“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Alton in Madison County, Illinois — The American Midwest (Great Lakes)

Smallpox Island

The Deadly Epidemic

Smallpox Island Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Devry Becker Jones (CC0), April 24, 2019
1. Smallpox Island Marker
Inscription.  A now-submerged island directly across from you is a mass gravesite for hundreds of Confederate solders.

"In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all and to the young it comes with bittersweet agony, because it takes them unawares."
—Abraham Lincoln

During the Civil War, a great deal of suffering and death occurred on an island in the Mississippi. About 266 prisoners who died of smallpox during an epidemic at the Federal Military Prison in Alton are buried on the island, now under water.

Disease was the chief killer during the Civil War, taking two men for every one who died of battle wounds. A smallpox epidemic raged through the Alton prison in 1862-63.

Farm boys crowded with other men for the first time in their lives were especially susceptible to disease. Due to community fears, a quarantine hospital was set up on an island across from the prison.

The Smallpox Island Monument is located in the Lincoln-Shields Recreation Area on the Missouri side of the Mississippi River.

Confederate soldier William
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Hill was wounded and captured by Federal troops in November 1864. Sent to Alton prison, he died January 30, 1865, of erysipelas, an inflammatory infection of the skin and mucous membranes.

Before locks and dams were placed on the Mississippi, there once stood an island directly across from you.

Although no worse than most during the Civil War, Alton's prison was often overcrowded and unsanitary. The prison closed in 1865, and the buildings were eventually torn down.

Learn about more Confederate prisoners held at the Alton state prison at the exhibit near the remains of the prison wall on William Street.

Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Cemeteries & Burial SitesScience & MedicineWar, US CivilWaterways & Vessels. A significant historical date for this entry is January 30, 1865.
Location. 38° 53.193′ N, 90° 10.956′ W. Marker is in Alton, Illinois, in Madison County. Marker is on Riverfront Drive west of Boat Launch Road, on the right when traveling east. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 1 Riverfront Drive, Alton IL 62002, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. The Duel That Never Happened (here, next to this marker); A Changing Waterfront (within shouting distance of this marker); Great River Floods (about 400 feet away, measured
Smallpox Island Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Devry Becker Jones (CC0), April 24, 2019
2. Smallpox Island Marker
in a direct line); Alton and the Flood of '93 (about 600 feet away); Ryder Building (approx. ¼ mile away); Discover History All Around Alton (approx. 0.3 miles away); Lincoln-Douglas Debates! (approx. 0.3 miles away); Lincoln-Douglas Debate, Alton (approx. 0.3 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Alton.
Credits. This page was last revised on January 13, 2021. It was originally submitted on May 2, 2019, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia. This page has been viewed 784 times since then and 129 times this year. Photos:   1, 2. submitted on May 2, 2019, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia.

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May. 19, 2024