Road Trip Through History: Wisconsin’s Top Stops for Memorial Day

By Mark Crawford
Special to

Whether you're a serious military buff or simply appreciative of our country's service members, there's a stop for you on this chronological driving tour of Wisconsin's tributes to the armed forces.

Soldiers from the Badger State have fought valiantly in all major conflicts since the Civil War, and there are many military markers, monuments and museums that honor their sacrifices. Before statehood, when Wisconsin was still a territory, citizen soldiers fought in the War of 1812 and the Black Hawk War in 1832.

The monuments and museums below highlight Wisconsin's military efforts from the War of 1812 through the Vietnam War. Visit them individually, or take a Memorial Day road trip discovering Wisconsin's rich military past.

War of 1812 

Fort Crawford played an important part in the 1814 Battle of Prairie du Chien, the only War of 1812 battle that occurred in Wisconsin. Then called Fort Shelby, its occupants surrendered to British forces after a three-day siege. Sights include the Fort Crawford Museum and a military cemetery.

Black Hawk War (1832) 

Located near Mazomanie, the Wisconsin Heights battlefield is where U.S. troops attacked Chief Black Hawk and his band of Sauk, Fox and Kickapoo warriors after they had crossed the Mississippi River from Iowa and entered Wisconsin, hoping to resettle in their original native lands. The site is marked by a state historical marker near the intersection of Highway 78 and Highway Y near Mazomanie.

Civil War

Camp Randall in Madison was a key training facility for Union soldiers during the Civil War. It also held Confederate prisoners of war, some of whom are buried in Forest Hill Cemetery. Now part of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, a portion of the camp has been preserved as a park with several Civil War cannons.

Also in Madison, at the King Street corner of the Capitol Square, is a statue of Union Colonel Hans Christian Heg, commander of Wisconsin's famous Iron Brigade. Killed at the Battle of Chickamauga in 1863, he was the highest-ranked Wisconsin soldier killed in combat during the Civil War.

Kenosha's Civil War Museum shows the effects of the Civil War on the homefront from the perspective of the residents of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Michigan. More than 750,000 Union soldiers served from the Midwest, which also provided large amounts of food and raw materials to support the U.S. Army.

World War I and II

The 32nd "Red Arrow" Division was a famous fighting unit from Wisconsin and Michigan that served in both World Wars I and II. To honor this division, the state named State Trunk Highway 32 the 32nd Division Memorial Highway. A number of markers and monuments have been erected along the highway to recognize their bravery and sacrifice. Make a short detour to Manitowoc and visit the Wisconsin Maritime Museum and tour the World War II fleet submarine USS Cobia, which sank many Japanese ships from 1944 to 1945.

Korean War

Plover is a peaceful setting for recognizing the sacrifices of Wisconsinites who served in the U.S. military during the Korean War. Called the "Isle of Honor," the memorial is located on an island in Lake Pacawa, near Worzella Pines Park at the junction of Interstate 39 and County Road B in Plover.

Vietnam War

The Highground at Neillsville is a unique park honoring the service and sacrifices of Wisconsin's Vietnam veterans. One highlight among the many tributes there is Robert Kanyusik's award-winning sculpture "Fragments," which incorporates bronze wind chimes and was the nation's first veterans statuary to include a woman.

Wisconsin Veterans Museum

A perfect place to conclude your tour is back in Madison at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum. The colorful and informative displays, exhibits and artifacts describe Wisconsin's role in U.S. military operations since the Civil War.


If you're looking for even more sites to visit, check out all the history and heritage our state has to offer.

This entry was posted in History & Heritage Tours