice for Confederate sign: Condemn the sin, if not the long-gone sinners". Wisconsin State Journal. 9 April 2018. Retrieved 8 October 2018. Historian Carolyn Mattern notes in her 1981 history of Civil War-era Camp Randall, “Soldiers When They Go,” that “many prisoners had received poor treatment in transit, and although conditions were much improved at Camp Randall, a high rate of mortality prevailed.”
  6. Abigail Becker (11 April 2018). "Madison City Council votes to remove Confederate marker rather than add an interpretive sign". The Cap Times. Retrieved 8 October 2018. In April 1862, about 1,200 captured Confederate soldiers were moved to the Union Army stockade at Camp Randall. Though the majority of prisoners were relocated later that year, 140 soldiers died in Madison.
  7. CHRIS RICKERT (5 May 2018). "Removal of Confederate graveyard monument requires more than city council's OK". Wisconsin State Journal. Retrieved 8 October 2018. the monument featuring 132 of the names of the Confederate soldiers buried in the Confederate Rest
  8. LOGAN WROGE (28 August 2018). "Madison commission rejects request to remove Confederate monument in Forest Hill Cemetery". Retrieved 8 October 2018. “We can move it, but personally to me as someone who is interested in telling history on the basis of physical things, that changes what histories people can tell in the future,” said commission member Anna Andrzejewski, adding that she views the stone as a “historic communal marker” and not a monument.
  9. LOGAN WROGE (3 October 2018). "Madison City Council overturns Confederate monument decision, supports removal". Wisconsin State Journal. Retrieved 8 October 2018. “You don’t have discussion in a cemetery. You have reflection, and you have memories, and this (monument) brings up memories that are not so pleasant in our history,” said Council Vice President Sheri Carter.
  10. LOGAN WROGE (23 July 2018). "Madison commission punts on whether to remove Confederate monument". Wisconsin State Journal. Retrieved 8 October 2018. Rummel said getting rid of the monument installed in 1906 [...] is not about disregarding history, but is a small act of reparation.
  11. LOGAN WROGE (11 April 2018). "TOP STORY Madison City Council votes to remove Confederate monument at Forest Hill Cemetery". Wisconsin State Journal. Retrieved 8 October 2018. the council decided to go in the direction of the Equal Opportunities Commission, which had recommended removing the cenotaph
  12. BILL NOVAK (18 June 2018). "Don't remove Confederate monument, Dane County Historical Society says". Wisconsin State Journal. Retrieved 8 October 2018. “Despite being born in states which seceded from the Union, the names of those soldiers should not be removed or hidden,” the letter says. “They (the Confederate soldiers) should not be forgotten, as those men lived and died and were interred in Madison.”
  13. Editorial Board Wisconsin State Journal (29 August 2018). "Landmarks Commission right to keep Confederate marker in Madison". Wisconsin State Journal. Retrieved 8 October 2018. Some of the individual headstones of the Southern soldiers who died here are so worn they are unreadable. So the 4-foot stone monument helps identify who is buried at the “Confederate Rest,” the northernmost Confederate graveyard in the nation.


  • Forest Hill Cemetery Committee (2002). A Biographical Guide to Forest Hill Cemetery, Vol. II: The Ordinary and Famous Women and Men Who Shaped Madison and the World (1st ed.). Madison, Wis.: Historic Madison, Inc.

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