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Alton Prison Photo     Alton Prison Photo 1861     Alton Cemetery Monument Photo

Letter From a Soldier in Alton Prison

Search for Confederate Soldiers who died at Alton Prison

Confederate POW Burials on Smallpox Island in West Alton, IL

Alton Civil War Prison was established February 9, 1862 when the first Confederate prisoners were delivered there.  The prison was housed  in the abandoned Illinois State Penitentiary built in 1831 and located near the Mississippi River in Alton Illinois.


The prison was built in the style of a fortress, made of stone with walls 30 feet high.  Initially the prison held 24 cells.  Overcrowding!..... Through modern archeology digs, the size of these cells has been determined to be 4 feet wide by 7 feet 4 inches long.  Reports indicate there were 3 men in each cell!


During the 3 years of use during the Civil War, almost 12,000 Confederate soldiers were incarcerated at Alton Prison.  


Disease, scurvy, fever and general malnutrition plagued the prisoners but it was the dreaded smallpox which killed 6-10 prisoners per day during an outbreak in Alton Prison.  The smallpox epidemic became so bad that prisoners were sent to a quarantine hospital on an island across the Mississippi River.


The exact death toll is not known but reports estimate 1500-2200 Confederate soldiers died within the walls of this infamous military prison.  Due to neglect of the old cemetery, all graves of those who died at Alton Prison are unidentifiable.  There is a monument, however, erected by the U.S. Government.  The granite monument is 40 feet tall surrounded by an iron fence.  Bronze plaques adorn the monument and are engraved with names and military units of all known Confederates who found their final resting place in the cemetery at Alton.  


Inscribed on one of the monument plaques:  "Erected by the United States to mark the burial place of 1354 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"  See photo of monument.

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5 out of 5 starsPortals To Hell

The Military Prisons of the Civil War

A well written and well organized study of Civil War prisons, North and South. The layman will enjoy the ease of prose and scholars will appreciate the authors meticulous documentation. A major strength of the book comes from the many firsthand accounts from prisoners and keepers. It is a good read from cover to cover plus the organization allows easy reference to specific prisons and time periods. It contains 32 pages of excellent pictures of the camps and men.  ORDER 


Civil War Prison Index


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