Visitors Guide to the
Confederate Prison Site
& Confederate Memorials
Alton, Illinois

Varied Parking Situations Illinois Historic Sites


Site of the Alton Federal Prison
Near the intersection of Broadway and William                    

A State marker designates the remnants of a portion of a cellblock of the Alton Federal Prison as the site of the First Illinois Prison, built in 1831. Because prisoners were not kept in solitary confinement, the system was considered humanitarian for its time. In 1841 Dorothea Dix's prison reform movement had the Alton prison as one of its targets. Because of unsanitary conditions, she proposed the closing of the prison in 1847. By 1860 all of the inmates had been transferred to a new facility in Joliet and the prison was abandoned.

During the Civil War, the prison reopened as a military detention camp because of overcrowding in the two St. Louis prisons that housed Confederate prisoners of war. The first military prisoners arrived in Alton in February, 1862. According to official reports, a total of 11,745 Confederate prisoners were kept at the prison during the three years it was open ,with an average of 1,261 housed there at any given time.

Conditions at the Alton prison were oppressive and overcrowded. Diseases such as pneumonia and dysentery were common killers. A smallpox epidemic in December, 1862 killed as many as 2,200 prisoners. The prison closed July, 1865 and the buildings were completely demolished shortly there after. The land was eventually used by the city as a park named after the Joel Chandler Harris character, "Uncle Remus." Stone from the prison's buildings can be found in walls and other structures all over the Alton area.

Confederate Cemetery and Memorial
Located on Rozier Street (2 blocks west of State)                                  

Approximately 300 prisoners and Union soldiers who died of smallpox were buried on a nearby island (once called Sunflower Island and currently under water) where a quarantine was set up. Those who were not buried on the island were interred in a special plot in North Alton, known today as the Confederate Soldiers' Cemetery. In 1905, the Sam Davis Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy was organized. It petitioned the Federal War Department for funds to put up a permanent marker commemorating these prisoners. Work on the 40 foot high granite column was completed in 1909. A tablet on the shaft reads "Erected by the United States to mark the burial place of 1,354 Confederate Soldiers who died here and at the Smallpox Hospital on the adjacent island while prisoners of war and whose graves cannot now be identified."

Confederate Memorial
Lincoln Shields Recreation Area, West Alton, MO               

In April of 2002, a new memorial containing the names of the of the Confederate prisoners who died of smallpox was dedicated. Located across the Mississippi River at the Lincoln Shields Recreation Area, any area of the Riverlands Environmental Demonstration Area managed by the Corps of Engineers. The area is named after a famous duel between Abraham Lincoln and a man named James Shields who was offended by what Lincoln and his wife had written in their "Rebecca" letters. The duel was called off after Shields realized Lincoln possessed a clear advantage because of his stature

Alton in the Civil War - Alton Prison
Focus on the Civil War era with records on the Confederate prisoners who died at the prison.

Learn more about the Alton area.

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