Alexandria (VA) National Cemetery; Superintendent’s Lodge at City Point National Cemetery
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Civil War Era National Cemeteries: Honoring Those Who Served

North Alton Confederate Cemetery

Alton, Illinois

North Alton Confederate Cemetery
North Alton Confederate Cemetery
Courtesy of the Department of Veterans Affairs,
National Cemetery Administration, History Program

North Alton Confederate Cemetery, in Alton, Illinois, is the final resting place for hundreds of Confederate soldiers who died in captivity at the Union prison at Alton.  However, the dead buried there have no individually marked graves.  Instead, an imposing 58-foot tall granite obelisk dedicated to the Confederate dead towers over the burial ground.

The Union Prison at Alton began life as the Illinois State Penitentiary, which opened in 1833 with 33 cells.  After a series of expansions, the prison contained 256 cells, a hospital, and other support facilities.  It closed in July 1860, but less than two years later, after the Union victory at Fort Donelson, Tennessee in December 1862, there was a need for a prison to hold the captured Confederates.  The first transfer of prisoners included 1,640 soldiers, who arrived at the Illinois State Penitentiary the following February.

Shortly after the prisoners’ arrival, there were reports of smallpox.  The response was to move the patients to two small islands in the Mississippi River, one of which contained a separate hospital to treat the disease.  Those who died of smallpox, including an estimated 240 Confederate prisoners and an unknown number of Union guards, were buried on Tow Island.  Hundreds of other prisoners, who died in the camp from battlefield injuries, exposure to the harsh elements, or other diseases were interred in a burial ground north of the city—the same cemetery where prisoners of the state penitentiary were buried in the past. 

The Confederate prisoners were buried individually with wooden stakes to mark their graves.  Over time, the cemetery fell into disrepair and the grave identifications were lost.  The Commission for Marking Graves of Confederate Dead undertook a project to re-identify each grave in the early 1900s, but was unsuccessful.  In 1908, it was proposed that a single monument be erected to honor the Confederate dead; the obelisk was dedicated the following year.  The rusticated granite obelisk stands atop a stepped base and a concrete plinth.  Tablets fixed to each side of the plinth list the names of 1,354 Confederate soldiers who died in the Alton prison, including those buried onsite and at the smallpox cemetery.

The Soldiers Monument is located on top of a hill at the northeast corner of the cemetery, near the entrance.  From the monument, the grounds slope down to a ravine that crosses the center of the cemetery, and rises once more at the south end of the site.  The cemetery is roughly rectangular in shape and is enclosed by a wrought-iron fence. 
Plan your visit

North Alton Confederate Cemetery is located at 635 Rozier St., in Alton, IL.  The cemetery is open for visitation daily from sunrise to sunset.  No cemetery staff is present onsite.  The administrative office is located at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, and the office is open Monday-Friday from 8:00am to 4:30pm, and is closed New Years’ Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.  For more information, please contact the cemetery office at 314-845-8320, or see the Department of Veterans Affairs website.  While visiting, please be mindful that our national cemeteries are hallowed ground.  Be respectful to all of our nation’s fallen soldiers and their families.  Additional cemetery policies may be posted on site.

Visitors to North Alton Confederate Cemetery may also be interested in Alton National Cemetery located approximately four miles to the southeast. 

North Alton Confederate Cemetery was photographed to the standards established by the National Park Service’s Historic American Landscapes Survey.

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