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Confederate Prisoners at Camp Randall as Seen in Newspaper Articles | Wisconsin Historical Society

Classroom Material

Confederate Prisoners at Camp Randall as Seen in Newspaper Articles

Wisconsin in the Civil War: Camp Randall

Confederate Prisoners at Camp Randall as Seen in Newspaper Articles | Wisconsin Historical Society
EnlargeCamp Randall, WHI 1875.

Camp Randall, 1862

Madison, Wisconsin. The camp's ten acres were surrounded by an eight-foot board fence. More than 1200 Confederate prisoners were held here between April and June 1862. View the original source document: WHI 1875

Grade level: Secondary

Duration: One class period

Newspaper articles from the past provide students with the opportunity to explore historical events as if they were citizens of that era. The following three newspaper articles together tell the story of Confederate prisoners at Camp Randall. They allow students to examine the relationship that existed between the Wisconsin soldiers and the citizens of Madison while also gaining a deeper understanding of the North-South conflict. Additional information about the use of Camp Randall as a prison camp can be found in the following Wisconsin Veteran's Museum narrative:

From April 20 to the end of May 1862, about 1,400 Confederate prisoners lived in Madison at Camp Randall. They had surrendered to the Union Army after the fall of Island #10, near Madrid, Missouri, on April 8. Many of the prisoners sent to Wisconsin were from the 1st Alabama Infantry. They arrived in Wisconsin on the April 20 and 24. When the first train pulled in, men of the 19th Wisconsin Infantry escorted them to Camp Randall while crowds of civilians stood by trying to get a look at the new arrivals. Shortly after their arrival, serious problems developed at Camp Randall. An inspection on May 1, revealed an inexperienced and poorly armed guard unit. Even worse, the camp hospital appeared unable to handle the sick Confederate patients. Due to the results of the inspection, the prisoners were transferred to Camp Douglas, Chicago, on the last day of May.


Students will:

  • Work with primary sources
  • Understand the experience of Confederate soldiers at Camp Randall


When news that Ft. Sumter had surrendered to South Carolina reached Wisconsin on April 14, 1861 emotionally charged citizens rallied around the Union flag and called for an end to the secessionist movement. President Lincoln called for 75,000 men to stop the insurrection, and Wisconsin Governor Alexander Randall immediately began asking for volunteers to organize into companies and report for duty. The response was immediate and plentiful, with more volunteers coming forward than could initially be used. Despite Governor Randall's lobbying, the U.S. War Department would accept no more than a single regiment of 10 companies from Wisconsin with 78 men in each. Sensing the urgency and predicting a longer war, Governor Randall set up a training ground for troops in Madison.

The training ground was located on the land used by the State Agricultural Society for fairgrounds. It consisted of 53 1/2 acres and extended from University Avenue to Monroe Street, Wisconsin, more than 70,000 men traveled from around the state to train there. While at camp they spent their time drilling, composing letters, reading, singing songs, complaining about the food, and trying to remain healthy. All the while they were trying to escape the boredom of waiting to see some "real" action in the South. Some soldiers took the opportunity to visit the many Madison taverns. The citizens of Madison had mixed feelings about the training camp and its occupants. Although at first citizens welcomed recruits with home-baked goodies, and admired them as they performed drills, the ruckus and damage caused by some of the rowdy, drunk soldiers strained the pleasant relationship.

The corporal commander of the 2nd Wisconsin regiment named this Civil War training camp to honor Governor Randall and reciprocate the favor for his appointment. After the Civil War, the land was used once again as fairgrounds. Later, when the state fair moved to Milwaukee and the land was in danger of being subdivided and sold, the state purchased the land, and the University of Wisconsin used it as a park and athletic facilities. During World War I the camp was reopened briefly to accommodate troops for drilling. In 1912 a ceremonial arch was built on Randall Street commemorating the camp's existence. Currently, the University of Wisconsin – Madison maintains the ceremonial park, on which the university recreation center now stands. Standing on the west side of the training grounds, the stadium, home to the Rose Bowl– champion Badgers, is appropriately called Camp Randall.

Resource Materials


  1. Introductory Activity/Anticipatory Set

    For an interesting introduction to these newspaper articles and the story of Confederate prisoners at Camp Randall, show students images of a Confederate firing squad or graves with Confederate flags placed in front of them. Ask students to hypothesize where this picture was taken. Where are these graves located? After several tries, reveal the fact that these graves are part of the section known as "Confederate Rest" in Forest Hill Cemetery in Madison, Wisconsin.

  2. Analyzing the Newspaper Articles

    Provide students with a brief history of Camp Randall from the Background section. Then divide the class into groups of three. Provide each group with one newspaper article. Ask the students to read their article, answer guided questions, and share responses with their fellow group members.

  3. Multiple Perspectives

    Have students examine the multiple perspectives concerning the Confederate prisoners at Camp Randall by reading each newspaper article discussed above and additional newspaper articles from this time period. Students will be able to discover the opinions held by citizens of Madison and write an essay that examines the occurrences at Camp Randall during the spring months of 1862.

  4. Creative Writing

    Have students choose one of the following roles and write a series of journal entries covering the time span of April – June 1862:

    • Confederate prisoner from the 1st Alabama Infantry
    • Citizen of Madison
    • Member of the 19th Infantry Regiment guarding the prisoners
  5. Enhancement

    Over 140 Confederate soldiers are buried in Forest Hill Cemetery. Have your students research and document their stories, perhaps even producing a handbook that could be shared with visitors of the cemetery. The local historical society for Madison, Historic Madison, has published a book on this cemetery that can help start the research process. (Historic Madison, Inc., Forest Hill Cemetery Committee. A Biographical Guide to Forest Hill Cemetery, Madison, Wisconsin: The Ordinary and the Famous Women and Men Who Shaped Madison and the World. Madison: 1996.)

    Have students evaluate the training soldiers received and the general horrors of war by tracing a regiment's history. What happened while they were in Camp Randall? In which battles were they engaged? One particularly strong and popular, well-documented example would be the Iron Brigade, composed of 2nd, 6th, 7th, Wisconsin regiments and the 19thIndiana.

  6. Field Trip-Related Activities

    The Wisconsin Veterans Association sponsors a re-enactment at Camp Randall every Spring and is hosts guided tours of Forest Hill Cemetery. Tour participants will view nine living history presentations featuring Civil War era individuals who called Wisconsin home and are buried at Forest Hill Cemetery. For further details contact the Wisconsin Veterans Museum.

    Plan a guided tour of the Wisconsin Veterans Museum. The museum staff will send suggested pre-visit and post-visit materials, a floor plan of the exhibit on the Civil War, and a classroom copy of the exhibit labels that accompany the exhibits on Wisconsin's role in the Civil War. If traveling to the museum is not convenient, ask museum staff about artifacts and exhibits that can be loaned to schools. Contact the museum at 608-264-6086 for further details.


Several primary source documents with suggested activities that relate to Camp Randall include:

  • "Arrival of Secession Prisoners." Wisconsin State Journal, 4/21/1862.
  • Cooke, Chauncey H. Soldier Boy's Letters to His Father and Mother, 1862-1865. Mondovi: The Mondovi Herald, c. 1919.
  • Cronk, John. Civil War letter to Charles Palmer. Madison, 1862. In the manuscript collection. State Historical Society of Wisconsin.
  • Favill, John. Certificates indicating reasons for medical deferments. Dane County, 1862. In Civil War Draft Records. State Historical Society of Wisconsin.
  • Letters written by doctors and acquaintances to help men called obtain exemption. Dane County, 1862. In Medical Correspondence. State Historical Society of Wisconsin.
  • "Matters at Camp Randall." Wisconsin Weekly Patriot, 4/26/1862.
  • Pomeroy, Marcus "Brick." "Abraham Lincoln." The La Crosse Daily Democrat, 8/15/1864.
  • Pomeroy, Marcus "Brick." "Look At It." The La Crosse Daily Democrat, 8/24/1864.
  • Salomon, Edward. Letters. Madison, 1862. In Volume 5- Series 33 of Governors Correspondence General 1838-1926. State Historical Society of Wisconsin
  • United States Office of the Provost Marshal General Board of Enrollment. Broadside listing the names of draft dodgers for the First District of Wisconsin. In the Historic Pamphlet Collection. State Historical Society Library.
  • Van Slyke, N.B. Detailed Drawing of Camp Randall, 1865. In Visual Archives WHi(X3)33886. State Historical Society of Wisconsin.
  • Vilas, Levi. Lists of men eligible for the 1862 militia draft. Dane County, 1862. In Civil War Draft Records. State Historical Society of Wisconsin.
  • "Visits to Camp Randall Discontinued." Wisconsin State Journal, 4/29/1862.

Other sources include:

  • "Camp Randall in the Civil War." Wisconsin Electronic Reader. (1998).
  • "Camp Randall Sent 70,000 Soldiers to Fight for the North." Wisconsin Then and Now. (1972): 6-7.
  • Cooke, Chauncey H. "Letters of a Badger Boy in Blue: Life at Old Camp Randall." Wisconsin Magazine of History. 4 (1920): 75-77.
  • Current, Richard N. The History of Wisconsin Volume II. The Civil War Era, 1848- 1873. Madison: The State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1976.
  • Heberling, James R. The Boys at Forest Hill. Madison: J.R. Beberling, 1992.
  • Historic Madison, Inc., Forest Hill Cemetery Committee. A Biographical Guide to Forest Hill Cemetery, Madison, Wisconsin: The Ordinary and the Famous Women and Men Who Shaped Madison and the World. Madison: 1996.
  • Holzhueter, John. Madison during the Civil War Era: A Portfolio of Rare Photographs. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1997.
  • Klement, Frank. "'Brick' Pomeroy: Copperhead and Curmudgeon," Wisconsin Magazine of History, 35 Winter 1961, 106-113, 156-157.
  • Klement, Frank L. Wisconsin in the Civil War. Madison: The State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1997.
  • Larsen, Lawrence H. "Draft Riot in Wisconsin, 1862," Civil War History, 7 December 1961: 421-423.
  • Malone, Bobbie. Back to the Beginnings: The Early Days of Dane County. Madison: Litho Productions, 1998.
  • Mattern, Carolyn J. Soldiers When They Go: The Story of Camp Randall, 1861-1865. Madison: The State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1981.
  • Mollenhoff, David. Madison: A History of the Formative Years. Dubuque: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 1982.
  • Nesbit, Robert. Wisconsin: A History. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1989.
  • Piersma, Matthew. "Confederate Prisoners Arrive at Camp Randall." The Bugle- Wisconsin Veterans Museum Foundation. 7:2, 1, 14.
  • Stevens, Michael E. and Steven B. Burg. Editing Historical Documents: A Handbook of Practice, Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press, 1997.
  • White, Richard Grant. Poetry of the Civil War. New York: The American News Company, 1866.


Additional Civil War Teaching Resources

Primary Sources
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