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The Alton prison opened in 1833 as the first Illinois State Penitentiary and was closed in 1860, when the last prisoners were moved to a new facility at Joliet. By late in 1861 an urgent need arose to relieve the overcrowding at 2 St. Louis prisons. On December 31, 1861, Major General Henry Halleck, Commander of the Department of the Missouri, ordered Lieutenant-Colonel James B. McPherson to Alton for an inspection of the closed penitentiary. Colonel McPherson reported that the prison could be made into a military prison and house up to 1,750 prisoners with improvements estimated to cost $2,415.
The first prisoners arrived at the Alton Federal Military Prison on February 9, 1862 and members of the 13 th U.S. Infantry were assigned as guards, with Colonel Sidney Burbank commanding.

During the next three years over 11,764 Confederate prisoners would pass through the gates of the Alton Prison. Of the four different classes of prisoners housed at Alton, Confederate soldiers made up most of the population. Citizens, including several women, were imprisoned here for treasonable actions, making anti-Union statements, aiding an escaped Confederate, etc. Others, classified as bushwhackers or guerillas, were imprisoned for acts against the government such as bridge burning and railroad vandalism.

Conditions in the prison were harsh and the mortality rate was above average for a Union prison. Hot, humid summers and cold Midwestern winters took a heavy toll on prisoners already weakened by poor nourishment and inadequate clothing. The prison was overcrowded much of the time and sanitary facilities were inadequate. Pneumonia and dysentery were common killers but contagious diseases such as smallpox and rubella were the most feared. When smallpox infection became alarmingly high in the winter of 1862 and spring of 1863, a quarantine hospital was located on an island across the Mississippi River from the prison.
Up to 300 prisoners and soldiers died and are buried on the island, now under water. A cemetery in North Alton that belonged to the State of Illinois was used for most that died. A monument there lists 1,534 names of Confederate soldiers that are known to have died. An additional number of civilians and Union soldiers were victims of disease and illness.
During the war several different units were assigned to serve as guards at Alton. The Thirteenth U.S. Infantry was followed by the Seventy-seventh Ohio Infantry, the Thirty-seventh Iowa Infantry, the Tenth Kansas Infantry and the One Hundred Forty-fourth Illinois Infantry. Formed at Alton specifically to serve as prison guards, the Illinois 144th was almost completely made up of Alton area residents.
The prison closed July 7, 1865 when the last prisoners were released or sent to St. Louis. The buildings were torn down over the next decades and the land was eventually used by the city as a park named after the Joel Chandler Harris character, "Uncle Remus," from Song of the South. Stone from the prison buildings is found in walls and other structures all over the Alton area.


Pvt Auguste Boudreaux

Auguste Boudreaux
Private Company G
Regiment 18 Louisiana Infantry
Death Date; 6 September 1862

Served in Co. G., 18th Louisiana Infantry.
Appears on Roll of Prisoners of War Captured at Shiloh, Tenn., April 7th, and admitted to U. S. A. Gen. Hospital, Mound City, Ill., April 11th, 1862.
Remarks: Recorded. from Steamer City of Memphis. Taken prisoner at the battle of Pittsburg. Sent to Cairo, Ill., June 2nd, 1862. Transfd. to Gratior Street Military Prison, St. Louis, Mo., June 23rd, 1862. Arrived Alton Military Prison, Alton, Ill., July 19th, 1862, and DIED Sept. 6th, 1862. Information from Compiled Service Records, Roll 293. "April 6, 1862, Shiloh..."Auguste Boudreaux...were wounded and fell into the hands of the enemy...Of those Boudreaux recovered from his wounds, but DIED of disease in prison in Alton, Ill.

Additional information:
Auguste Boudreaux cause of death: Chronic Diarrhea. All prisoners that died during 1862 were buried in what was called "State Ground", a cemetery established by the Illinois State government to inter the dead from the Illinois State Penitentiary that was located in Alton and was converted into the Military Prison in February of 1862. There is a significant monument on the site today, a 63 foot tall obelisk erected in 1907.Most of the names of the men that died at Alton are engraved on the monument, however, Pvt. Boudreaux's name along with many others that died in February 1862 are NOT engraved on this monument.
Burial site is "State Ground."


  • 1862

Pvt L. W. Bouchillon

(2nd Cherokee Mounted Rifles)

Captured: 03/08/62 PEA RIDGE, ARK
Died: 04/16/62

The 2nd Arkansas Infantry was organized at Helena, Arkansas, in June 1861. The survivors of the 2nd Arkansas Infantry surrendered at Greensboro, North Carolina, on April 26, 1865


  • 1862


On August 18, 1861, Jacob enlisted in the Confederate States Army at Greenville, Hunt County, Texas. He served in Company C, 27th Texas Cavalry. This unit was also called 1st Texas Legion or Whitfield's Legion. In September 1862, Jacob's unit participated in the Battle of Iuka, Mississippi. It is this battle where Jacob was wounded, receiving a wound to his right thigh and across the head. He was left in the hands of the enemy where he was hospitalized and later paroled. It appears Jacob later joined a unit from Tennessee, was captured at Clifton, Tennessee and held prisoner at Alton, Illinois. This was the first part of April 1864. He was then taken to City Point Landing on the James River below Richmond, Virginia, where he was exchanged in April 1865. He was ordered to the command of General Tom Whitfield in Columbia, Tennessee. He was sent to Hardin County, Tennessee for furlough (most likely to check on his wife and son) and the war closed before he could get back to his command. All the above information is in his pension application. After the war, Jacob and his family lived in Oak Hill, Hardin Co., Tenn.
He and Evaline Abagail Alexander, were married sometime around 1863 because their oldest son, Robert Newton Van Bibber, was born about 1864. The 1900 census states they were married for 37 years. Jacob and Evaline would have three children; Robert Newton, Charles and Minnie. Robert married Mattie Wells and settled in Alcorn Co., Miss. which is just right across the border from Hardin Co., Tenn. Charles died young and Minnie married James R. Gant.
He first applied for a Confederate pension in 1902 and it was never approved. In November 1914, Jacob wrote a letter asking for information regarding his second Application #6482 which was submitted in October 1912. Jacob stated he was 84 years old, "broken down," and could not support himself.

In a letter dated September 14, 1915 to Jacob Van Bibber, stating that his war record showed that he had enlisted in 1861; afterwards captured at Clifton, Tennessee in 1863 and sent to prison at Alton, Illinois, where he took the oath in 1864. "Under these statements of facts you are certainly not pensionable, unless it can be clearly shown that at the time you took the oath you were unable for service and remained so until the close of the war."
In a letter from Jacob Van Bibber dated September 9, 1920 he stated he was an old Confederate Soldier, age 94 years. He wanted his case reviewed and he to be advised. Jacob received a letter from Ernest N. Haston, Secretary of State for the state of Tennessee, dated July 26, 1927, advising him that his application for a CSA pension had been approved. I guess they got tired of dealing with Jacob and figured at the age of 98 years he couldn't live that much longer.
Jacob lived to be a ripe old age of 100 yrs, 5 mos, and 1 day at the time of his death which occurred on July 15, 1929. Him and his wife are buried in New Harmony Cemetery, Hardin Co., TN.


  • 1861-1864


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An unknown number of Confederate women disguised themselves as men and served as soldiers. Among the proof sheets of his book My Reminiscences of the War and Reconstruction Thomas Pinckney, a member of the 4th South Carolina Cavalry captured during the war, describes his May 31, 1864 discovery that a fellow prisoner was actually a woman whom he later suspected was Barbara Ann Dunavant of Tennessee. Her captors did not discover Duravan's gender until after her death in the Alton, Illinois penitentiary (used during the war to hold Confederate prisoners). They buried her in the Alton Confederate Prison  with her comrades. She died Sep. 28, 1863


Listed as a "Citizen" of Memphis, Tennessee, in 1912 Union War Department records. Apparently a FEMALE political prisoner held at Alton POW camp. Note: No locality of grave shown on records, but reported as having died of smallpox. The hospital for these cases was moved to the island in the Mississippi River opposite Alton during the month of August, 1863. Beginning with November, 1863, records show that burial was made on this island of those who died from effects of smallpox.



  • 1861-1864

Contributor: bgill
Created: May 7, 2007 · Modified: May 13, 2007

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