Alton Museum of History and Art, Alton, Illinois

Alton Prison

     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 13th 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.


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Alton, IL 62002


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