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Alton Penitentiary/Civil War Prison


More about the Alton Prison    Picture of the Alton Prison, 1861       


Read the entire history of the Penitentiary/Civil War Prison, from the Alton Evening Telegraph, January 15, 1936, as told by Doris McDow


Read Military Correspondence Regarding the Alton Military Prison        Alton Penitentiary Report - 1855 & 1856


Search for names of Confederate soldiers who died at the Alton Prison


Remains of Alton Penitentiary/Civil War Prison

According to the Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois, 1904, page 16, the earliest punishments imposed upon public offenders in Illinois were by public flogging or imprisonment for a short time in jails rudely constructed of logs, from which escape was not difficult for a prisoner of nerve, strength and mental resource. In 1827, a grant of 40,000 acres of saline lands was made to the State by Congress, and a considerable portion of the money received from their sale was appropriated to the establishment of a State penitentiary at Alton. The sum set apart proved insufficient, and in 1831, an additional appropriation of $10,000 was made from the State treasury. In 1833 the prison was ready to receive its first inmates. It was built of stone and had but twenty-four cells. Additions were made from time to time (256 cells by 1857), but by 1857 the State decided to build a new penitentiary, located at Joliet. In 1860, the last convicts were transferred from Alton to Joliet. The Alton prison was conducted on what is known as "the Auburn plan" - associated labor in silence by day, and separate confinement by night. The management was in the hands of a "lessee," who furnished supplies, employed guards and exercised the general powers of a warden under the supervision of a Commissioner appointed by the State, and who handled all the products of convict labor.


In 1862 it was reopened as a military prison during the Civil War. Thousands of captured Confederate prisoners were housed here during the war. In 1863, a small pox epidemic spread through the prison killing hundreds. The prison was closed down permanently in 1865 at the close of the war, and the remaining prisoners were sent to St. Louis or released. The prison was then dismantled, except for a portion of a wall which was relocated in 1970 to its present location in downtown Alton.


Commanders:  Colonel Sidney Burbank, 13th U. S. Inf. (Feb. 9, 1862 - June 25, 1862); Maj. F. F. Flint, 16th U.S. Inf. (to Sept. 5, 1862); Colonel Jesse Hildebrand, 77th Ohio Vols., (to Apr. 18, 1863); Colonel William B. Mason, 77th Ohio Vols., (to July 30, 1863); Colonel George Kincaid, 37th Iowa Vols. (to Jan. 14, 1864); Colonel William Wier, 10th Kansas Vols. (to Apr. 26, 1864); Brig. General J. T. Copeland, U.S. Vols, (to Dec. 28, 1864); Colonel Ray Stone, 149th Pa. Vols. (to March 1865); Colonel John H. Kahn, 144th Ill. Vols. (to July 1865).  [per Alton Telegraph, July 2, 1976]


Wardens of State Prison:

First Warden: 1834, Samuel H. Denton

1838, John R. Woods (Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, January 15, 1936; from Bluff City Reminiscences, May 11, 1883)

Nathaniel Buckmaster and nephew Col. Samuel A. Buckmaster


Source:  Proceedings of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association, 1908-1909 (Not in Copyright)

"The Western Sanitary Commission also turned its attention to the conditions of the military hospitals and prisons in St. Louis, and after experiencing a good deal of opposition on the part of the authorities succeeded in introducing into the prison wards substantially their own regulations. They also spent much care and time in alleviating the distress of the Confederates imprisoned at Alton Illinois.  Mr. Yeatman always insisted that the Confederate soldiers and wounded should always be treated exactly as were the Union troops."


Source: The Western Sanitary Commission, A Sketch of its Origin, History, Labors for the Sick and Wounded of the Western Armies, and Aid Given to Freedmen and Union Refugees, With Incidents of Hospital Life, Published for the Mississippi Valley Sanitary Fair; R. P. Studley & Co., 1864; page 88; (Not in Copyright)

"In November, 1862, the hospital of Gratiot Street Prison, in McDowell's College, used exclusively for prisoners of war, was found to be much crowded, .... and the crowded condition both of the prison and the hospital was obviated by sending a considerable number to the large military prison at Alton, Illinois. The Commission has extended its inspections to the military prison at Alton, Illinois, and furnished supplies, to most urgent cases of need, on the requisition of the surgeon in charge. This prison is the same formerly occupied as the Illinois State Penitentiary, which was removed to Joliet, just before the breaking out of the war. It has a large area of ground, 420 by 323 feet, enclosed by a high stone wall, with the prison buildings inside, is in a healthy location, within a few rods of the Mississippi river, on the east side, has good water, excellent drainage, a free circulation of pure air, and could not be better adapted to the purposes for which it is used. A committee from the Western Sanitary Commission visited it in December 1862, and in a published report of the visit, said, 'We found the hospital to be a good, brick structure, 104 by 35 feet, well ventilated, but insufficiently warmed. It contains sixty-three patients. Many of the sick were needing proper under-clothing. Most of the buildings in the enclosure stand isolated, with considerable ground between them, so that in a moral and sanitary point of view, they are very favorably situated. The prisoners are furnished abundantly with good, wholesome food, and they appear to be entirely satisfied with the kind treatment of officers and attendants. The clothes of the prisoners are washed outside the walls, by laundresses, paid out of the prison funds. There is also a washing apparatus on the ground, with a plentiful supply of hot water, and soap, which is freely resorted to by the inmates.'


There were then 700 prisoners confined in this prison, with accommodations for 1,300. Since then, it has frequently contained over one thousand. During a recent visit of the Secretary of the Commission, he found the hospital in an excellent condition, in charge of Surgeon T. A. Worrell, U.S.V., Dr. Hez. Williams, A. A. Surgeon, with beds for three hundred patients; the floors clean, and the arrangements similar to the military hospitals for our own troops. There were 120 sick prisoners out of 1,000, then in prison. The four female nurses in attendance were Sisters of Charity. A chaplain is also allowed the prison, Rev. Father Vehay, of the Catholic church. A supply of sanitary stores has been recently sent to the Surgeon in charge, on his requisition. The smallpox patients are treated in tents, on the island, just opposite Alton. There were recently but few cases of this disease.


Those who die in this prison are buried in a ground about two miles out of the city, set apart especially for that purpose. They are furnished with a coffin, the same as the Union soldier, and are in all respects decently interred. Head boards, with the initials of their names, are placed at each grave, so that there can be no difficulty identifying the spot.


The statistics of the prison and hospital were recently requested, for the purpose of giving a more complete statement for this work, but were refused by Brig. Gen. Copeland, commanding the post. It is believed that the facts would show that this prison and its hospital have been conducted in a manner creditable to the humanity of the United States Government, and would convey, by contrast, a terrible rebuke to the inhumanity with which our soldiers have been starved and treated in the prisons of the South.





Source: Alton Telegraph, February 8, 1894
When Samuel H. Denton, the first warden of the Illinois Penitentiary, was living in Alton in a log house on what we then called Penitentiary Hill, with his one or two prisoners who he boarded in his own house and worked them during the day in preparing to build the penitentiary, I went first to see the picture of the "Piasa Bird" painted on the face of the rock that fronted the river from the top of the Penitentiary Hill, and then up the hill to see my old friend Denton. Though he was a man and I a boy, we were always warm friends.




Source: Albany, New York Evening Journal, August 27, 1835

Mr. David Owens, Deputy Warden of the Illinois State Penitentiary, at Alton, came to his death on the 25th ult. in a very singular and unexpected manner. He was standing as guard over the prisoners who were at work in the quarry adjacent to the prison, when his rifle slipped from the edge of the rock upon which it was resting, and in attempting to recover it is supposed to have drawn the cock back by the projection of the rock, and while the muzzle was not more than an inch from his body, the gun discharged itself, and the ball entered obliquely, taking some links of his watch chain with it. The unfortunate man attempted to rise, but expired before his purpose was accomplished.  St. Louis Herald.


Source: Alton Telegraph, May 11, 1836
From the Jacksonville Patriot. Alton - We recently visited this young and flourishing town. The business that has been transacted in it the present season greatly exceeds in amount the anticipations of its warmest friends. The Legislature, in its liberality to provide a suitable place for the reception of convicts, erected the State Penitentiary on a hill near the present site of Alton, and no doubt supposed that such a large stone structure would stand unrivalled by any buildings the Altonians might think proper to erect. But the individual enterprise of the merchants in putting up large, four and five story stone warehouses, bears indomitable evidence that they are determined not to be outdone in this particular. In fact, the foundations for a large commercial city are already laid in Alton, and all the forced ridicule and unfair opposition that the citizens of St. Louis may array against it cannot keep it down. The merchants of Alton are, generally, a liberal minded, fair dealing set of men, and as such we commend them to the patronage of our country leaders.



Source: Alton Telegraph, April 13, 1836

This institution, ..... [unreadable] ... considered a model prison for all .... contains by the report of inspectors, 645 prisoners, of whom 622 are males. Out of the 218 convicts received this year, 60 were illiterate, 175 intemperate, 11 total abstinent.




Source: Auburn, New York Journal and Advertiser, 1837

A Van Buren Man - Beauties of the Sub-Treasury - Seth T. Sawyer, late Public Printer at Vandalia, Illinois, has been sentenced to one year in the State Penitentiary at Alton for stealing the public deposits.




Source: History of Henry County, Illinois by Henry L. Kiner, 1910, page 674

Spring & summer of 1837:  At the close of each term of court, the sheriff would take the prisoners to the state prison at Alton, a journey of some three hundred miles. There were no railroads in those days. The sheriff took two or more prisoners alone in his buggy from Cambridge to Peoria, on his way to the "pen" at Alton, and some of them were desperate characters. They had no jail, and from the beginning he made it a point to treat his prisoners well, but to depend upon irons to keep them safe. That way, he lost no prisoner during his term of office. He had a two-seated buggy and always placed them on the front seat, with feet and hands shackled; then the two men were shackled together and by a chain their feet were made fast to the coupling pole. He took the back seat, with the lines passing between the men.....A man by the name of Wilcox was transported this way and delivered to the warden, who was at that time Samuel Buckmaster.




Source: Alton Telegraph, August 2, 1837

We understand that four of the prisoners confined in the Penitentiary at this place, effected their escape on Saturday evening last. Two were retaken soon afterwards, but the others, we believe, are still at large. We are unable to state how these convicts contrived to elude the vigilance of the Warden on this occasion.




Source: Alton Telegraph, August 23, 1837

We understand that the Board of Inspectors, by virtue of the powers conferred upon them in the act "in relation to the Penitentiary," passed at the late extra session of our Legislature, have removed Benjamin S. Enloe, Esq., from the office of Warden of the above institution, and placed it temporarily under the superintendence of J. R. Woods, Esq., a gentleman believed to be well qualified for the discharge of the duties which will devolve upon him. The number of convicts now under confinement amounts to twelve only.



Source: Alton Telegraph, August 30, 1837

From the Missouri Republican:  "Will the editor of the Alton Telegraph undertake to furnish its readers with the facts which transpired upon the trial of the case of the State against Enloe, at the late term of the Madison Circuit Court? The defendant was the Warden of the State Penitentiary, and was indicted for permitting the escape of several prisoners; to which circumstance the former editors of this paper made allusion at the time. He was acquitted, as we have understood - the Attorney General, a party concerned in the affair, having been permitted by the court, at just before the opening of the case, to make a vulgar and abusive speech against the late editors of this paper and those connected with them in politics; and the prosecution having been placed in the hands of a young member of the bar, who, however respectable his attainments, was scarcely able to cope with such veterous as Field and Semple. Will the editor further inform us, whether the said Attorney General was not, at the same term of the court, indicted by the Grand Jury for being a participant in the misconduct of the Warden? And whether - notwithstanding all his protestations, all his abuse, before the court, and pending the trail - he has now to answer to accusations, deliberately preferred by a Grand Jury upon their oaths very similar to those which were made against him in this paper?"


Answer from The Telegraph:  As we did not attend the late term of the Madison Circuit Court, it is not in our power, from our own knowledge, "to furnish the facts" asked for in the above paragraph. We understand, however, that "at, or just before the opening of the case, The people vs. Enloe," the Attorney General took occasion to utter a violent tirade against the Editors of the Missouri Republican - calling them "d----d scoundrels and liars," or terms of similar import; and applying the same courteous epithets to all others who might have copied from their paper certain remarks concerning this functionary. It has been also stated to us, that the management of the prosecution instituted against Enloe, was entrusted to a very young member of the bar, wholly unable to cope successfully with such veteran lawyers as Messrs. Field and Semple, who were employed for the defendant. We have likewise heard, that an indictment against the Attorney Gene4ral was found at the same term of the Court; not indeed for any thing connected with the Warden of the Penitentiary, or the escape of the convicts, but for gross negligence in the discharge of his official duties.




Source:  Albany, New York Evening Journal, September 1837

The Alton Spectator of the 7th contradicts the statement going the rounds of the papers, "that forty prisoners had escaped from the penitentiary at Alton," and says there never was over 12 or 15 convicts in it at a time.



Alton Telegraph, January 23, 1839
The following statement of the condition of the Penitentiary in Alton is from a report made to the Legislature on the 12th ult. The expenses of the Penitentiary over the income for the last two years is $1,493.34, showing a deficit for the last two years of $1,495.31. On the 18th of August 1837, there were in confinement eleven prisoners, and since that time I have received from the several counties hereinafter named, fifty more, and two others who had escaped from former Wardens; making in all that have been under my care, 63. Of these, ten have made their escape. Two have died, Two released by order of the Supreme Court. Four pardoned by the Governor, and fifteen have served out their time. Leaving now in confinement, 34. Of the above sixty-three convicts:
Sentenced for Larceny 43; Assault with intent to kill 7; Manslaughter 3; Rape 3; Counterfeiting 3; Forgery 1; Assault with intent to commit a rape 1; Robbing United States mail 1; Arson 1.

Of the thirty convicts now in confinement, ___ are natives of New York; five of Kentucky; four of Ireland; three of Ohio; two of Maryland; two of England; one of New Jersey; one of Vermont; one of Massachusetts; one of Missouri; one of the West Indies; one of Scotland; and one of Illinois. The shortest term for which any convict has been committed during the last fifteen months is eight months; the crime was manslaughter, and the convict was released in four months. The longest term for which any convict has been committed is "for and during his natural life." The convict was a black boy, and the crime rape. He died in three weeks after being received.

Of the thirty now in confinement, one is a mulatto; two are black men; and twenty-seven are white men. But eight had trades when they came, and only two of these work at the same now. Thirteen are married men, and seventeen single. The youngest is seventeen, and the oldest forty-five years of age. Twenty-four attribute their present misfortune to the use of intoxicating liquor. But four have ever made a profession of religion, they were members of the Roman Catholic Church. But three have ever attended Sabbath School, and but one has been a member of a Temperance Society. The Sabbath by all has been disregarded since they came to the West.




Source: Alton Telegraph, October 19, 1839

John Bolster, one of the convicts in the Penitentiary at this place, was killed on Wednesday morning last, by the Warden, for resisting and endeavoring to take the life of this officer while in the discharge of his duty. It seems that the deceased not only positively refused to go to work when ordered so to do, but also actually wrested a heavy cane out of the Warden's hands and repeatedly attempted to knock him down with it, when the latter was compelled to shoot him in order to save his own life. The following is the return of the inquest held over the body by the Coroner of this county.


Coroner's Inquest, State of Illinois, Madison County

We, the Jury, having been duly sworn by Henry P. Rundel, Coroner of said county, diligently to inquire and true presentment make, in what manner and by whom John Bolster, a convict in the Penitentiary of the State aforesaid, whose body was found in said Penitentiary on the morning of the 16th day of October, A. D. 1839, came to his death, after having heard the evidence, and upon full inquiry concerning the facts, and a careful examination of the said body, do find that the deceased came to his death from a wound inflicted by a pistol shot, which entered his body, immediately at or about the point of the scapula; which ball, it is supposed, passed through the left lung of the said Bolster, which was inflicted by Samuel A. Buckmaster, Warden of said Penitentiary,while in the discharge of his official duty. Given under our hands and seals, this 16th day of October, A. D. 1830. Signed by Andrew Miller, T. M. Hope, William S. Lincoln, J. A. Townsend, M. W. Carroll, S. W. Robbins, Thomas G. Hawley, Levi Palmer, George Robbins, Horace Beall, J. D. Smith, and J. Russell Bullock.




Source: Alton Telegraph, February 22, 1840

There have been six convictions to the penitentiary, viz: Reuban Shuster, for larceny, five years; James Smith for counterfeiting, four years; William Bell for larceny, three years; Julius Scott, assault with intent to kill, two years; Jeremiah Doyle, larceny, one year and six months; Joseph Vance, larceny, one year. They were severally arraigned before the bar for the sentence of the court on Thursday morning, which was passed upon them in an appropriate manner, accompanied by a solemn admonition, which went to their hearts and seemed to affect them deeply. Three of them are young men, in the very prime of life, and may, and we hope, will be, after having expiated their sentence, benefited by it.


$100 REWARD!

Source: The Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Advertisement, August 8, 1840

Escaped from the Illinois Penitentiary on the night of Friday, August 7, 1840, a convict named Hansel G. Horn. Said convict is 5 feet 8 inches high, slender made, dark hair, blue eyes, slightly pock-marked, about 40 years of age, has a small scar on his right eyebrow, one on his right arm, the third finger of the left hand crooked and cannot be straightened. It is presumed that said Horn will proceed direct to Texas. Any person apprehending him without the limits of the State will be entitled to the above reward, on his delivery to me in the City of Alton; or if taken within the State and delivered as above, fifty dollars will be paid.   I. Greathouse, Warden Ill's Penitentiary, Alton, Aug. 8, 1840.



$200 REWARD!

Source: Alton Telegraph, September 19, 1840

Escaped from the Illinois Penitentiary on the afternoon of Thursday, July 23d, 1840, two convicts named William Hill and James M. Harrison. Said Hill is about 35 years of age; 5 feet 0* inches high; fair complexion; hazel eyes; high forehead; heavy eye brows and heard, latter somewhat ____; brown hair with high top _____; but had his left ankle broken, which may be discovered on close examination; walks very straight, and rather proud in his carriage.  Said Harrison is about 33 years of age; six feet 1 inch high; fair complexion; brown hair; remarkably keen dark hazel eyes; a large scar on the left temple; one on the right side of the under lip, one on the side, and one on the top of the left foot; plausible in his manners, and walks very erect. The heads of the above described convicts have not been shaved. Both are shoemakers by trade. The above reward will be paid for their delivery at the penitentiary, if taken out of the state. One Hundred Dollars if taken within the State. Or, One Hundred Dollars for either, if taken without the State; or, Fifty Dollars for either if taken within the State.  J. Greathouse, Warden, Alton, July 23, 1840.




Source: Alton Telegraph, January 23, 1841

The following is a copy of the Bill in relation to the Illinois Penitentiary, reported to the House a short time since by Mr. Gillespie, of this county:

Sec. 1.  Be it enacted &c., That the Inspectors of the Penitentiary of this State are hereby authorized, and it is made their duty, to cause to be erected, ninety-four additional cells for the confinement of convicts therein, to be built of stone or timber, as the said Board of Inspectors shall determine.


Sec. 2. The said Inspectors are hereby authorized and required, to cause to be erected, in the place designed for that purpose, a house for the Warden of said Penitentiary, suitable for the accommodation of said Warden and his family, so as not to cost exceeding the sum of two thousand five hundred dollars.


Sec. 3. The said Inspectors shall cause to be erected, suitable sheds for the protection of the ordnance and military stores belonging to this State, now or hereafter to be placed in the custody of said Warden, or any person having the care and management of said Penitentiary; said sheds not to cost exceeding the sum of two hundred and fifty dollars.


Sec. 4. The said Inspectors shall cause the walls enclosing the area of said Penitentiary to be repaired, and additions made thereto, conformably to the recommendations of said Inspectors in their annual report in this General Assembly.


Sec. 5.  The Warden, or other officer or person, having the care or custody of said Penitentiary, is hereby authorized and required to furnish to each of said convicts, at the time of his or her discharge, suitable clothing, not to exceed in value ten dollars; Provided, however, That an provision, as above stated, shall be made, unless the said convict is wholly unable to procure such clothing.


Sec. 6.  The said Inspectors shall receive proposals for the work to be done in conformity with the provisions of this act, and give at least sixty days public notice in at least two newspapers of this State, of the time and place where they will be received; and upon the opening thereof, the contract shall be awarded to the person or pfersons agreeing to perform such work on the lowest terms: Provided, Said persons shall give good and sufficient security in the satisfaction of said Inspectors, for the completion of said work according to the terms which may be agreed upon.


Sec. 7.  The said Inspectors may let out said work in such parcels as they may deem necessary and proper.


Sec. 8.  The said Inspectors shall have power to lease the said Penitentiary for any term not exceeding two years, upon the best terms they can obtain, upon giving sixty days notice of said leasing, in four public newspapers, one of which shall be printed in this State; and all the duties imposed by this act upon the Warden, shall be obligatory upon such lesson or lessees, who shall give bond and security as now required by law.


Sec. 9.  The Governor of this State is hereby authorized to negotiate bonds of this State, to an amount sufficient to raise the sum of twenty thousand dollars, at an interest of six per centum per annum, payable at the expiration of twenty-five years, and for the redemption of which the faith of this State is hereby irrevocably pledged.


Sec. 10.  The said Inspectors are hereby authorized, if they deem it consistent with the interest of this State, to dispose of all or a part of the Penitentiary land or property not included within the walls of said Penitentiary, or needed for the purpose of enlarging the same.


Sec. 11.  Said Inspectors shall give notice for six weeks in same public newspaper, of the time and place of the sale of said property (if such sale shall be deemed advisable), and the proceeds of such sale when realized shall be applied to the payment of any debts or demands against said Penitentiary, and their amount deducted from the twenty thousand dollars hereby authorized to be borrowed: Provided, Bond and security shall be taken from such purchaser or purchasers, and a mortgage upon the premises sold, for payment of the purchase money.


Sec. 12.  The said Inspectors are hereby authorized to draw upon the Treasurer of this State, in favor of the person or persons to whom money may be due, by virtue of this act, and the said Treasurer shall pay the same out of any moneys in the Treasury not otherwise specifically appropriated, or the fund provided for that purpose.




Source: Alton Telegraph, October 9, 1841

During the severe rain of last week, one side of the Penitentiary wall fell over in the night, and broke in the shops used for coopering. Had the accident occurred during the daytime, while the convicts were at work, the loss of life must inevitably have been great.




Source: Alton Telegraph, March 26, 1842

This establishment is shortly to be released, and a question of a good deal of interest to our mechanics in this city and vicinity is, whether the inspectors intend to have it converted, for the next three years, into a mechanic's shop, to the great detriment and manifest injury of a large, respectable, and meritorious class of citizens, whose chief means of subsistence is their daily mechanical labor. We have no hesitation in asserting that this way of employing convicts is wrong and should not be countenanced. It brings the labor of the honest, industrious mechanic in competition with that of convicts, and in many instances, forces the former to abandon the neighborhood of a Penitentiary, for employment in some other section of country. This question has become, in New York, so serious a one, that the Governor, in his late annual message, recommended an abandonment of the present system, and the employment of the convicts in some way that would not interfere with the mechanics; and the Legislature of New York, at its present session, will doubtless remedy the evil. This subject should be brought to the notice of our next legislature, and we would advise those interested in the question, to pay some attention to it in the approaching campaign. This could not be more effectually done than by bringing out, as a candidate from this end of the county, a good Whig mechanic, or one who was pledged to their interest, for the legislature. Their interest, in our opinion, deserves a representative from their own ranks, as well as that of the farmer, the lawyer, or doctor.



Source: Alton Telegraph, April 9, 1842
There will be a meeting of the Mechanics at the brick schoolhouse in Upper Alton, on Saturday the 23d inst., for the purpose of taking into consideration the good or bad policy of carrying on mechanical business in the Penitentiary by the convicts. The Mechanics of the Altons, the neighboring towns and their vicinities, are earnestly requested to attend. Signed by several Operating Mechanics.



Source: Alton Telegraph, April 16, 1842

1. Is it expedient to support the convicts in the penitentiary in idleness?

2. If not, is there any kind of labor which they can perform, without coming in competition, either now or at some future time, with other laborers?

3. Should the Legislature show a partiality to one class of laborers over another, at the expense of the whole State; or should they employ the convicts in such labors as are most profitable to the State, and can be pursued with the greatest convenience within the walls of the Penitentiary?

4. Is it expedient to re-enact, in Illinois, the farce which has been annually enacted in the city of New York for many years - that of creating artificial discontent in the minds of one class of citizens, for the purpose of controlling their votes?




Source: Alton Telegraph, May 21, 1842

The Penitentiary was leased in this city [Alton] on Monday last, for the term of three years, to Messrs. Greathouse and Buckmaster, for the sum of six thousand dollars, which goes into the treasury of the State. The lessees pay all expenses, and give the above enormous sum out and out as a bonus to the State for the use of the prisoners. We understand they intend, provided they can get the lease extended upon the same terms, to enter largely into the manufacture of bagging and rope. This we should much prefer seeing done, to carrying on the several mechanical branches in which the convicts are at present engaged, to the great detriment of a large class of meritorious mechanics, who are, comparatively speaking, thrown out of employ.




Source: The Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Advertisement, May 23d, 1842

Escaped from the Alton Penitentiary, on the 20th inst. two convicts, Isaac Bell and William B. Ledbetter. Isaac Bell was sentenced from Sangamon County in March 1838 for five years. He is 27 years old, 5 feet 3 inches high, hazel eyes, dark brown hair, a deep scar on the left cheek, and a scar on the right leg, made by the kick of a horse and some small scar on his right hand. He is an old horse trainer, and his whole subject of conversation is about horses.  Ledbetter was sentenced from Shelby County, June 2d, 1841, for one year. He is 21 years old, heavy made, 5 feet 5 inches high, dark hair, dark complexion, gray eyes, a scar on the back of the left hand, and another on the calf of the left leg. His parents reside in Shelby County. I will give fifty dollars for the apprehension and delivery of Isaac Bell at the Prison, and twenty-five dollars for Ledbetter.  Isaac Greathouse, Warden Illinois Penitentiary. Alton, 23d May, 1842.




Source: Alton Telegraph, January 21, 1843

From the Editor - On Thursday last, the 12th inst., Mr. Hickman, one of the members of the committee on the Penitentiary, made a report in answer to a resolution introduced some weeks since by the indefatigable Representative of Bond - Mr. Davis. As this subject has deeply agitated the public mind in the two Altons and vicinity, and to prevent any accusation against me of unfairness by those implicated in the disreputable letting that took place in June last, as well as to enable each individual to form his own conclusions in regard to the determination to which the committee on the Penitentiary in the House arrived, I have procured a copy of the report, which is in the words following:


"The committee on the Penitentiary, to whom was referred certain resolutions, beg leave to present the following as their report. The committee are of opinion that the leasing of the Penitentiary was legal, especially under the circumstances in which the Inspectors were placed. We are of opinion that the law implied that privilege, and as the last Legislature made no provisions for said institution, the Inspectors conceived it to be their imperious duty to do the best they could with said Penitentiary. And with the advice and consent of the Attorney General, they leased the same for the term of three years, from the 10th of June 1842, for a bonus of $6,115 - the only bonus that has ever been received by the State. And that the bids, especially the one accepted by the Inspectors, was unusual and unfair, by one of the partners in the lease holding out inducements to other bidders that they should come in as partners in the lease if they would not bid, and were afterwards rejected as partners.


It appears from the testimony before the committee, that the bids were as follows: The first bid was for a certain definite sum, $800 the first year, $1,100 the second year, and $1,200 the third year, making the sum of $3,000, and if there should be a higher bid, $100 was to be added to each bid until the bids reached $6,015. The other bid was $100 more than any other responsible bidder, which bid made the sum of $6,115, and was the bid accepted by the Inspectors. Your committee have no testimony before them, that there was any higher bid than the one accepted by the Inspectors. We are likewise of opinion that it was not let at its intrinsic value; there was one witness that stated to the committee he would now give ten thousand dollars for a lease of three years, with the privilege of working the convicts as under the former lease.


The committee are of opinion, from the testimony before them, that there was one company that wished to lease the Penitentiary, who designed to employ the labor of 50 convicts in the manufacturing of hemp, soy bale rope and bagging. We would take occasion here to recommend to the consideration of this Legislature, the propriety of changing the labor of convicts to the manufacture of hemp, as it may prove advantageous to the citizens of Alton as well as the surrounding country.


We are likewise of the opinion that the convicts are treated as the law requires, so far as it can be done in their present situation, except that the convicts have been taken outside the walls, and sometimes out of the city, to perform labor, and at times unattended by guards, which may be considered a violation of law.


We find, from evidence, there are 131 convicts in the Penitentiary, with only 56 cells, originally designed for one person, with now two in each cell. Upwards of twenty have to be kept in a cellar together at night. There is likewise two female convicts that have to be kept in the cook house in the daytime, and in a cellar at night. We would recommend to this Legislature some provisions to be made for the safe keeping, health, and comfort of convicts, by making such improvements as would be necessary for that purpose."


The limits of this letter will not allow me to devote more space than I have already done to this subject. It is, however, to be hoped, that the rebuke visited upon the Inspectors by this report, for departing from the plain path of duty in receiving unfair, if not dishonest bids, will have the effect of guarding against a repetition of such gross impropriety......


Since writing the fore part of this letter, Mr. McClernand, from the committee on Finance, has reported a bill relative to the Penitentiary, which has been twice read and referred to a select committee of seven. It provides for re-letting the labor of the convicts, and for a total change in the mode of their employment, requiring that in six months from the passage of the Act, one third of the convicts shall be employed in the manufacture of bagging and rope; in twelve months, another third in the same manner, and within eighteen months, the residue. Leassees  are prevented under a very heavy penalty from taking a convict out of the walls of the Penitentiary; and the mode of bidding is expressly defined in the Act. The principles of the bill are generally approved of by those members who have examined it, and I understand it meets the united support and approbation of our delegation. It is greatly to be hoped that it will pass, as it will secure the mechanics and laboring man of Alton and its vicinity from further imposition, and at the same time open a new market for an article of product which will prove to our farmers a source of great profit, if not wealth.  I perceive by St. Louis papers that the Missouri Legislature has, during its present session, leased the Penitentiary of that State for the term of ten years, for the sum of fifty thousand dollars, the leassees binding themselves to employ the convicts exclusively in the manufacture of hemp and tobacco. Illinois, if the present fraudulent lease is set aside, can obtain equally as good an offer for the labor of the convicts in her Penitentiary. All depends upon the action of our Legislature, and it is for them to say, whether this large sum shall go into the Treasury of this State, or into the pockets of Buckmaster, who claims it, because he is now a brawling Locofoco [Democrat].




Source: Alton Telegraph, January 28, 1843

To the Editor:

As the subject of State Prison discipline is now under discussion, not only in this community but by our Legislature, permit me through your columns to make a few remarks in relation thereto, which if they do no good will do no harm. The main end of justice is to prevent crime, rather than to vindicate it through pain and punishment on the offender. And it is a subject of serious consideration, whether for the culprit in undergoing his punishment, some efforts should not be made to restore him, as far as practicable with his nature and disposition, to the confidence of society again. The mode for consideration is whether the prisoner, by time and good conduct, may not be indulged in liberties, as a reward for such, and even be promoted to the station of guard, with some allowance of pay. It is a part of human nature for a person to sustain himself in any confidential station bestowed in the way of a benefaction. And it is not to be supposed that the spark of gratitude is obliterated from all of those who may have chanced to fall under the severity of the laws an as to be confined in the Penitentiary. The convict who is rigidly confined and secluded from all intercourse with his fellow men, on his liberation is distrusted and suspected by everyone - has no kind hand to give him countenance or employment wherewith to provide clothes or food, and he is ultimately driven to crime again for his daily wants, and the punishment he has undergone has again to be repeated him. Out of the numerous convicts in our Penitentiaries, we can hardly suppose that there are not a portion composed of a better principle of human nature than to be condemned to such an unrelenting fate - and the voice of humanity and every principle of pure Christian religion calls for a remedy. To prove that there are trusty convicts, I will merely call to the minds of the citizens of this vicinity a few examples.  Let them look at Bell, the teamster, who is daily in the streets alone with his team, and often sent into the country for miles on errands, or to drive a carriage with ladies. Then look at Bill, the colored man, who has once been a body servant of the gallant General Worth. Who of us would not employ either of them as soon as anyone of similar condition now at large? For one, I have no hesitation in saying that I would make no distinction, and for the reason that I see that they can be trusted by those who have the control of them. I will then take the case of Parker, who, within the walls, is entrusted with counting lumber, and in all respects answers the purpose of a guard or general overseer for the interest of the prison. Who would not willingly take him by the hand and say, come and prosper, instead of go and hide from the face of man?  Let the heart that can oppose this species of divine charity, no more look to the head of all mercies and expect to arrive at that place where there is more rejoicing over one sinner that repenteth than ninety and nine that need no repentance.  The individuals named can no more be considered without a parallel than one man without, with an ounce of charity can be found without an equal, or that one religious sect with particular notions of duties, can be found without its direct opposition with equal plausibility of argument and pertinacity of adherence, and all working upon truth. If the individuals cited were discharged or removed, there would be others to take their places, of equal or more merit; and it seems to me that society can lose nothing by encouraging such individuals to put on a character above the slough of souls they must be ranked among, if kept down without allowing any efforts to rise, of any avail to the unhappy outcast.  Signed by Z.




Source: Alton Telegraph, February 11, 1843

From the Editor, Springfield, IL - The standing committee on the Penitentiary to whom was referred the Inspectors' Report, on Thursday last, made a report to the House of Representatives, in which they recommended the immediate increase of the number of cells to a sufficient extent to insure the health  and security of the convicts; also, an amendment of the law prohibiting under a severe penalty the employment of convicts without the walls of the Penitentiary, and a further amendment providing for an immediate change of the work at which the convicts are at present employed. The report was referred to the Select Committee, having under consideration the whole subject connected with the Penitentiary. Col. Buckmaster was requested by the Select Committee to furnish them with a proposition in writing, stating the terms upon which he would commence the manufacture of Hempen articles, and keep fifty convicts employed exclusively in that way. He has declined doing so - clearly showing that all his vain and bombastic talk here and at Alton, as to what he intended doing in this respect, was deceitful and insincere; and solely for the purpose of obtaining an extension of the lease that he might ask and obtain from some person, worthy and competent, to have the control of such an institution, a bonus twice as large as what he expects to realize from it, if he does not succeed in his attempt to overreach the State in getting an extension, by making promises which he has not the slightest idea of keeping. In fact, he has admitted to two different persons now in this city, that his only object in securing an extension of the lease is to make money out of it by selling out immediately at a big price. His designs, however, are thoroughly understood by the prominent men of both parties in each branch of the Legislature, and he will be dealt with accordingly.



$175 REWARD!
Source: The Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Advertisement, February 27, 1843
$100 reward will be given for Wilford J. Palmer, a convict, escaped from the Illinois Penitentiary on Sunday morning, February 26th. Said convict is 33 years old, 5 feet 7 3-4 inches high, light hair, grey eyes, fair complexion, has a scar above the right temple, and is very heavy made. $50 reward will be given for Thomas White, a convict, that escaped from the Illinois Penitentiary, on Sunday morning, February 26th. Said convict is 18 years of age, 5 feet 7 inches high, black hair, grey eyes, dark complexion, has a scar on the left temple, and also one on the right shin bone, and is very slender made. $25 reward will be given for Adam Guidal, a convict, that escaped from the Illinois Penitentiary on Sunday morning, February 26th. Said convict is 22 years of age, 5 feet 6 1-2 inches high, light hair, grey eyes, light complexion, heavy set and stout made, and is a German. N. Buckmaster, Warden, Ill's Penitentiary, Alton, February 27, 1843.



Source: Alton Telegraph, March 4, 1843

On Sunday morning last, three convicts escaped from the Penitentiary by scaling the wall by means of a ladder which they had prepared for that purpose. One of them is a most hardened and scientific villain, and who never for a moment should have been permitted to be out of sight of the guards. On the night of the day of their escape, the house of George B. Arnold, Esq., at Middle Alton, was broken into, and about thirty dollars, several articles of bed clothing, and all the men's wearing apparel taken, that the burglars could lay their hands upon. No doubt exists but what the convicts above referred to were the perpetrators of the outrage. The escape certainly in additional evidence why the Legislature should extend the lease of the present lessee, upon its present terms. For the last three months he has been absent to Springfield, hanging about the Legislature, traducing our citizens, and those who dared to interpose objections to his securing the means of breaking up the mechanics and laborers in this city for the next ten years, instead of attending to his business about the Penitentiary, and prevent the escape of convicts to again prowl upon community and commit, as in this very case, renewed depredations upon society before they get beyond the limits of the city. A reward of one hundred and seventy-five dollars has been offered for their detection and return to the Penitentiary.


[Notes:  The prison lessee at this time was Nathaniel Buckmaster, and there was opposition to his lease of the prison being extended. Buckmaster was working prisoners outside of the prison, and according to Alton businessmen and workers, was taking the work of laborers and mechanics. There was a fight in Springfield over the extension of his lease, and Buckmaster lost. Later Nathaniel's nephew, Col. Samuel Buckmaster, would take over the prison as lessee.]




Source: Alton Telegraph, March 4, 1843

We are rejoiced in being enabled to announce to our readers that the project of Buckmaster to get his lease extended and thus swindle the State, has been defeated by an overwhelming majority. For particulars the reader is referred to the letter of our correspondent. In behalf of the Mechanics, laborers, and citizens of Alton, generally, we tender our grateful acknowledgments to Messrs. Davis of Bond, and Koerner, for their vigorous support in defeating Buckmaster in entailing upon the people at large in this vicinity the scourge at present visited upon them by the manner in which he employs the convicts.



Source: Alton Telegraph, March 4, 1843

The bill for the regulation of the Penitentiary, with an amendment consisting of an entirely new bill, making an appropriation for the payment of certain claims of Dorsey & Greathouse, on account of services rendered or buildings, &c. erected, for the use of the Penitentiary - ordered to a third reading, after a few explanatory remarks from Mr. Buckmaster. By the same - The bill in relation to the Penitentiary, with a substitute, extending the powers of the inspectors, and requiring them to visit the institution regularly, and more frequently than heretofore - prohibiting the employment of the convicts outside of the prison walls, except in labor immediately connected with the business of the Penitentiary, or when their health or safe-keeping requires their temporary removal to some other place - making provision for the erection of additional cells - and authorizing the inspectors, in case of the surrender of the present lease, &c., before the expiration of the term thereof, to re-lease the Penitentiary to some competent person, for the unexpired portion of the term. The substitute having been read, Mr. Ficklin called for the reading of the original bill, which was accordingly done. Mr. F. then moved to refer both the bill and substitute to the committee of Finance, with instructions to report a plan whereby the Penitentiary would be able to sustain itself from its own resources. The motion was agreed to.


Mr. Arnold, from the committee on Finance, reported back the different bills in relation to the Penitentiary, with a substitute for the same, empowering the Governor to extend the present lease for a term not exceeding ten years, on such conditions as to him shall seem best adapted to advance the interests of the State &c., The original bill from the Senate was then read the third time, and passed. Much credit is deservedly due to Mr. Koerner, for his valuable services on this occasion. They should not be forgotten by the people of Madison County.  An amendment to the bill included provision for religious instruction in the Penitentiary; to increase the powers of the Inspectors, and require them to visit the prison oftener than heretofore; to invite proposals for construction of additional cells, and give the contract to the lowest responsible bidder; and to prohibit the inspectors, in case of the surrender &c. of the present lease, from re-leasing the Penitentiary for a period longer than the unexpired portion of the term. This service was cheerfully and promptly performed, and the suggested amendments unanimously concurred in by the committee.




Source: Alton Telegraph, March 25, 1843

On Saturday night last, about half past 10 o'clock, our citizens were alarmed by the cry of fire. It occurred in the work shops attached to the Penitentiary on the inside of the walls, a part of which, together with the tools and a quantity of dressed material ready to put up, were destroyed. The fire doubtless originated from one of the chimneys in the cooper shop, which, we are informed, was in an unsafe condition. The loss to the lessee cannot be less than two thousand dollars, in addition to the loss of the work of the convicts for some days to come. This is the fourth fire we have had in Alton this winter, and we do hope it will arouse the Common Council to action, to compel by ordinance every owner of a house or store to furnish to his building at least two fire buckets. Those that will not comply with the ordinance, let them be made to.




Source: Alton Telegraph, June 24, 1843

Two convicts escaped from the Penitentiary during last week in the middle of the day. They were employed outside the walls, piling staves, in direct violation of the law of the Legislature passed at its last session; and so long as the convicts' labor is permitted to be brought in competition with the labor of the honest laborer and mechanic of this city, by working the felons without the walls, just so long will their constant escape be rendered inevitable.




Source: Alton Telegraph, July 8, 1843

On Friday of last week, another convict escaped from the Penitentiary from among those who were at work without the walls, making three in the short space of two weeks.




Source: Alton Telegraph, September 23, 1843

Mr. Editor - I have frequently heard the present lessee of the Penitentiary complaining of combinations, enemies, &c. against him, as proprietor or lessee of that public institution; and I have heard other citizens of this place that have an interest here, complain of the same combinations, and justify the system of working the convicts confined in the Penitentiary in the manufacture of such articles as are sold and consumed in this market. And now, Mr. Editor, I ask you and every honest thinking man, if it is any wonder that the mechanics [manual laborer] of this place do form combinations, when by chance they are placed here with a family to support, and wishing to support them in a respectable manner and educate their children suitable to their station in life, and having no other means to defray the expense of their support and education than their labor in that branch of mechanism to which they have been brought up, and for which they toiled and labored in their younger days to acquire a knowledge of, and now when they expected to reap the reward of previous years' labor, they are met by an unnatural competition, not the competition of the labor of men in like circumstances with themselves, families to support and educate, but slave labor, the labor of men who have no one to support but themselves, and according to the law that confines them, are to have the cheapest and most common kind both of food and raiment, no house rent to pay, no firewood to buy to warm the good wife and children, no taxes to pay to support the government, and a thousand other contingent expenses for the good of society that must be paid by the community of which they compose a part. I call the competition unnatural. It is so from the fact that it is slave labor, and of the very worst kind of slave labor, being a monopoly that cannot be rivaled. And is it possible for a man with a family to support to compete with such labor? You see, sir, it is impossible to do it successfully. But what I am more astonished at, Mr. Editor, is to see the course pursued by some of our citizens in giving their patronage to that institution in preference to an honest mechanic out of the walls of that school of vice. They exhibit nothing but a narrow, contracted, selfish, sordid mind, too narrow contracted to see their interest beyond the present moment, too selfish to let an honest, industrious mechanic prosper by his patronage; he would rather see him raise his children in ignorance, that they may be fit subjects for the Penitentiary, than to extend his patronage to the honest mechanic so as to enable him to feed, clothe and educate his children. Some of those same men talk long and loud about the Tariff and European pauper labor, but do not think that the slave labor in our Penitentiary has the same effect upon this community that the pauper labor of Europe would have upon this nation without a Tariff law. To show that those men do not understand their true interest, will not take a Solomon to comprehend, in the general prosperity of the community in which they live. I have no doubt but that there is more true happiness in that soul that can look with pleasure upon a community that is happy and prosperous, than possession the gold of Opher at the expense of the comforts and happiness of those he has to see and associate with every day. Deliver me from such a sordid, selfish disposition. I have attempted to show, Mr. Editor, that we have a common interest in the general prosperity of the community in which we live. I will endeavor now to show you that every person in Alton (the lessee excepted) will be benefited in a pecuniary manner by discontinuing the manufacture, in the Penitentiary, of such articles as are sold and consumed in this market. There are at least one hundred men employed at this time in the Penitentiary at mechanical labor that would give employment to one hundred mechanics outside in the same branches of mechanism, and three fourths of them would have families that would average at least five to a family, making four hundred additional inhabitants in the town, making a demand for 75 houses to be built, and that will give employment to 50 more house carpenters and masons, &c.  36 of them will be men of families, they making a demand for 30 more houses, and adding to our population about two hundred more inhabitants; this 112 families will make a demand for about 75 common laborers in cutting and getting wood, &c.  50 of them will be men with families that will make an additional demand for 50 houses and increase the population about 250, and that again making an additional demand for mechanics, materials, &c.  These 800 or 1000 additional inhabitants will make an additional demand for about 10 as good stores as we have at this time, with what they would consume themselves and the trade they would draw to the place. Now, Mr. Editor, would not that give life and prosperity to the place, and is not life and prosperity an advantage to every person in the place; even the loafer is benefited by it. I might have extended this calculation much farther. The schoolmaster, the minister and various other interests too numerous to mention here, would be benefited by it. But what is the picture on the other side. We are a few poor mechanics, care-worn and dejected, struggling with this great monopoly, with half-starved, half-clothed and half-educated families, too poor to live here and too poor to get away, sneered at and jeered at by those that should encourage them, driving them to vice and dissipation, which is the main road to the Penitentiary, with heartbroken wives and ragged children, not able to pay their rent nor buy fuel and clothing to keep their families from suffering. And, who is benefited by all this? The lessee of the Penitentiary, and no other person. But he will ask the question, who will buy all the raw materials if the Penitentiary does not buy them? I answer the mechanics outside will require as much and will pay as much for them. And in what way are the convicts to be employed to defray the expense of their confinement. I would answer, by setting them to work at manufacturing those articles that are not consumed here, the manufacture of which requires a large capital.....But those persons that think the Penitentiary is not in the way of mechanics, nor an injury to the place, will ask, why there is no surplus work? .... Let us stop the making of mechanics in our Penitentiary. The different Penitentiaries of the United States turn out about 6,000 mechanics yearly. What an influence that must have upon the morals of society, besides the bad effect it has upon the character of mechanics. It is high time we were waking up to this thing, and have the system changed. I will say no more on the present occasion, hoping you will excuse the liberty I have taken of troubling you with this, and the imperfections of the same.  Signed by A Mechanic.




Source: Alton Telegraph, February 24, 1844

One of the convicts in the penitentiary committed suicide on Sunday night last by hanging himself. He was a hardened case, and must of the time of his imprisonment was to have been solitary confinement.




Source: Alton Telegraph, March 23, 1844

On Monday night last, about twelve o'clock, a fire broke out in a kiln attached to the penitentiary, in which a quantity of cooper's stuff was undergoing the process of ouring [sic]. By the praise-worthy exertions of the firemen who promptly repaired to the spot, the ravages of the devouring element were confined to the place where the fire commenced, and ultimately checked without having done as much damage as might have been apprehended. The actual value of the articles consumed, we are pleased to learn, is inconsiderable, but being much needed at this time, their loss is a matter of public inconvenience.




Source: Albany, New York Evening Journal, August 2, 1845

It is supposed that Birch and Sutton, alias William Fox, two notorious villains, who have been roaming the lines of Missouri, Iowa, and Illinois for the past four years, are two of the gang who murdered Col. Davenport. Birch is said to be the man who sold a cream-colored horse at Peru, not long since, is the same man with whom Bridge (now in Rockford jail) exchanged the money with that he robbed Mulford of. We cannot yet get the name of the person at Peru who has the horse, but he is kept on the Island, and could tell the strange stories if he could talk. In this same gang is "Devin, the Kentuckian," who was in Lee county late in November last. He was arrested in Iowa last year, and with irons on his feet, was sent out to chop wood, with a guard. He struck the guard over the head with an axe, then got off his shackles and ran off to Bridge's in Washington Grove, Ogle Co., with his head shaved. He stayed at Bridge's, and wore a black handkerchief over his head until his hair grew out. He then went to Indiana and persuaded a man to come to Lee and Ogle counties, with several yoke of oxen and a cart to sell apples. The man had about $500 with him. He proposed to West to go with him and kill him. West would not go, and so the man was spared. This Davis, about six years ago, with a man by the name of Searls, found out that a man was traveling between Princeton and Hennepin with money. They awaited in the brush near Leeper's mills and shot him from his horse as he rode along the road. They got his money, from $600 to $800, dragged him to within 30 rods of the creek on the left-hand side of the road, and left him behind a log. This murder was never [unreadable], nor has the body ever been found. This Davis may be known by having one of his ears bit off. At Bridge's, in the [unreadable], near the house, a caucus was held which decided on the murder of Campbell. Bridge was present, as also were several of the Driskills, Birch, and Sutton. It was voted that young Driskill kill Campbell, as he did. Bridge was at Inlet Grove on the night of the murder, and West was making [unreadable] and selling it two for one for Michigan money at Flatteville, Wisconsin. West got clear when arrested for his [unreadable] there by getting Dewey and [unreadable] of Inlet Grove, to go his [unreadable] and he ran away. [unreadable] and Dewey are now in Alton Penitentiary.




Source: Alton Telegraph, September 20, 1845

The lessees of the Penitentiary in this city are making preparations to commence the manufacture of hempen articles by the convicts. This will open a cash market here for another staple product of the country.




Source: Alton Telegraph, November 22, 1845

There are at present in the Penitentiary in Alton, one hundred and twenty-six convicts. Of this number, between thirty and forty have been sent there during this fall, and many of them for very long terms.




Source: Alton Telegraph, December 6, 1845
Died on Monday morning last, after a very short but severe illness, William Fleming, Esq., one of the Aldermen of this city, aged nearly 40 years. The deceased was a native of Pennsylvania, but had resided several years in this city. As an active and enterprising business man, he had few or no superiors; and at the time of his decease, he was one of the principal Superintendents of the Penitentiary. He has left a deeply afflicted widow, an infant daughter, and many friends and relatives to deplore his loss. His remains were committed to the grave on the Tuesday following, attended by his colleagues of the Common Council as mourners, and a large number of citizens.




Source: Alton Telegraph, December 25, 1846

On Monday evening last at about six o'clock, a fire broke out in the third story of the new building in the Penitentiary yard, used for the manufacture of bagging, &c.  The fire companies and other citizens promptly repaired to the spot, and by their unceasing and skillfully directed exertions, the destructive element was not only prevented from spreading to the row of buildings connected on three sides with that in which it originated, but also restricted in its ravages to the two upper stories. Part of the hemp and other valuable articles in the stories consumed was saved, and the large steam engine in the lower story escaped without any injury whatever, and was again in successful operation on Wednesday morning - thirty six hours after the commencement of the conflagration.


When the combustible nature of the articles contained in the building in which the fire broke out is taken into consideration, and when it is recollected that it was nearly surrounded by, or connected with other buildings constructed of wood and also filled with combustible materials, it must be conceded that, in proportion to the means used, no greater triumph than this was ever achieved by man over the devouring element, and too much praise cannot be awarded to the members of the fire department, and the citizens who cooperated with them, for the zeal, courage and energy with which they saved a large amount of property from what at one time seemed to be inevitable destruction. The loss is estimated at between $1,500 and $2,000. Should the weather prove favorable, it is expected the manufacture of bagging will be resumed in about two weeks.




Source: Alton Telegraph, January 1, 1847

About 50 feet of the upper, or Western wall of the Penitentiary fell in yesterday, at or about twelve o'clock, owing probably to the late rains. It is believed that about 50 feet more will also fall soon, if not taken down. As no person was then standing near the part which gave way, the only injury sustained was the killing of a valuable cow which was crushed to death by the falling mass.


Source: The Daily Star, Syracuse, New York, January 15, 1847

About fifty feet of the wall of the Penitentiary at Alton, Illinois fell down a few days ago. A cow was the only victim of the damage, and none of the convicts had an opportunity of benefiting by the unexpected enlargement of their boundaries.




Source: Prison Discipline in America, by Francis Calley Gray, 1848

About a year ago, a clergyman from Alton, in Illinois, visited the prison [in Charlestown], and was requested by the chaplain to perform the evening service; after which he made a short address to the prisoners, a mark of attention from a stranger, which always gives them pleasure. He expressed his high gratification with the neatness, order, and contentment which prevailed there, and his particular delight in seeing the library, observing that they were much better off in this respect, than the inmates of the State Prison at Alton, who had no books at all. The next day, as the chaplain was walking through one of the workshops, a prisoner having asked leave to quit his work and speak to him, told him, that he had some books, which he could spare, and should like to send to the prisoners at Alton, if permitted, and so had some of his shopmates. The chaplain, having conferred with the warden, stated in the chapel, after evening prayers, that such an application had been made to him, and added, that if any prisoner had books which he wished to send to the Alton prison, he might leave them in the adjoining room, on coming to prayers the next morning. He also sent word to his friend the clergyman, that if he would call at the prison the next day, he would find some books for Alton. The Reverend gentleman went accordingly, and took with him a large silk handkerchief to carry off the books. What was his astonishment to find in the room adjoining the chapel more than four hundred bound volumes, besides tracts and pamphlets! The silk handkerchief would not do; and the prisoners requested permission to make boxes to pack the books in.




Source: Syracuse, New York Daily Standard, January 9, 1850

Nine convicts arrived at Alton from Chicago a few days since, and were safely lodged in the Penitentiary. The Alton Telegraph says "Chicago is coming out."



Source: Syracuse, New York Daily Standard, August 2, 1850

Four prisoners, on their way to prison at Alton, Ill., leaped from the steamboat into the river. Two were recaptured, one drowned and one escaped.




Source: Alton Weekly Courier, October 15, 1852

The report of the Warden of the Penitentiary for the month ending Sept. 6th, shows the following result for the month: 9 received, 11 discharged, 8 by expiration of sentence, 2 by pardon, and 1 died. Number remaining, 190.  The report for the month ending Oct. 4th, shows the following: 11 received; 21 discharged: 2 by death, 1 by pardon, and 18 by expiration of sentence. Number remaining, 180.




Source: Alton Weekly Courier, April 15, 1853

A convict by name of Boyne from Hillsboro, Montgomery County, was received at the Penitentiary yesterday. He was the same person who was brought down from Chicago by Sheriff Bradley a few weeks since, and taken to Hillsboro for trial.




Source: Auburn, New York Christian Advocate, August 20, 1853

[From an Illinois Correspondent, a description of his journey on the Mississippi River]

....We found the business part of this city [Alton] in water, the under part of the stores and warehouses being deserted. Alton is rendered famous as the place where the philanthropic Lovejoy met an untimely fate, by the violence of a ruthless mob. I could but realize that a martyr's blood was upon that city. Here also is the State Penitentiary. It occupies a position on the terminating slope of the great bluffs mentioned above. As we receded from the city, we had a fair view of the interior of the massive enclosure. The poor convicts, who are not so unfortunate as to be incarcerated in a dungeon, can, without doubt, enjoy an occasional view of the river scenery below. The tedium of their confinement and toils may have been relieved by a shy glance at our own gallant steamer, as she moved like a thing of life over the blue waters.....




Source: Lyons, New York Gazette, December 28, 1853
On Saturday morning, as the reinforcement for the cells of the Alton Prison were brought out of the jail, and coupled together, it happened that Charles Brown, the hack driver, who had robbed a man,
beating him so that he left him for dead was chained with Leo Gender, who killed Jacob Schieb in his own house at Blue Island, and then retired to bed with the victim's wife. It was their first meeting, and the following conversation ensued: "What's your name?"  "Leo Gender. What's yours?" "Charles Brown. What did you do?" "Shot a man, and killed him." "How many years you got?" "Four."

"My G__ ! I only robbed a man, and I got ten. I wish I had killed him, for then they might have let me off as easy as you." "Yes, very likely." Chicago Dem




Source: Alton Evening Telegraph Centennial Edition, January 15, 1936

During the summer of 1854, Colonel Buckmaster, superintendent of the Alton Penitentiary, was having his prisoners put pieces of wet cotton batting or cloth in the crowns of their hats for the prevention of sunstroke, which had visited many Altonians as well as prisoners that summer.




Source: History of Walworth County, Wisconsin by Albert Clayton Beckwith, page 564

Rev. John William Vahey: In 1854 he received priest's orders at Dubuque. He served at the federal military prison at Alton as chaplain.




Source: Alton Weekly Courier, May 4, 1854

Messrs. Buckmaster & Wise are making extensive preparations for the manufacture of brooms by the convicts in our State Penitentiary. Mr. Spencer, of Ohio, has been employed to superintend the work. They have already purchased two tons of broomcorn, from which they will be able to manufacture 2,666 brooms, allowing one and a half pound of material to one broom. They are making arrangements with neighboring farmers to raise broom-corn the coming season, and offer $50 per ton for the material after the seed is removed, the purchasers to remove the seed and take it as a compensation for their labor. It is said to make a good article of feed when ground. They wish to secure two hundred and fifty tons of material, which, reckoning as above, will be sufficient to manufacture 333,333 brooms. These, at 15 cents each, will amount to $50,000. They will probably manufacture the handles, as they have the necessary machinery. Lind, and if practicable, cotton wood, will be used for handles, as such timber grows in this vicinity. Some of the manufacturing in the penitentiary has been a cause of complaint on the part of mechanics in our city, because of the competition which they are called upon to contend with in consequence. We think this new enterprise is calculated to show that the warden of the penitentiary is desirous to avoid such a state of things, and that while, as in duty bound, he endeavors to avail himself of the business advantages which he possesses, he is willing, as far as lies in his power, to protect the interests of our city.




Source: Alton Weekly Courier, May 18, 1854

Yesterday, as the convicts were returning to their workshops from the dining-room in the prison, four of them, named Cooper from Galena, and Rainsford, Chalk and Douglas, from Chicago, made an effort to escape by placing a long plank against the newest part of the north wall of the prison, upon which they mounted to the top of the wall; and four of them jumped off and ran up the hill. The other was shot while on the top of the wall by one of the guard, and jumped or fell back into the yard. His name is Cooper. The others were immediately pursued by Mr. Buckmaster, with some of his guards, and assisted by Marshal Filley and several of our citizens, the four were soon brought back. The wounded convict is not dangerously hurt, although two balls took effect in his back and one in his arm. His wounds were dressed by Dr. Metcalf, the Prison physician, assisted by Dr. Arnin, who think he will recover in a week or two. The convicts were all engaged in the blacksmith shop, and had knives concealed upon them, which they brandished at those who endeavored to arrest them. Several shots were fired at them by the guards, and it is singular some of them were not killed.




Source: Alton Weekly Courier, June 22, 1854

The Sheriff of Cook County brought down six State Prison convicts on the cars yesterday from Chicago. Four men were sentenced one year each for larceny; and a man and his wife two and a half years each for murder, according to the commitment, though we imagine such a sentence for a capital offense will not appear from the records of the Court.




Source: Alton Weekly Courier, February 8, 1855

Although many of our readers reside within view of the walls of our State Penitentiary, but few have much knowledge of its operations, and still less of the results of the system. We do not propose at this time to go into an inquiry as to the best system, when considered as to its effects upon the Convicts themselves, or the interest of the State, but merely propose giving a few extracts from the report of the Inspectors of the Prison, which has been printed and laid upon the tables of the members of the Legislature. By an act of the Legislature, passed in 1845, the Prison was leased to the Hon. S. A. Buckmaster for eight years, at the yearly rent of $5,100. In 1851, the lease was extended five years, making thirteen years in all. The present lease will expire in 1858. The Inspectors, in the report before us, say:

To the proper working of the prisoners, their health and moral advancement, some further improvements are necessary, one of which, viz: The erection of a large additional number of cells, cannot longer be delayed, without resulting in the most serious consequences to the prisoners, and frustrating the objects had in view in building of the prison. Into the causes of the increase of crime in our State, it is not our province to inquire; but the facts, as exhibited upon the books of the prison, we wish to place prominently before your honorable body, and respectfully, but earnestly, urge your immediate action. Two years ago, at the date of our last report, the number of convicts in the prison was 217, and now they number 332, being an increase of upwards of fifty percent in the two years, and more than double the natural increase of our population, great as that is shown to be. Every convict should have a separate cell. His health and morals imperatively demand it, but in the present condition of things it is impossible. The number of cells is 152. Supposing every convict to be in good health, and two of them placed in each cell, there will still remain 28 of them totally unprovided with cells of any kind. The cells are very small, being three and a half feet by seven feet, and are barely large enough for one. To continue this state of things would engender disease in winter, and in summer invite, and almost insure, a deadly epidemic. With two in a cell, in a great majority of cases, the hope of the moral reformation of the convict is destroyed. The comparatively innocent are placed in the closest relations with the most hardened and desperate, and come out of prison at the expiration of the time for which they were sentenced, educated in the ways of crime, and ready for any desperate deed, and thus the object of their incarceration, aside from the public security, will have totally failed. To accommodate the present number of convicts will require the erection of one hundred and eighty additional cells, and if the same ratio of increase in crime is continued, not less than two hundred and twenty-five additional cells will be required during the coming year. Another improvement which would add greatly to the health and comfort of the convicts, and which we recommend to be done, is the paving of a portion of the yard. In wet weather portions of the yard much in use are almost impassable. Several cases of insanity having occurred in the prison, and there being no provision made for the proper treatment of such cases within the prison walls, we would respectfully represent the propriety of some legislative action on that subject, by which the insanity of the convict can be tried, and if so pronounced, that some provision be made for their admission into the State asylum, or otherwise disposed of, as your honorable body may think best. There is another class of cases to which we would invite your attention and immediate action. We refer to a class of female convicts who come into the prison pregnant. The laws passed for the government of the prison do not appear to have contemplated such an event, and no provision has been made for such cases. The prison is neither provided with a lying-in-hospital or nurses. The convict and her off-spring are an incumbrance on the warden. The child cannot be separated from its mother, and yet it has no proper place there. The inspectors and warden have no power in the premises; and if it should be understood that executive clemency could be successfully invoked in such cases, the evil would only be increased, for it is not to be doubted that such as are convicted of crime, or expect to be convicted, would not long hesitate to commit one crime to escape the penalty attached to the commission of another.

The present Prison Physician, Dr. R. L. Metcalf, was appointed about fourteen months ago, so that his report is not as full as it would otherwise have been, but his report presents several very interesting facts, not only as to the prevailing diseases of the prison, and his method of treatment, but also in relation to its policy. He says:

At the time I entered upon my duties as physician to the prison, you are probably aware that the condition of prisoners, especially those who came under my care and treatment, was poor. The first day of my attendance there were from twenty-five to thirty in the hospital, many of them, I supposed, were only complaining for the purpose of avoiding their duties, but some really needing medical attention. To discriminate between those who were entitled to commiseration and medical care, and those only, the enforcement of prison discipline was not so easy a matter as might be supposed. It required not only my most constant care and watchfulness, and the vigilance of those connected with me, to detect many of them in the impositions which they endeavored to practice. In order to justify myself in my opinion of the various cases as they were presented, and wishing to adopt such means as would not likely injure the cases in any way, I thought best to institute some means by which I would be enabled to detect those who were practicing deceit, for the purpose of avoiding work. Upon reflection, I concluded to adopt the cold bath, at the same time of using it as a matter of punishment. I endeavored to impress upon the minds of those who were subjected to its use that they were undergoing a thorough course of medical treatment. The cold bath I have used ever since my first month's attendance, and have no reason, thus far, for adopting any other, as those who present themselves, only pretending sickness, after one or two applications, almost invariably ask to be discharged from the hospital. By adopting the above named means, I feel confident that the mortality has been much less than otherwise would have been if every one coming up had been permitted to lounge about the hospital; as then, their systems become so deteriorated for want of proper exercise, that it generates disease, and many die from the consequent general debility, a consequence which might, in many cases, be avoided with necessary care, and the enforcement of the rules and regulations laid down by the warden. As to the diet of the convicts, I recommended little or no change until just before the prevalence of cholera last spring. On hearing of the rapid approach of the disease, instead of the constant use of wheat, I recommended the alternate use of corn bread, new potatoes; most all kinds of fresh meat strictly prohibited; fresh pork and other fatty matter not used at all. The character of the diseases which have prevailed have been mostly of a chronic nature, and the greater number, so far as I have been able to judge (such as dropsy in its various forms, pulmonary affections and diseases of the bowels) have been produced by the too free use of alcoholic drinks. I think I may safely say that two-thirds of the deaths which have occurred during my attendance have been produced by the above named cause. You will perceive from looking over the list of deaths and causes assigned, that although cholera prevailed in our city to an alarming extent during the past summer, yet not a case occurred within the prison, and but one or two cases came up presenting the premonitory symptoms. This result I can attribute to no other cause than the change and the particular attention paid to their diet during the prevalence of the disease in our midst. But two cases of dysentery have occurred within the last six months, which is an unnatural thing, as it is a disease which almost always prevails as an epidemic after the subsidence of cholera. The only reason I can imagine for the almost entire exemption from this disease, is that the discipline and means used for the prevention of cholera, also operated as a propalactic to dysentery.

The Chaplain, Rev. J. B. Randle, has also made a report, but it is a matter of regret that it is not more full and explicit. No doubt the Chaplain has been attentive and unremitting in his duties, but it would have been much more satisfactory if he had given more particulars. He says:

I become more and more impressed with the importance of this work. No people of whom I have any knowledge more imperatively demand the faithful labors of the minister of the gospel than the inmates of a State prison. I labor, not without hope. However depraved the human heart, there is power in the "cross of Christ" to subdue it; and in that power I trust. Most of the men here have a common education. Some of them are well educated, and but very few of them but that are able to read. They have each of them the "word of life" in their cells, and other proper books. They listen, most of them, with apparent interest to the preaching of the gospel. Since my last communication a building has been erected of sufficient size, which affords us a very pleasant and convenient place in which to worship. Every facility has been afforded me by the warden and officers in the discharge of my duties. To them I shall ever feel grateful. The prisoners are treated with kindness, and yet there is no want of promptness in the management of the concern. The moral elevation of these fallen degraded human beings is a work worthy of our untiring efforts - especially when we reflect that man is immortal. This great number of prisoners are well provided for. Special care is taken of their health. Every prisoner that has a heart that can feel must feel kindly treated.

A joint committee of both Houses of the Legislature was appointed to examine into the condition of the Prison, and performed their duty several days ago, but we have not, as yet, seen their report. It will doubtless be published, and should there be any matter of particular interest in it, we will recur to this subject again.




Source: Alton Weekly Courier, March 8, 1855

The Warden of the Penitentiary reports that the present number of convicts in the Penitentiary is 336. During the month just ended, five were received, and eleven discharged as follows: seven by expiration of sentence, two pardoned, and two died.




Source: Alton Weekly Courier, June 7, 1855

We learn from Mr. Sargent, the obliging Clerk at the Penitentiary, that the number of prisoners received during the month of May was 19; discharged 15, of which 13 were by expiration of sentence, 1 by pardon and 1 escaped. The number now in prison is 382, of whom 12 are women. The health of the prisoners is very good, as is evident from the fact that at divine service on last Sabbath, every prisoner was present.




Source: Alton Weekly Courier, June 14, 1855

Marion county, Ill., last week sent five convicts to the Penitentiary, viz: Thomas Grooms, two years for forgery; Ferdinand Hang, two years for grand larceny; Charles Thayer, two years also for grand larceny; Charles Grenville, one year for grand larceny. Grooms was disposed of in short order. The forgery was discovered on Friday, on Saturday the case was sent before the Grand Jury, the indictment was found at once, the trial was had on the same day, he was found guilty and on the following Wednesday he was on his way to the Penitentiary. The forgery was only a ten dollar promissory note.




Source: Alton Weekly Courier, July 19, 1855

A convict named David J. Johnson, escaped from the Penitentiary yesterday morning during the storm. The Warden offers $50 for his arrest. He is described as 29 years of age, five feet five inches high, spare built, light complexion, dark brown hair, blue eyes. He was clad in prison attire, but may succeed in changing it for others. He was sent down from Will county under sentence for larceny.




Source: Alton Weekly Courier, July 26, 1855

We noticed last year that Messrs. Buckmaster & Wise, lessees of the Penitentiary, had commenced the manufacture of brooms. Several farmers last year made an attempt to raise broom corn to supply the necessary material, but in the drouth that crop in common, with all the late crops, failed. Only about eight tons of broom corn were raised in this vicinity, and about twelve tons were purchased abroad at exorbitant prices. The business has therefore been limited. About 3000 dozens or 35,000 brooms have been manufactured. The work of the past year cannot be considered a fair experiment. Broom corn has been planted to considerable extent this season, and with the coming year, the plan of manufacturing will doubtless be fairly tested. It is probably, nay almost certain, that with the advantages of soil for growing all kinds of corn, which Illinois farmers possess, this necessary branch of manufactures will ere long be more extensively and profitably prosecuted in this State, than in any other portion of the Union. Messrs. Buckmaster & Wise have been so fortunate as to secure the services of Mr. Spencer, a gentleman from Ohio, who has been engaged for upwards of ten years in this branch of manufacture, to superintend this part of their business. He has turned out the very best work in his line that we have ever seen. It is heavy, substantial and durable, and finished with a neatness that cannot be surpassed.




Source: Alton Weekly Courier, September 6, 1855

By the report of the Warden of the Penitentiary, it appears that during the month just ended, five prisoners have been received at the prison, and eighteen have been discharged. Of the latter, one died, three escaped, thirteen were released on expiration of sentence, one was shot dead while attempting to escape. The present number of convicts is 385, of which number ten are women. The health of the convicts is good, there being but four cases in the hospital.




Source: Laws of the State of Illinois Enacted by the General Assembly, 1855

To each member of the joint committee of the senate and house of representatives, to visit the state prison at Alton, the sum of twenty-five dollars.

The inspectors of the penitentiary are also authorized to purchase a lot of ground, in some convenient place, without the limits of the city of Alton, not to exceed two acres, to be used by the penitentiary as a burial place for the convicts that die: Provided, that said ground shall not cost to exceed three hundred dollars.




Source: Alton Weekly Courier, September 6, 1855

On Saturday morning, at an early hour, when the gate of the Penitentiary yard was opened by the keeper to admit the bearer of the prison supplies, a colored prisoner named Wilkeson, and a white prisoner named George Clark rushed out and attempted to escape. The gate keeper followed and arrested Wilkeson, but Clark was fast making his escape. He was discovered by the guard who ordered him to stop. He disregarded the call and was shot dead. An inquest was held over his body. The jury returned a verdict that he came to his death by a shot from the prison guard, in the discharge of his duty. Clark was a young man about 22 years of age. He was sentenced at the April term, 1855, of the Cook County Criminal Court to eight years in the penitentiary for larceny. He had a wife, now in Louisville, Kentucky, as appears from a letter addressed to Clark, written from that city, under date of August 24th. It also appears that the last letter Clark had written to her was directed to Detroit, Michigan. Clark was an American by birth.




Source: Alton Weekly Courier, October 4, 1855

J. D. Kennedy, Esq., Sheriff of Kendall county, brought down two convicts for the penitentiary yesterday. Their names are Mitchell Jordan and John McCune. Their offense was larceny. Sentenced for one year each.  Deputy Sheriff Norton, of Cook county, brought down on the noon train yesterday, from Chicago, 29 convicts - 28 men and 1 woman. They were sentenced at the recent term of the Recorder's Court in Chicago. Deputy Sheriff Dawson, of McLean county, brought down two on Wednesday. There are now 423 convicts in the penitentiary.




Source: Alton Weekly Courier, October 25, 1855

....In the afternoon, no business of general importance was transacted except the selection of the Church of the Atonement at Chicago as the place of meeting of the next annual convention, the time of holding which will be appointed by the Bishop. The convention adjourned at an early hour, for the purpose of proceeding, agreeable to the polite invitation of the warden, to the penitentiary, in order to be present at the administration of the solemn rite of confirmation to a large number of the convicts, who have manifested a deep repentance of their sins for some months past. As about one half of these had never been baptized, this sacred ordinance was, in the first place, administered to twenty-three of them, by the Rev. Dr. McMasters, the Chaplain of the prison, under whose ministrations they have been brought to a sense of their guilt; followed by a solemn exhortation from the same gentleman, and another from the Rev. Dr. Arnett, of Milwaukee. The candidates for confirmation, forty-five in number, were then desired to kneel around the benches upon which they sit at their meals; when the Bishop proceeded to lay his hands, with the customary invocation, upon each of them successively. After the close of this truly affecting ceremony, the Bishop addressed the recipients for the space of perhaps fifteen or twenty minutes, in one of the most powerful and eloquent exhortations to which it ever has been our privilege to listen, and which, we are persuaded, can never be forgotten by any one who heard it, but of which we feel unable to give even a slight sketch. Suffice it to observe, that the strong walls and barred windows of the hall in which the rite was performed - the kneeling prisoners, nearly all of whom were bathed in tears - the deep and sympathetic emotion visible in the countenances of the members of the Convention and other spectators - the solemn and earnest language of the Bishop, and the deep tones of his voice, as he briefly alluded to the past lives, the present condition, and the future destiny of the persons to whom he was speaking, altogether formed a scene such as probably never before has been witnessed in the United States, or perhaps any other country; and which, we think, cannot fail to make a most salutary impression, not only upon those most interested in it, but also upon every beholder. We add no more.




Source: Alton Weekly Courier, December 13, 1855

Since the beginning of the present month, including seven days, 73 convicts have been received at the Penitentiary. Of these 7 were from Lasalle, 3 from McHenry, 2 from Pike county, and 25 from Chicago. The Recorder's Court in that city has just adjourned, and has sent down the quarterly delegation for that city. The number of convicts now in the Penitentiary is 451. The prisoner Crosby, who escaped a short time since, was run over and killed by a railroad train at Pontiac. He was stealing his way east. A wood pile fell against him, knocking him under the cars.



PRISONERS USED AT ALTON STATE FAIR, 1856       (read more about the 1856 Alton State Fair)

Source: Alton Evening Telegraph Centennial Edition, January 15, 1936

In the penitentiary, Col. Buckmaster's prisoners were bending over their part of the work. The carpenter shop inside the prison walls turned out chairs, tables, window frames, etc., the blacksmith shop turned out fancy iron gates, horseshoes, foot-scrapers, and the tailor shop produced a number of high grade garments - all to be placed on exhibition at the Fair, to increase the fame of Alton abroad.




Source: Alton Weekly Courier, January 17, 1856

During the month of December, 1855, 44 prisoners were received at the Penitentiary, and 21 were discharged from it, viz: 4 were pardoned, 2 died, 1 escaped, and 14 were released on expiration of sentence. The number remaining at the close of the month was 440. during the year just ended, thirteen prisoners died: two in February, two in March, one in June, one in August, four in September, two in November, and one in December. Two of these deaths were by suicide. One man shot himself; another destroyed himself by eating a mixture of cheese and glass. Three-fourths of the other deaths were from chronic diseases, contracted before coming to prison. Considering the number of prisoners, which has ranged from 300 to its present number, 440, and taking into account also the previous character, habits and modes of life of the convicts, it must be admitted that the proportionate mortality in the prison is remarkably small.




Source: Alton Weekly Courier, April 3, 1856

On Monday morning, a convict in the Penitentiary named Edward Austin disappeared immediately after breakfast. The officers of the prison supposed he had hid himself somewhere in the yard, and kept up a vigilant search on Monday and a close watch on Monday night, but no trace of him could be found. Yesterday morning the convict who occupied the same cell with Austin, having related some conversations which had taken place between them, the officers were induced to examine a large cistern in the prison yard, when the body of the convict was found. The water in the cistern was about six feet deep. He had given no intimation of his intention to commit suicide. His frequent and particular inquiries about that cistern, and the despondent state of his mind on account of not hearing from his relatives, suggested the idea of suicide. Austin had only been in prison about ten days. His sentence was for five years by the Court of Winnebago County. He was convicted of an assault with intent to kill. At the request of the prison authorities, Coroner Pinckard held an inquest. The verdict of the jury was in accordance with the above statement.




Source: Alton Weekly Courier, May 15, 1856

During the month of April thirty-nine prisoners were received at the Illinois Penitentiary and forty were discharged. Of the latter, twenty-seven went out by expiration of sentence, eleven were pardoned, and two escaped. The number remaining on the 1st of May was four hundred and seventy-five.




Source: Alton Weekly Courier, August 14, 1856

The report of the Warden of the Illinois Penitentiary for the month ending August 4th, shows that during the month 19 were received and 15 discharged, viz: 3 pardoned; 5 escaped, and 9 by expirations of sentence. The number now in prison is 477.




Source: Alton Weekly Courier, June 4, 1857

The new Penitentiary Commissioners, having located the new prison at Joliet, and having determined to see the Alton Prison if a price approaching to the value of the ground can be obtained, it would be well, in view of the great object to be attained, for our citizens to be on the alert, and be ready with some proposition for the purchase of the ground when the Commissioners arrive. We are informed they will have a meeting in this city next week for the purpose of taking this matter into consideration, and much will depend upon the action of our citizens whether a removal of the old prison is effected or not. Would it not be well for the Mayor to call a meeting of the citizens to consider this matter?




Source: Alton Weekly Courier, June 4, 1857

A deputation of eleven convicts from the prolific county of Cook were yesterday received at the Penitentiary. Their names and crimes are as follows:  William Lowell, James Smith, William Smith, Henry Moore, William Wright, alias William Bell, each one year for larceny. Oscar Livingston, passing counterfeit money, one year. Patrick Fitzpatrick, crime against nature, two years. Alexander Cooper, forgery, two years. Ernest Roth, larceny, two years. Harrison G. Bowen, burglary, three years. Samuel Gillmore, sentence commuted from hanging to imprisonment for life for the murder of his child.




Source: Alton Weekly Courier, June 25, 1857

Yesterday morning Robert Sharpe, alias Joseph Watson, convicted at the recent term of the Madison County Court of complicity in the murder of Jacob Barth, was brought to the Penitentiary at this place, his sentence of death having been commuted by Gov. Bissell to imprisonment for life, in accordance with a numerously signed petition.




Source: Albany, New York Evening Journal, December 8, 1857

Brayman, the Chicago editor who was sent to prison at Alton, Ill., for stealing letters from the post office, is engaged in teaching some fifty or sixty fellow prisoners, most of them old men who are too infirm to labor.



Source: Alton Weekly Courier, January 8, 1857

We have been permitted to examine the report of Dr. Hez. Williams, who has officiated during the last two years as physician at the Illinois State prison. The report embraces a period of two years, commencing with the first of January 1855, and ending with December 31, 1856. The number of deaths among the convicts during that period was 23. The number of cases treated was 1200. The deaths were from the following causes, viz: By consumption, 2; general dropsy, 2; inflammation of the lungs, 2; inflammation of the stomach and bowels, 1; chronic diarrhea, 3; inflammation of the brain, 1; chronic disease of the liver, 1; tuberculosis mesenterica, 1; cancer, 1; congestive fever, 1; general debility caused by masturbation, 3; dropsy of the abdomen, 1; casualties, 3. In January 1855, the smallpox broke out in the prison, the contagion having spread from a convict who had been exposed who was sent down about that time from one of the northern counties. There were twenty-five cases in all, ranging through all the classified degrees of severity. A temporary hospital was established where patients suffering from the malady were as far removed as possible from the other convicts. All the convicts were promptly vaccinated, and were required to conform to a system of dieting usual in such cases. No death resulted from this cause. Early in the same year some twenty-five cases of scurvy are recorded, none of which proved fatal. The number of prisoners during these two years ranged from 350 to 500. It is claimed that the sanitary arrangements within the prison during the last year will compare favorably with those of any other prison in the country, and judging from the facts as set forth above, we think the claim is just.




Source: Alton Weekly Courier, June 4, 1857

The new Penitentiary Commissioners, having located the new prison at Joliet, and having determined to sell the Alton Prison if a price approaching to the value of the ground can be obtained, it would be well, in view of the great object to be attained, for our citizens to be on the alert, and be ready with some proposition for the purchase of the ground when the Commissioners arrive. We are informed they will have a meeting in this city next week for the purpose of taking this matter into consideration, and much will depend upon the action of our citizens whether a removal of the old prison is effected or not. Would it not be well for the Mayor to call a meeting of the citizens to consider this matter?




Source: Alton Weekly Courier, June 4, 1857

Read the trial here.




Source: Alton Weekly Courier, October 29, 1857

An attempt to escape was made yesterday morning by the prisoners in the State prison. They commenced by throwing stones and other missiles at the guard house on the east wall, partially demolishing it. The guard shot three times, killed George Armstrong, who was sent from Chicago last March, and wounding two others, one it is thought fatally, when the disturbance was quieted. It is apprehended that a further attempt to escape will be made, but the guards are prepared for any emergency. Esquire Middleton held an inquest on the body of Armstrong. Verdict, that he came to his death by being shot by the prison guard in the performance of his duty.





March 9, 1858



Crabb, the Guard, Dangerously Stabbed by Convict!

Source: Alton Weekly Courier, March 11, 1858

The State Penitentiary in this city has just been the scene of one of the most extraordinary cases ever placed upon record. From its commencement until its tragical end, the most intense excitement pervaded all classes of our citizens, and although it was known that the management of the case was in the hands of men distinguished for discretion and courage, yet it was recollected that the life of an innocent, worthy man hung as it were by a thread. The extraordinary boldness of the scheme, and the determined demeanor of the convict, kept up the excitement for twenty-eight hours. For the purpose of giving our readers this morning the full particulars of this extraordinary case, we republish our statement of yesterday morning, and also our statement issued in an extra yesterday afternoon:


(From the Courier of March 10, 1858)

One of the most singular cases which ever came under our observation, or in our reading, occurred yesterday morning at the Penitentiary in this city. A convict named Hall from Chicago, who is now serving out a second term, formed the idea of acquiring his liberty in the following method. He watched his opportunity shortly after breakfast, and when no other guard was in the hall surrounding the cells except Mr. Crabb, whom he knocked down and stunned by a severe blow on the head, then dragged him into one of the lower cells, tied Crabb's hands behind his back, fastened the cell door by means of a stick of timber, previously put in the cell by some confederate, then drew a huge knife from his bosom, assisted Crabb to rise, put him against the door, and threatened him with death unless he was allowed to go at liberty.


This most daring attempt was soon known, and promptly brought Col. Samuel Buckmaster and his guards to the spot. The convict threatened Crabb with instant death if any attempt was made upon the door, holding his knife within a couple of inches of Crabb's breast. For upwards of an hour, Col. Buckmaster and his guards watched an opportunity to shoot him, but there being but one opening in the door, and that quite small, he kept Crabb constantly between him and the opening, so that he could only be reached through Crabb's body.


Thus matters continued until noon, when Crabb made some effort to open the door, but was immediately cut severely in the hand by the convict. During the day the convict stated his terms of submission to be a revolver, leaded by himself, a full suit of citizens dress, $100 in money, and to be driven out of town in a close carriage, accompanied by Crabb, to such place as he should designate; all of which were of course inadmissible. In the meantime, however, Col. Buckmaster procured a pardon from the Governor, to be used in his discretion, but up to 12 o'clock last night, no information of it had been given to the convict. All day the guards were on the watch to shoot the scoundrel, but as he had positively declared he would kill Crabb if he was not instantly killed himself, great care had to be taken, for fear he might put his threat in execution. Crabb had no arms whatever, the yard guards not being allowed to carry any, and had nothing whatever to defend himself from any attack of the desperado. About eleven o'clock last night, one of the guards got a shot at him, but averted his fire upon a change of position, for fear of shooting Crabb. 


The entrance to the cell is very narrow, the door of plate iron, with a small grating at the top for ventilation. The door opens inwards, and is very strongly fastened. It is impossible overcome the scoundrel without using great force, which we learned would be applied this morning unless he should be shot during the night. During the day great fears were entertained that he would kill the guard, and for fear of that, active operations were not pushed forward. Those best informed think there is now very little danger of his putting his threat into execution, as he must know that death would instantly be his lot. Hall, the convict, is represented to be a most desperate scoundrel. In view of his character and his threats, our citizens were yesterday much alarmed for the safety of Crabb, who is well known and highly appreciated, and who has a family residing in the city.


Yesterday everything was done which could be done consistently with Crabb's safety. No chance would the convict give for any injury to himself, as he either studiously kept the guard between him and the grating, or laid down against the door and out of the reach of a shot. He professed to have no ill feeling to Crabb, but had deliberately planned this method of gaining his liberty, and would kill Crabb and then killl himself unless he was pardoned and taken out in the manner stated. Before our readers see this account this morning, the desperado will either have been taken or killed. In either event, it is to be hoped that Mr. Crabb will not be injured.


In our reading, we have no recollection of any case similar to this. The first impression on hearing the case would be that the convict was crazy, but no crazy man could have so deliberately planned and carried on such a scheme with such apparent determination. His mind appeared to be made up, and he went about it cool and collected. His first proposition was simply for a pardon, but learning that the citizens were aware of his attempt, he saw at once that if set out of the prison, probably five hundred men would be ready to shoot him, and changed his demands to being carried out of town, dressed as a citizen, armed, and with money. This does not look like a crazy man, but is simply a keen calculation of the chances. The discipline of the prison demands that an example should be made of him, and we hazard nothing in saying that Col. Buckmaster is just the man to see that those demands are fully satisfied.


(From Our Extra of Yesterday, March 10, 1858)

The revolt at the State Prison, or rather the insubordination of the desperado Hall, was brought to a tragical termination this morning. The effort throughout was to save the life of Crabb, and at the same time to preserve the discipline of the prison. About nine o'clock this morning, Mr. Rutherford, the State Superintendent, and Col. Buckmaster, the Warden, undertook to get into the cell by stratagem. Breakfast was set down at the cell door in vessels of a larger size than ordinary. The convict refused to open the cell door until the hall was cleared, which was done. The warden, superintendent, and guards were on each side of the cell, but out of sight and motionless. The convict slowly opened the door, nearly enough to admit the food, when a crow bar was instantly inserted, and Crabb, the imprisoned guard, told to fight for his life. He accordingly sprang to the opening, and was eventually dragged through, but not before he was stabbed by the convict nine times in the back and twice on the arm. When he was dragged out, the convict at once barred the door and refused to yield. He was then given a few minutes to reflect, and continuing to rebel, he was shot by the Warden after considerable dodging. The ball struck the skull just below the left ear, glanced round and lodged under the skull. He fell instantly, was dragged out, but soon recovered and talked as sensibly as any man we ever heard. After the convict was taken out of the cell, his knife, about eight inches long, and doubled-faced, was found in the cell. On his person was also found a large knife with a blade four inches long.


Mr. Crabb was immediately taken to the hospital, his wounds examined and dressed by Dr. Williams, the prison surgeon, and Dr. Allen. The left lung was found to be twice perforated by the knife. The other wounds were not of so dangerous a character. After his wounds were dressed, he felt quite comfortable and conversed very freely. He expressed to us a sense of his dangerous situation, but was calm and hopeful. His wife visited him about eleven o'clock. He bore himself with much fortitude throughout the interview. His physicians consider his case a very critical one, the chances being against his recovery.


The convict was laid on a mattress in the prison hall. He said that he hoped Crabb would live, and in the next breath, that he had put five men in the same fix he was himself. Dr. McMasters was present, and endeavored faithfully to turn his attention to immediate death. He exhibited no penitence, no remorse, but said he hoped that God, if there was any, would forgive him. He sent for one of his confederates, advised him to behave himself when he got out and not bring himself to what he saw before him. The steady unfaltering voice of the desperado, his utter indifference to spiritual advice, and his well-know desperate character, almost induced us to believe that he was still playing out his desperate game. The general regret, and we fully participate in it, is that the warden's shot did not finish the scoundrel at once.


The taking or killing of a single man, however powerful and well armed, looks like an easy task, but when it is recollected that every movement had to be made so as, if possible, to save the life of Crabb, the case was one of unusual difficulty. The plans of the Warden and Superintendent were well conceived and carried out with as much promptness and decision as was possible. Every possible regard was had to the safety of Crabb, and that anxious regard was alone the cause of the delay. The calm, collected and determined character of Col. Buckmaster is well known, and was fully developed on this occasion. Mr. Rutherford, the superintendent, was constantly present and showed that he was equal to any emergency which might call his nerve into requisition.


Up to a late hour last night, Mr. Crabb, the guard, showed a considerable improvement in his condition. His pulse was firm and steady, and his general symptoms much improved. His physicians now think there is considerable hope of his recovery. He felt quite comfortable and suffered but little pain. The convict Hall lies in about the same condition as he appeared in shortly after being shot. There is little expectation of his recovery. That Hall had confederates, he admits, but the number or extent of their participation previous to the daring attempt of Hall has not yet been ascertained. A rigid investigation will be made, the results of which we will lay before out readers.


Upon the convicts the moral effect of this defeated attempt of Hall's must be of the most salutary description. They now see that not even to save the life of an innocent and worthy man would the discipline of the prison be violated, and will restrain the most violent from any attempt of the kind in future. Had Hall's demands been complied with, every convict in the prison would have been devising some scheme to obtain his liberty, probably ending in a general revolt, and the death of several innocent men and many guilty ones. The lesson is important, and will doubtless be duly impressed.


[Note:  The prison guard, Clark C. Crabb, survived his wounds.  Hall died at the prison, and is probably buried in the Alton City Cemetery. Hall's skull was kept as a memento by Col. Buckmaster, and ended up in the cigar store of George A. Sauvage, as seen below.]



Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, July 22, 1912

During the process of cleaning up the cellar at the cigar store of George A. Sauvage on Piasa Street, a skull was found which had a history connected with it. The skull was that of a six-time murderer who tried to add a seventh to his list of killings when he tried to murder in the old Alton penitentiary in 1858, Clark C. Crabb, who has a daughter, Mrs. Thomas Rowan, still living in Alton. John Buckmaster, who formerly owned the cigar store, inherited the skull from his father, Samuel Buckmaster, who was warden of the Alton penitentiary at the time of the bloody incident. It was the story that Buckmaster himself shot and killed the owner of the skull after a series of incidents that had the whole community worked up to a state of frenzy. A prisoner named Hall, who had killed six men according to his own confession, made a desperate plan to escape. Crabb was turnkey, and one night was locking up the prisoners in their brick cells when Hall slugged the turnkey, seized him and dragged him inside his cell and slammed shut the steel door. Then Hall proclaimed his intention of gaining his liberty or murdering Crabb. For 36 hours Hall kept the form of the turnkey between himself and the steel grating as a shield, and the men outside dared not shoot for fear they would kill the turnkey. Efforts to poison Hall failed during the 36 hours because he would compel Crabb to eat and drink before him. Finally, by a ruse, the door was opened, but Hall began stabbing Crabb, and before he could be shot Hall had stabbed Crabb fourteen times. Hall was killed, it is said, by Warden Buckmaster, who afterward took the murderer's skull and kept it as a memento. For years it served as a container of balls of twine in John Buckmaster's cigar store, and George Sauvage threw it down the cellar. It was brought up from the cellar Sunday, and many people saw it.





Source: Alton Weekly Courier, March 18, 1858

A week ago two convicts in the Penitentiary absented themselves at night from roll-call, and succeeded in secreting themselves in the yard until yesterday. They were found under the floor of the dining room, with a fair store of provisions. One of the convicts is under a sentence of seventeen years. Whenever a convict hides, which has of late become somewhat common, the night guards are stationed outside the walls so that any convict is sure to be seen and fired at.




Source: The New York Times, April 26, 1858

From the Chicago Times.  Mr. J. R. Coudry, Deputy United States Marshal, of Wisconsin, arrived in this city yesterday, having in custody a German named Charles Reisner, alias Charles Herse, who is charged with the crimes of burglary, robbery, arson, and murder, in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Reisner was arrested at Peoria, where, under the name of Herse, he has been carrying on the business of a butcher. In the Summer of 1855, he was arrested in this city by officer Rehm and Sauier, for larceny, for which he was convicted and sentenced for the term of two years to the State Prison at Alton. After serving out his time, he went to La Crosse, where in less than six weeks after his arrival, the murder was committed for which he is now arrested.




Source: Albany, New York Evening Journal, June 21, 1858

The work of removing prisoners at the old penitentiary at Alton has already commenced. About sixty went up [to Joliet, Illinois] two weeks since. Within six weeks from now cells will be constructed [at Joliet] for more than two hundred. Capt. Pillsbury, formerly of the Connecticut Penitentiary, at Wethersfield, and more recently from the prison at Albany, N. Y., has been selected as a thoroughly competent and experienced man to whom to entrust the entire discipline of the Penitentiary. He has entered upon his duties, and in company with Mr. Casey is urging on the work of building and providing requisite accommodations for the prisoners now at Alton.




Source: Alton Weekly Courier, July 22, 1858

Yesterday morning S. K. Carry, the lessee of the new Penitentiary at Joliet, took fifty convicts from the prison here and carried them to the new prison. One hundred and fifty have now been removed.




Source: Alton Weekly Courier, August 12, 1858

From F. S. Rutherford, Esq., Superintendent of the State's Prison, we learn that the number of convicts in the Illinois State Penitentiary, in this place, on the first day of July last, was 614. During July four were received, twenty were discharged, and three died, leaving a total of 595 on the first day of August, of which number eight are females. The number at the new prison, at Joliet, is 148, leaving 447 yet in the old Penitentiary in Alton. The severe hot weather has produced an unusual amount of sickness - principally fevers - among the convicts. Three deaths occurred during July, being a greater number than during the whole of the preceding seven months.



The Alton Democrat, August 14, 1858
The most severe fire that has visited Alton for many years occurred here last night within the Penitentiary walls. At about dusk, and some fifteen minutes after the convicts had retired from the yards and shops, and the night watch having been on guard for some ten minutes, fire was discovered bursting out in two or three places, from a room in the building near the gate, designated as the drying-house for the cooperage. In an instant, as it were, the flames spread through the rooms and the adjoining rooms of a large, long building. The alarm being given, the Fire department and a large number of citizens speedily collected about the walls. So filled was the building with cooperage stuff, machinery & etc. that the flames were beyond control ere the firemen got fairly at work upon it.  Their efforts were then directed at saving the adjoining buildings, our readers being aware that several large buildings, comprising different branches of business, are bound together within the prison walls, with alleys or roadways between them. The fire by this time presented a grand and fearful sight. The combustibles made an immense blaze, the glare beaming over the city, the river and the hill-tops making all as light as day. The wind blew gently up the river, wafting the dense volume of flame and smoke and sparks, and burning cinders, into the river, and over Messrs. MITCHELL'S Mill. The eating hall and arsenal building was now on fire, there not being sufficient hose to reach it from the gateway. Hose was taken up through the Warden's house, and past grated windows, and thus a stream was directed at the dining room floor-but too late, for the roof and upper-story window frames were in fire. The burning brands, alighting on the roof of Messrs. MITCHELL'S Mill, fired it in several places, but the Pioneer Engine Co. with several citizens preserved the buildings. Thus for several hours, from 8 until 1 o'clock, the firemen and citizens toiled at the engines and inside, for the heat had become so intense inside the walls as to drive the engine companies outside, until they were quite exhausted, and, the flames being tolerably well under, many retired to their homes. But a vast pile of staves, some 300,000, had taken fire, and were not to be subdued. It commenced burning afresh, and the long cooper-shop near to it was in great danger. A new alarm was given, guns fired, bells rung, and drums beat, and the citizens and firemen again assembled and went to work. Long before this, however, the city military was called out, about forty men of the Yager Co., with loaded arms, to aid in preventing a rebellion among the four hundred prisoners. A portion of the Yagers mounted the walls, and guarded other weak points, and also stood sentry over about one hundred short term and best [illegible] of the convicts, the latter being sent to work on the engines, & etc., when were again brought within the walls. The heat and smoke now enveloped the main prison building, in which the prisoners were locked up for the night, causing such an intense heat that the convicts began to call loudly for deliverance. To prepare for frustrating all possibility of escape, Deputy-Warden WELLS placed a strong guard upon the walls, with orders to shoot any convict who even showed a spirit of insubordination. The most infernal noises now rose from the Penitentiary- of convicts in their cells yelling for fear; of the singing of others while working at the brakes; of the shouting through trumpets and the general noise of the crowd. The noise was distinctly heard at our residence in Sempletown, one mile from the spot, and it seemed as if a general rebellion and revolution was going on. The main cell building was not ignited but the upper floors of tiers and cells became so heated and full of smoke the convicts in them were turned into the halls of the lower stories, where the heat and smoke were less intense. They were very fearful of being burned alive apparently.  No escapes were effected, although two or three attempts were made, by prisoners changing clothes, and trying to pass out among the firemen and citizens, while saving wagons and other property. The roll was called at 10 o'clock today, and every man answered to his name. The loss is about one third of the buildings of the prison, valued with their contents at between $20,000 and $30,000. We can learn nothing definite as to the insurance, the lessees of the prison not being here. One report is of no insurance, another of $30,000. There is no insurance on the premises at any agency in Alton. The pile of 50,000 alone was worth $11 per thousand. The Alton fire department worked manfully. In conclusion, we remark that the opinion generally prevails that the fire was the work of one or more of the prisoners; was started and was so concealed, that it had not gotten under full head before discovery. Since writing the above, we learn that it was started in the keg-shop, a two story plank shed adjoining the stone building. Some prisoners seemed to act in concert with it, by throwing missiles out their cell windows, but desisted when the Yagers paraded before them, and were ordered to fire at any window from which a missile came. Some of the convicts had taken in stones in their pockets; others threw out padlocks, which had been left in the hasty unlocking of the cells.



Source:  The New Albany Daily Ledger, New Albany, IN, August 16, 1858

St. Louis, Aug. 14.-The work shops, the dining hall, the chapel, the hospital and two or three other small buildings, together with a large quantity of material and finished work belonging to the Penitentiary at Alton, were destroyed by fire last night. Loss $30,000; fully insured. The state loses nothing. Messrs. Sauger & Carri having purchased the entire property from the state sometime since.



Source:  Davenport Daily Gazette, Davenport, IA, August 17, 1858
Alton, Ill., Aug. 14. About 8'oclock last evening a fire broke out in one of the workshops, in the yard of the State prison, in this city. Two of the workshops, the dining hall, chapel, hospital, kitchen and two or three other small buildings were destroyed. A large amount in cooper's and other materials, were also destroyed. A large cooper-shop, carriage and wagon shop, with stable and other outbuildings were saved. The main building, in which are the cells of the prisoners, and the residence of the Warden, being fire proof, was uninjured, but the heat was so intense that the convicts had to be taken from their cells to save them from suffocation. Many of these lent their aid actively and energetically to arrest the progress of the flames and save the property; while others showed a spirit of insubordination, and attempted to escape, in which, however none of the succeeded. The value of the property destroyed will fall but little short of $30,000, all of which is covered by insurance in Eastern offices.-The state loses nothing, as Messrs. Sanger & Casey (the latter of whom is warden) had purchased the entire property from the State some time since. The flying sparks and cinders communicated fire to Messrs. J.A. Mitchell & Co.'s Mill, immediately above the Penitentiary landing. It was however, extinguished without much damage. Origin of the fire unknown.



Source: Alton Weekly Courier, November 4, 1858

One of the dwellers at the State Hotel on the bluff evidently not liking his quarters, concluded to attempt a change yesterday. So, while working with a number of his fellow prisoners upon the Levee, he took leave of them very unceremoniously - not even bidding them or the guard Good bye. The guard thought this a very reprehensible performance, and accordingly invited the other laborers to rest within the Penitentiary walls while he sought the missing one, who had started up the river. Chase was given and he was soon caught, and much to the joy of Messrs. Sanger & Casey, we have no doubt, persuaded to return to his old quarters. But we very much fear that he found their joy his sorrow.




Source: The State League, Syracuse, New York, November 1858

The military prison at Alton, Illinois, was partially destroyed by fire on the morning of the 17th of November. Several of the prisoners, just how many could not be ascertained-took advantage of the excitement to make their escape.




Source: Alton Weekly Courier, December 23, 1858

The quarterly report made to the Governor by Hon. F. S. Rutherford, Superintendent of the Illinois Penitentiary, for the quarter ending on the last day of November, gives the following statement as to the number of prisoners:


Number of convicts at close of last quarter [At Alton and Joliet prison] 602
Number of convicts received during September 22
Convicts discharged 45, died 4, escaped 3 50
Total number, October 1 574
Received during October 80
Discharged 23, died 2, escaped 1 26
Total number November 1 628
Received during November 47
Discharged 31, died 1, escaped 1 23
Total number December 1 652
Total at Alton, males 448
Total at Alton, females 2
Total 450


It further states that the cost of the new workshops and buildings erected to take the place of those destroyed at the late fire in the Alton prison, together with the cost of the repairs made upon those damaged, is $13,404.34. As to who shall bear the loss consequent upon this fire, the Superintendent says it is a question over which he has no control, but that it is probably that the matter will be brought before the next Legislature by the Warden. The report also notes that most of the prison library was destroyed by fire, and that there is a great deficiency in Bibles at the Alton prison, while at Joliet there are none at all, though certain citizens have contributed four hundred and eighty pamphlets.


Attention is called to a defect or omission in the state law in relation to female convicts who are brought to the prison in a state of pregnancy. It is suggested that either a lying-in hospital should be provided, or that the convict be committed to proper persons outside of the prison. The Superintendent questions the propriety of the interposition of the pardoning power in such cases. The question is incidentally raised whether a woman after delivery can be detained longer in the prison, as certainly the Warden has no control over the child, and the attention of the mother is essential to its existence. Besides the Warden is under no obligation to support the child.




Source: Syracuse, New York Daily Journal, February 16, 1859

The Alton, Ill. Courier states that a convict in the Penitentiary at that place, who had been punished for insubordination and confined in his cell, was found to have a knife secreted about his person. The Warden ordered him to strip in his cell and walk out naked. This order he stubbornly disobeyed, and declared that sooner than do it, he would die. The Warden concluded to try the "hunger cure" upon the desperado, and food was withheld from him during the day. This did not reduce him to submission; he still declared that he would starve, but would not yield. The penitentiary physician was ordered to watch him, and the starving process was continued ninety-seven hours, more than four days, when the man was so weak that he could not rise, and the courageous officers then entered his cell and he was disarmed. The physician found the convict was becoming delirious, and at once attended to his case. The knife had a blade four inches long, ground to a sharp point.




Source: Syracuse, New York Central City Courier, May 16, 1859

A few weeks since, Thomas Morgan, a wealthy resident of Scott County, whose estate is valued at $85,000, was incarcerated in the penitentiary, at Alton, for an assault with intent to kill. The Courier of Wednesday mentions the death of Mr. Morgan, in the prison, and that his remains were sent up the river Wednesday evening for interment at his former home.



Source: History & Digest of the International Arbitration to which the U. S. Has Been a Party, by John Bassett Moore, 1898, page 3302

Joseph M. P. Nolan, No. 272, was arrested by the military provost-marshal at Saint Louis, Missouri, in October 1861, on the charge of disloyalty to the United States, and of having written a letter to an alleged enemy of the United States in Canada, giving information as to military movements. He was detained in prison at Saint Louis till June 1862, then transferred to the military prison at Alton, Illinois, and there detained till August 1863, when he was finally discharged. His release was offered him in December 1861, and on one or two other occasions, on his giving his parole to do no act unfriendly to the United States. This parole he refused to give. Great and unnecessary hardships in connection with his confinement were alleged on the part of the claimant, and the proof conclusively showed that the prison in which he was confined at Alton was wholly unfit in its appointments and sanitary condition for the confinement of prisoners, especially for the large number there confined; and that at times the treatment of the prisoners, including the claimant, was harsh and cruel. An award was made in favor of the claimant for $8,600; all the commission joining. I am advised that the majority of the commission, at least, held the original arrest of the claimant and his reasonable detention justified; but that his long confinement and improper treatment during it were not justified. In the case of Mary Nolan, No. 273, the claimant alleged that she was arrested at Saint Louis by a detective in the employ of the United States authorities in September 1864; taken before the provost-marshal at Saint Louis, and committed by him to the Chestnut street prison, where she was detained for an entire day; and that she was there subjected to improper treatment. She claimed damages $10,000. The evidence in her case showed that she was brought before the provost-marshal, apparently upon a subpoena, to testify in a case before him; that she refused to testify, and defied and insulted the officer, who committed her to the city prison, where she was detained for nine or ten hours. Her allegations of improper treatment were not sustained. The commission unanimously disallowed her claim.




Source: Historical Genealogy of the Woodsons and Their Connections, by Henry Morton Woodson, 1915

Thomas Hart Benton Woodson, born February 19, 1840 in Ralls county, Missouri. during the early part of the Civil War (abt. 1861) he served for six months as nurse in the hospital at Alton, Illinois, caring for the sick and wounded soldiers. In 1862 to went to Dubuque county, Iowa.




Source: Liberty Weekly Tribune, January 31, 1862

The old Illinois Penitentiary buildings at Alton will be converted into a military prison, General Halleck having notified parties at Alton to have the buildings prepared for the reception of the 1,200 prisoners lately captured by Gen. Pope's command.




Source: Alton Telegraph, February 7, 1862

We learn that the workmen employed in fitting up the prison for the reception of our Missouri neighbors, from McDowell's college, have not yet completed their work. When finished, the buildings and yard will furnish them very comfortable quarters - in fact, they will be much better provided for than the great mass of our own soldiers. We do not complain of this, however, for there is nothing to be gained by treating prisoners of war with inhumanity, but on the contrary, there is much to be gained by assuring those of the rebels who fall into our hands, that the Government is not ________ by revenge, but aims solely at re-establishing the legitimate authority of the laws over the entire country, and thus convince them that they have labored under a delusion in supposing that the NOrth wished to oppress of injure them beyond accomplishing this end. Accommodations are being made for 1640.




Source: Liberty Weekly Tribune, February 14, 1862

The prisoners of war, who have been confined in McDowell's College [St. Louis] for some time past, were yesterday removed to the Penitentiary buildings at Alton. The prisoners numbered about six hundred and fifty, and they were escorted to Alton by two companies of the Second Iowa Regiment. The boat was at the landing foot of Chestnut street, at an early hour yesterday morning, but it was half past 12 o'clock, p.m., before the prisoners made their appearance on the wharf. They came down Chestnut street well guarded, and passed aboard the boat in good order. The "City of Alton" [steamer] started for Alton with the prisoners, at about 2 1/2 o'clock. The removal of the prisoners caused a great deal of excitement in the neighborhood of their former prison, and also on the wharf large numbers of our citizens flocked around them during their march from the college to the boat, but there was no disorder in the proceeding. They were doubtless safely landed at Alton, and are now in their new quarters.




Source: Liberty Weekly Tribune, February 28, 1862

Two of the prisoners confined in the military prison died on Sunday. Their names are T. J. Stevens, of Knox county, Mo., and Joseph Paschall, of Palmyra, Mo. There two are the only ones that have died since the prisoners have been here, we believe. The health of the prisoners is very good - only forty-three being in hospital. The physician in charge of the hospital, this morning, gave orders for a general wash and cleansing of the prison, and after this is done, he hopes the sick list will be greatly diminished.




Source: Pennsylvania New Castle News, March 28, 1910

......I was born in the vicinity of New Castle, and lived in the city until 16 years old. I went into the west and followed Albert Sidney Johnston to  Salt Lake on the Utah expedition in 1858, being then 18 years old. I returned to Missouri in 1860, and enlisted as a private in the Confederate Army. Was promoted to be a captain of Cavalry in 1863. I was twice captured and escaped from Alton prison on the morning of March 6, 1862, concealed in an empty water barrel. I was wounded 7 times, once through the left lung, being left on the field for dead.......Where are the boys who so willingly gave their lives in the 1860s in defense of the flag, as they saw it then? Where is the remnant of the men who defended the Little Round Top? Where are the survivors of those who followed Grant from the Wilderness to Appomattox? There must be many degenerate sons of noble sires, or nothing of this kind would be tolerated. I tell you my friends, "Citizens of my own native town," that if a creature of that kind were to come to Texas, and on the corner of any street in any city of Texas call the flag of the United States a "dirty rag," he would not look like anything when he came out of the hospital. I care not where he came from, or what his color is, north or south, east or west, from heaven or hell, the result would be the same, and I feel ashamed to think it would be tolerated in any other state of this union.  Respectfully yours, A. B. Barnes, Ex-Captain, 4th Missouri Cavalry, C. S. A.


[Capt. Barnes was referring to Socialist who called the American flag a "dirty rag that floated from the flag staff over the so-called temple of justice at Washington."




Source: Alton Telegraph, July 4, 1862

The Tatum brought up almost 187 rebel prisoners on Saturday night. They were taken mostly near Corinth, but a number were persons resident in St. Louis, river men, etc., who have been arrested for disloyalty. On the trip up from St. Louis, the Lieutenant in charge of the guard allowed some of the rebel officers to have the liberty of the boat, which they improved by getting gloriously tight and kicking up a fight among themselves. They were put under guard however, without any serious disturbance, although, at one time the passengers on the Tatum feared a general riot among them. On landing, and while passing through our streets to the prison, they were quite noisy, hurrahing for Jeff Davis, etc., but were lodged within the walls without any of the number making their escape. We understand that some of them were rebellious and had to be place din the cells for the night.




Source: Alton Telegraph, July 25, 1862

One of the prisoners who arrived in this city Saturday, named Mabre (sp), attempted, on Sunday, to pass the limits assigned to them. He was challenged by the guard and informed that he could nto pass. He immediately began _______ and cursing the guard, who brought his musket to a charge when the prisoner seized and attempted to take the bayonet from the gun. The guard fired putting the charge through the head of the prisoner.




Source: Watertown, New York Reformer, 1861/1862

Four hundred and ninety-one of the rebel prisoners at Alton, Ill., have taken the oath of allegiance and been released.




Source: History of the Seventh Regiment, Illinois Volunteer Infantry, From April 25, 1861 to July 9, 1865, by D. Leib Ambrose, 1868

At this time the firm steps of Illinois patriot men were heard keeping step to the music of the Union. In every direction her stalwart sons were seen marching towards the Capital. The loyal pulse never beat so central and quickening as at this period. After the organization of the regiment on the twenty seventh, they are marched from Camp Yates to the armory, where they receive their arms -  the Harper's Ferry altered musket - after which the regiment marches to the depot and embarks for Alton, Illinois where the regiment arrives at 4 p.m. [abt. April 25, 1861] and are quartered in the old State Penitentiary. With men who were eager for war, whose hopes of martial glory ran so high, to be quartered in the old criminal home grated harshly, and they did not enter those dark recesses with much gusto. During our stay here the regiment was every day marched out on the city commons by Colonel Cook, and there exercised in the manual of arms and the battalion evolutions until they attained a proficiency surpassed by none in the service. On the nineteenth of May, private Harvey of Company A died the first death in the regiment. The first soldier in the first regiment to offer his life for the flag and freedom. On the second of June private Dunsmore of the same company falls into a soldier's grave. May the loyal people ever remember these first sacrifices so willingly offered in the morning of the rebellion. On the third of July [1861] the regiment embarked on board the steamer "City of Alton" for Cairo, Illinois. Passing down the river the steamer is hailed and brought to at the St Louis Arsenal and after the necessary inspection proceeds on her way.




Source: Michigan in the War by Michigan Adjutant-General's Dept., John Robertson, 1882, page 575

General Copeland was ordered to report to General Rosecrans, in St. Louis, Missouri, and on reporting was ordered to command the post and military prison at Alton, Illinois, which command he held until the close of the war.




Source: Watertown, New York Daily Times, February 20, 1862

Gen. Halleck has issued an order that in consideration of the recent victories won by the Federal forces, and the rapidly increasing loyalty of the citizens of Missouri, the sentence of the eight bridge burners condemned to death are provisionally mitigated to close confinement in the military prison at Alton. If, however, rebel spies again destroy the railroads and telegraph lines, and thus render it necessary to make severe examples, the original sentences against these men will be carried into execution. No further assessments will be levied or collected from any one who will now take the prescribed oath of allegiance. Boards of commissioners will be appointed to examine the cases of prisoners of war who apply to take the oath of allegiance. On their recommendation, orders will be issued for their release.




Written by A Soldier During an Expedition to Fort Donelson; at Mound City, Illinois

Source: Indianapolis Daily Journal, February 25, 1862

The incidents connected with our trip thus far are few. When we arrived heree yesterday, two large boatloads of prisoners had just landed. And such a sight! Poor, pitiful, penniless, miserable, wretched beings! There was no uniform. Their bodies were protected by light covering - their shoulders by white and carpet blanket - with all kinds of hats. They were the poor whites of the South, of whom not one in twenty five could write his name nor spell a syllable. They acknowledged their delusion and regret their step. This is universal. The number of prisoners amount to some 15,000. Thos above mentioned were en route for Alton prison. Two more boats full were landed just as we were returning from Mound City. I conversed with many of them. They say that the 6th Alabama was completely cut to pieces, and that the 25th Indiana, whdn they made their charge, mounted the redoubt and gave three cheeers for 25th Indiana, fighting like tigers. They were at first repulsed, but rallied and fought with fury. The 52d Indiana - I speak only of regiments I have heard of thus far - at first quailed under the fire, but were rallied and fought like veterans. The 11th Indiana Zouaves we know nothing of as yet, only that one is killed and two wounded.




Source: Alton Telegraph, April 25, 1862

On yesterday morning, D. W. Keown, formerly a sheriff in one of the counties in Missouri, and lately a prisoner in the penitentiary, rose as well as usual, but afterwards threw himself on his bed beside his comrade. The attention of his bed fellow was soon arrested by his unnatural breathing. When he got up he found Mr. Keown breathing his last breath. The cause of this sudden death is unknown.  A son of Dr. Roberts of Rockport, Montgomery County, Missouri, also died in the prison yesterday. His disease was erysipelas.




Source: Albany, New York Evening Journal, March 26, 1862

Ebenezer Magoffin, of Missouri, a brother of Gov. Magoffin, of Kentucky, and formerly an officer in the Rebel army, taken prisoner some months ago, released on parole, which he violated, and subsequently recaptured, has been tried by court martial for "violation of parole," and for "killing in violation of the ethics of war," found guilty and sentenced to be shot. Gen. Halleck has approved the sentence, and it will be carried into effect at a time and place hereafter to be designated. In the meantime, the prisoner will be confined in a cell of the Military Prison at Alton




Source: The Daily Standard, Syracuse, New York, March 31, 1862

Mr. Alfred Wilkinson, who has recently returned from a southwestern tour, as far as St. Louis, has in his possession a pipe made by one of the rebel prisoners at Alton, Illinois, which is a rare specimen of ingenuity and skill, as well as persevering industry. The material of the pipe is cotton stone, a soft stone found in the south, easily worked, and susceptible of a fine polish. The bowl of the pipe is square, and is beautifully carved. One of the sides presents the new rebel flag, and the other the Palmetto tree, with the cotton plant and rattle, snake, appropriate emblems of the rebellion. The front bears the coat-of-arms of Missouri, with the usual scrolls and mottoes. It is understood that the work was executed with a pen-knife, by a young man who had no experience in carving, and regarding it in that light the work Is a marvel of taste and skill.




Source: The Syracuse, New York Daily Standard, April 21, 1862
Col. Jennison, late of the 7th Kansas regiment, has been arrested by the military authorities and sent to Alton, Ill. The cause of his arrest is said to be insubordination and exciting mutiny. Lieut, Hoyt, of the same regiment, is also under arrest.




Source: William Greenleaf Eliot, Minister, Educator, Philanthropist, by Charlotte Chauncy, 1904, page 226-227

In May 1862, by order of Major General Schofield, the military prisons were placed under the supervision of the Western Sanitary Commission, and Dr. Eliot and Mr. Yeatman acted as a committee on the Gratiot Street prison......Dr. Pollak and Rev. Dr. Schuyler, associate members of the Commission, were appointed a committee to visit the Alton prison, and found that it answered all requirements of sanitation and comfort. It was large, airy, situated in a healthy location, and the buildings were isolated, with considerable ground around them. It was filled to only half its capacity. The food was good in quality and abundant in quantity, and the prisoners were well provided for in every respect. A Catholic priest acted as chaplain, and the Confederate dead were buried with exactly the same care as the Union soldiers.




Source: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, 1910, page 100

Letter from Fort Pillow, Tenn., May 20, 1862

Captain: On yesterday evening, while temporarily absent from my headquarters, the second in command, Colonel A. Jackson, Jr., through inadvertence or carelessness, received at this post 202 confederate prisoners of war, just from an infected prison at Alton, Ill., with two cases of smallpox among them, in exchange for the same number of United States prisoners, turned over to your authorities some time ago, free from infection. While I do not presume that you are in any way responsible for so barbarous an act as sending released prisoners to communicate to my command the loathsome and infectious disease of smallpox, I demand that your Government disown the act by receiving these prisoners back into its lines and caring for them until every symptom of the infection has disappeared from their midst. I am, captain, with high respect, your obedient servant, Jno. B. Villepigue, Brigadier-General, Commanding


Off Fort Pillow, May 21, 1862

General: Your letter of the 20th instant has been received. I have not a sufficient knowledge of the circumstances of the case, as, for example, the condition of the building at Alton, Ill., in which the prisoners referred to have been confined, the health of the prisoners at the period of their release, or the possible change of health they may have undergone on their way to this place, to render it worthwhile for me to enter into the details of the subject. In order, however, to remove any grounds of complaint, and to make a suitable provision for an unexpected emergency, I propose that a temporary neutral hospital be established for the benefit of the prisoners suffering from smallpox. The place for this hospital may be determined by Captain Dove, the bearer of this letter, acting for me, and such officer as you may designate on your part. I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant, C. H. Davis, Flag-Officer, Comdg. U. S. Naval Forces




Source: The New York Times, June 8, 1862

Having been for some time a prisoner of war in the hands of the Federal Government, and made personal acquaintance with the interior of several of their miitary prisons, it has occurred to me that a brief sketch of what some of those prisons are, and of the treatment of prisoners in them, might afford information and relief to the many relatives and friends of our unfortunate soldiers who are there, that they could not otherwise easily obtain. The prison at Alton, Illinois, is the place of my first experience. The State Penitentiary was formerly at this place, but proving too unhealthy a location for that purpose, was subsequently moved, and the building and inclosure are now purchased or rented by the Federal Government, and used as a military prison - the objection against it as a place of incarcerating convicts not holding good in the case of "rebels." The number confined there was some seven or eight hundred previous to the late exchanges, mostly from Pea Ridge, Springfield and Blackwater, and political prisoners. Their treatment is inhuman. No distinction is made between citizens, officers and men. They are huddled together in the large rooms, sleeping in bunks one above another, with scarcely room to pass between the rows, leaving no room for a seat except upon the bunks. During the day some little relief is found by walking or sitting in the yard, but even this is so close that a breath of fresh air never reaches them, surrounded as it is by high stone walls. The rations are scanty and frequently of bad quality, and the same dining room and table furniture that once sufficed for the convicts, now answers for them - except that there are no knives, forks or spoons allowed. The cooking is done by a few of the prisoners, who take the job for want of something else to do. The officers in command are supercilious, haughty and brutal - compel, or attempt to compel, the most servile deportment, and for any offense or murmurs against their tyranny, the offender is locked in a cell and starved into compliance. They cause all debris and filth brought into the inclosure by the water, wood or provision carts, to be shoveled up for removal by the prisoners; and so of any other menial employment that becomes necessary. Meeting an officer, every one is expected to take off his hat, and otherwise bow the head and bend the knee in their august presence. The health of the place, under these circumstances, is, of course, not improved. About 100 have died since the 1st of April, and there are now 40 or 50 cases of smallpox, which scourge has lately made its appearance there, and the whole concern bids fair to become a pest-house. So much for Alton. It affords me pleasure to credit them with a different state of things in other places. I was fortunate enough to be one of thirteen, who, after one week at Alton, were sent to Camp Chase near Columbus, Ohio. This prison consists of a number of small, single room houses, built in rows or streets, after the usual method of arranging winter quarters for an army..... [letter continues to describe other prisons]   ... I deem the course they pursued at Alton the one natural to their instincts, for the prisoners there are almost entirely Missourians, and they consider the State of Missouri a conquered province. Time will probably enlighten them as to this, and then, as I remember the haggard look and deep set eyes of some of the very first men of the State that I saw in close confinement, both at Alton and St. Louis, I almost shudder at the dark depths of the vengeance most certainly in store for the foul tyrants who oppress them.    W. M. W., of 3d Reg. La. Volunteers, Memphis, Tennessee, May 27, 1862.




Source: Alton Telegraph, June 27, 1862

John Harker, of the 1st Indiana battery, has been sentenced to imprisonment in the Military Prison in this city during the war.




Source: Oswego Commercial Times, August 1862

Mr. Isham, the sensation writer of the Chicago Times, who fabricated the story of the ten iron-clad gunboats in Mobile harbor, has been arrested by a Government officer and sent to the Alton Penitentiary. He has lived out of jail long enough to establish a reputation as the biggest liar on the footstool.




Source: Oswego New York Commercial Times, August 5, 1862

On the night of July 25th, thirty-five prisoners escaped from the prison at Alton, Ill., by digging a tunnel 50 feet in length, which furnished them an exit six feet beyond the sentinel's beat. Col. Magoffin, who had been sentenced to death for breaking his parole, was lucky enough to get away with the rest.             Read the Confederate's story of the escape.




Source: Syracuse, New York Daily Standard, August 22, 1862

W. P. Isham, editor and correspondent of the Chicago Times, was arrested in Memphis on the 14th inst., and sent to the Penitentiary at Alton, by order of Gen. Grant. Isham is charged with sending to his paper false and pernicious statements, intended to benefit the rebel cause. Near Memphis, recently, he fell into the hands of a party of rebel guerillas, who upon learning the name of his paper, immediately let him go. Isham was the author of the gunboat and Cumberland-Gap canards, first published in the Times and then telegraphed to the Associated Press. A short lease of imprisonment at Alton may have the effect to moderate his zeal on behalf of the rebels.




Source: Alton Telegraph, October 10, 1862

We are greatly indebted to the gentlemanly adjutant of the military prison for the following account of prisoners, received and otherwise disposed of, since the 77th Ohio has been here.  Prisoners received during the month of September at the military prison - 531.  Prisoners discharged - 87.  Prisoners died - 8(?). Prisoners paroled to limits of the City of Alton - 2. Prisoners paroled to the limits of St. Louis - ?.  Prisoners confined in cells and sentenced to hard labor - 12.  Under sentence during the war - 18.  Under sentence of hard labor during the war - 1.  Escaped - 1.  Sent to Vicksburg - 81?. Balance remaining in prison to 1st of October - 850.  Forty prisoners arrived here by the Terre Haute Road this morning in charge of Lieut. Lewis, of General Rosecranz's staff, from Corinth, Miss. They were captured at the battle of Iuka. Robert Randolph Jefferson, a grandson of Thomas Jefferson's brother, is confined here in the military prison as a rebel. "Shades of departed heroies," who would have over thought, that a descendent of that noble family would ever be found recreant to the constitution which was formed by the immortal Thomas Jefferson.



Source: Albany, New York Evening Journal, March 26, 1863

The St. Louis Union is publishing a number of intercepted letters, written by certain parties here, to friends and relatives in the Rebel army. The following, addressed to a Mr. W. F. Luckett, is a

"Specimen brick:"- St. Louis, Feb. 3,1868. Dear Darling Frank - I suppose by this time you have received my other letter, and I am going to try this carrier. Enclosed you will find your ma's letter, and this carrier is so closely watched that I fear he will be captured, but we all hope for the beet. Miss Lucy, our "Intelligent contraband," watches everything so closely that we do nothing but lie. You Just ought to see how the Union people are shaking. They have very little faith in their glorious Union Government, and I do assure you we Rebels never felt as sure of a Southern Confederacy as we do now, and we do so pray for the time to come, when our brave soldiers and bushwhackers will be released from their prisons and be free men once more. There are now 800 men in Gratiot Street Prison, or McDowell's College, and so many of them have the small pox. There is over one thousand in the Alton prison, and they are almost destitute of clothing. Ma and I have been permitted to visit the Alton prison next Thursday. I have been sewing and mending old clothes for them all this week. Dick Beauford, United States Express messenger, promised to write a letter to you, but I have not seen it as yet. I received a long letter from your Ma, and Miss Loutie said I might love you if I was a real good rebel, and if that is all she asks of me I think you are my property. I will admit that I have talked to Feds, but after Pa shot that soldier we could not do as we pleased. He lived six days after he was shot, and the night he died, four black-hearted villains came bolting into Ma's room, and damned us to everything they could, and not a soul In the house but her and I, nor was there a person in town, or a friend any where that would come near us. We moved everything over to Mrs. Johnston's, and slept on the floor in our clothes and shawls, for six weeks, and every night was warned to leave the house, that it was going to be burnt. We could not live so, and all we could do was to lake some of the highest officers in our house to board, but Ma never got me to set with the contemptible hounds, if I was compelled to speak to them. No one knows what we have to contend with. May God speed Gen. Price and his noble army into Missouri, so that we poor persecuted "she devils" as that elegant paper the Republican chooses to term us, may have the satisfaction of trampling a few ...... ladies under our feet. ........Dr. came down last night. - He is living at College Mound, and he says there was a prisoner shot at that place on the 2d of February, for hurrahing for Jeff. Davis. We dare not breathe Jeff. Davis' name aloud here; but I wish you could see the picture Ma has of him. Mr. C. Y. J. gave it to her, and it cost $15. It is splendid. I have such a dreadful cold that I can scarcely speak above a whisper; but I will not die, because there is too many Southern girls down there. You must soon come home, for such I still call our house, and Ma says she does want to see her son Frank so much. Now I know you will come. Give my love to all the Rebels, Edward Barton, William Halleck, Shad, and more to yourself, and write, by the first carrier, a long letter. We all send much love to you, and Mr. Flanagan, and hope you will give the Feds your best Minnie ball, and shoot a few extra balls in revenge for us.  You may look for several kisses in this letter, and you will find them. Write soon to Your true and devoted Rebel, Zaide L. Bagwill


[Note from your county coordinator: A few racial statements were removed from the above letter. The absence of the statements do not detract from the historical essence of this letter, and I saw no purpose in including offensive material.]




Source: Camp, Field and Prison Life by W. A. Wash, 1870

..."During the day about sixty officers came in from the prison at Alton, Illinois. They, with a number of privates, had been started for exchange, but were stopped at Pittsburg and sent here, as we all supposed, on account of retaliatory measures. The bad faith with which both parties have kept the cartel agreed upon for exchange has caused many a gallant man to languish and die in prison. Thousands of soldiers are now suffering in prisons, who, at a word from those in power, could be honorably exchanged and serving their cause.


...This, the 8th day August, the officers of Price's army taken at Helena, Arkansas, on the 4th day of July, arrived from Alton prison, several of them, Col. Johnson, of Arkansas, among the number, wearing, as ornamental appendages, a ball and chain for the offense of trying to escape from prison. They had made a hole through the ceiling and roof of their quarters, but some traitor or spy informed against them, and a detachment of Yankee boys was paraded to greet them as soon as they made their exit through the hole Several cases of smallpox came in with them, and were quartered in a tent in one corner of the prison yard. They did not give the Alton House a very good name, and promise never to patronize the institution again if they can consistently avoid it, for they don't admire the situation of the concern, nor the compactness and height of the yard fence, and last, but not least, the landlord and his sub-officials did not distinguish themselves for hospitality and generosity."




Source: The Syracuse, New York Daily Standard, May 13, 1863

Dr. W. A. Cheatham and family has been ordered to Alton, Ill, to be confined during the war.  Mrs. Cheatham is the sister of Mrs. John Morgan.




Source: Letter From George D. Prentice to Military Commandant at St. Louis, September 15, 1863

Dear Sir: I learn that Gen. M. Jeff. Thompson is in the prison at Alton, Illinois. A year and a half ago, when he had a command in Arkansas, he did me a kindness by writing to me information in regard to my son. I hope you will not deem it inconsistent with your public duty to permit me to send him a demijohn of whisky. Please be so kind as to let me know your decision.  Geo. D. Prentice.




Source: Skaneateles, New York Democrat, September 24, 1863

Brigadier General Jeff Thompson, the notorious rebel swamp ranger and bushwhacker, with his adjutant, Capt. Reuben Kay, are now in the Alton, Ill. military prison. They will soon be transferred to Johnson's Island.




Source: The Diary of an Old Lawyer, Or, Scenes Behind the Curtain, 1895, by John Hallum

....The affianced of a young Confederate officer, living near Collierville (whose name now escapes me, because my record in which it was kept was long since lost) came to Memphis and purchased from a large dry goods firm, cloth and trimmings to make the dashing young officer a uniform. To obtain this favor, she pledged her honor, that in case of detection she would not disclose the name of the merchants. It was in the winter of 1863-4. She wrapped the cloth around her person and proceeded out on the Germantown road to the exit through the lines. On that day for the first time, tents had been erected, and ladies put in charge, to search the wearing apparel and persons of all their sex passing out of the line, and our little heroine, who belonged to the middle classes, was the first caught at that station. She was handed over to the guards and conveyed to the "Irving Block," that Bastille of the revolution, situated on Second street opposite the northeast corner of Court Square. Ladies confined there were always placed in the upper story, without fire in the most inclement weather, and no bedding whatever, except a mass of straw thrown loosely on the bare floor, and without a chair, table, box, or anything on which to sit. For a cultured and refined lady, this was hard, as was the prison fare of coffee, cold potatoes, salt pork, and hard crackers. To a gentleman who loved to honor and preserve untarnished the uniform and arms of the country he bore, it was simply revolting, especially so because in the heart of a city overflowing with all the luxuries the arts and commerce of the age commanded. This young lady, whose innocent and pure, yet exalted love was her death, sent for me. I found her in that cold and cheerless room alone, sitting in the corner on a bed of loose straw, cold and shivering in the pitiless air; her large blue eyes swimming in tears, which stirred up the fountains of my own. She told me the details already stated, the merchant from whom she purchased the cloth, after my assurance that I would not betray them.....The merchants who trusted her had a stock of goods worth two hundred thousand dollars, which would have been confiscated had that suffering girl told them where she obtained the goods. This girl was in the incipient stages of consumption, aggravated greatly by exposure in that cold, damp, fireless and bedless room. Already the arrows and seeds of death gave voice to their presence. After a confinement of three weeks in that Bastille, she was sent to the Alton prison, where she died keeping her





Source:  Syracuse, New York Daily Journal, June 27, 1864

An actor named Joseph M. Hamilton has been convicted of disloyalty In St. Louis. He drank toasts in honor of Jeff. Davis and entertained a rebel soldier, and did other deeds which have brought upon him the penalty of wearing a ball and chain in prison at Alton for a year.



Source: Alton Telegraph, September 23, 1864

We learn from the Missouri Democrat of this morning, that Wm. Bamberg, the notorious rebel mail carrier, who was under sentence during the war and escaped from the Alton prison about two months ago, was recaptured in that city yesterday. His father is in prison at Alton.




Source: Syracuse, New York Daily Courier, October 1864

St. Louis, Oct. 25.-The dead bodies of Major Wilson 3d Missouri Militia and six of his men, captured by the rebels at Pilot Knob, and given up to a guerrilla band for execution, for the alleged reason of the killing of some rebels, last summer, were found this morning. A rebel Major and six privates now in Alton prison in solitary confinement, held as hostages for Major Wilson and men, will doubtless be executed in retaliation.


PRISON GUARD REGIMENT RAISED - IL 144th INFANTRY               Search for members of 144th IL Infantry

Source:  The Alton Telegraph, August 19, 1864

General Rosecrans has requested the citizens of Alton to raise a regiment of soldiers to serve one year as guards for the prison at this post. The following is the appeal of the General: "By authority from the War Department and agreement with Governor Yates, I appeal to you to raise a regiment of infantry to serve twelve months. I want them for guards of Alton prison, but I want them to be of high soldierly bearing and to make their qualification and behavior the condition on which they will be kept on the duty. Each non-commissioned officer and private will receive a bounty of one hundred dollars and be exempt from the draft, while he will count on your quota. The officers will be commissioned on my recommendation by the Governor of Illinois. As these troops are wanted immediately, I hope for a prompt response. W. S. Rosecrans, Maj. Gen."   The appeal to the citizens of Alton was received by the undersigned this morning, and I deem it an eminently fit opportunity for the citizens to respond cordially and with alacrity, as the occasion seems to require. The advantages to us are manifest, besides securing mild service at home, we shall have fill our quota on the last call and some to spare, and thus maintain the proud pre-eminence of the State of Illinois in responding voluntarily to all the calls of the Government. Every man thus employed will help to swell the ranks in the field with tried veterans, and I confidently appeal to the citizens of Alton to come forward at this time and thus rally to the support of our Government.  Edward Hollister, Mayor.




Source: Alton Telegraph, January 13, 1865

A private of Company I, 144th Infantry, was buried in a most appropriate and decent military manner yesterday. The body was taken in a hearse to the cemetery, accompanied by a full band, and the entire company and officers. This we are sorry to say, is a rather unusual occurrence, as the bodies of privates are generally taken in a wagon to the cemetery, without military escort or honors, and then placed in the ground, almost without a show of respect. We understand the Captain Moore, of Company I, bore the expenses of the burial himself, feeling that the privates of his command are as much entitled to decent interment as those who wear the insignia of rank on their shoulders.




Source: The Daily Courier, Syracuse, New York, January 18, 1865

The steamer, Belle of Memphis, brings 35 rebel prisoners from Little Rock for Alton, Illinois.




Source: Wisconsin Janesvillle Daily Gazette, February 27, 1905

Of five hundred persons who were ordered from Alton Prison on Monday for exchange, about one half refused to go, preferring to remain prisoners to going into the rebel army again.




Source: Utica, New York Weekly Herald, April 4, 1865

Dick Morgan, brother of John Morgan, is in the Alton Penitentiary, to which institution he has been sentenced for life.




Source: New York Times, April 30, 1865

From Gen. Ortega, Fort Learned, April 10, 1865

Two regiments of United  States Infantry, composed of prisoners at the Alton Prison, are on their way to the plains, and will be of some service in relieving the Cavalry from garrison duty. That is about all they are good for, with the exception of fitting up the quota of some favored state.




Source: Liberty Weekly Tribune, May 12, 1865

All those prisoners of war captured from Gen. Price, and who were able to prove that they had been conscripted into the rebel service, have been released, as well as those prisoners of war in general, who have consented to take the amnesty oath. There are now remaining in Gratiot, the only military prison in St. Louis, not more than one hundred and fifty prisoners, including citizens, Federal soldiers, and prisoners of war. At Alton, there remains three hundred and ninety-two prisoners of war, one hundred and eighty-seven citizens and seventy-nine Federals - eight hundred and fifty-eight in all. It has not been a very long time since there were more than three thousand prisoners at Alton




Source: The United States During the War, by Auguste Laugel, 1866

Onboard the steamer 'Sucker State' from Quincy to St. Louis, written by Auguste Laugel, on a visit to the United States in 1864

"....The morning after, we arrived in sight of Alton. Above the rocky promontory on which the town is built stands the immense penitentiary which was used as the prison for the rebel soldiers. The bayonets of the sentinels flashed brightly in the rays of the morning sun, and idle soldiers lounged upon the quay. A few moments before our arrival at Alton, a young man who had seen me drawing on deck came to me, and timidly begged me to make for him a sketch of the prison at Alton. In spite of his rough uncombed hair and beard, and sparkling eyes, the expression of his face was so candid and simple that I acceded to his wish. I could not refrain, however, from enquiring why he preferred that point to any other: he blushed, and told me that many of his friends and townsmen knew the place well, and would be glad to have a sketch of it. A few days after, I learned at St. Louis that there had been, on the part of the guerilla bands, a plan to surprise Alton, and deliver the prisoners; it was not carried out, however; so my sketch was useless, even if it left the hands of my young unknown, whom I have since suspected of having served in the armies of the rebellion."




Source: Liberty Weekly Tribune, January 26, 1866

During the battle of Tishomingo Creek, a young gentleman of this city [Liberty, Missouri] now engaged in the study of law, was captured and brought to this city and shipped together with a number of others to Alton Penitentiary, where he was kept some six weeks, at the end of which time an order was received to transfer a number of officers - himself among the number - to Johnson's Island; and, under a strong guard, they took the train for that delightful summer retreat. Lieutenant H___ had seen enough of prison life during his six weeks' sojourn at Alton to satisfy him that it was not exactly suited to one who had followed the "War Eagle" through all his campaigns, and determined, if possible, to affect his escape. But it seems that several others were possessed of the same idea, and it was soon known that several had taken leave without the countersign, by jumping from the train, which increased the vigilance of the guard and rendered an attempt doubly dangerous; but the Lieutenant determined that the prison gates should never close on him again. About two o'clock in the morning he noticed that the guard had fallen asleep, and, softly raising the window, he peeped out into the darkness and discovered that the train was rushing on with frightful speed, enough to have deterred any other than he from making the attempt; but Alton was behind and Johnson's Island ahead, and committing himself to the fates, he slipped through the window, and, loosing his hold, dropped to the ground. For a moment he was stunned and bewildered, and unable to rise, but luckily no bones were broken, and on rising he discovered that he was in the midst of a large prairie, while far away the train was thundering on. Pursuing the line of the railway, he about daylight came within sight of a village, which afterwards proved to be Clinton [Illinois]. What to do he did not know, without a cent and dressed in full uniform and weary and hungry. The first thing to be done was to get rid of his gray jacket, which was taken off and buried in an adjacent cornfield, and resolved to put a bold face on the matter, he set out for the town, and, on reaching the suburbs, he discovered some workmen engaged in building a brick house, and, walking up to one who seemed to be in authority, he asked him if he wanted workmen, to which he received a ready reply in the affirmative, coupled with the remark that he was Colonel of the 154th Illinois, and his furlough had nearly expired, and immediately offered him two dollars a day to "wait on" the brick masons. This was a great trial to the adventurous "reb," but he immediately set to work with a will, and thus things passed along very smoothly until he sat down at the dinner table on the third day, when the Colonel startled him by remarking to the family that several rebels had escaped from the train, and that one of them had been traced to Clinton, looking the Lieutenant full in the face at the same time, but he kept his countenance and returned to work, ill at ease. About 4 o'clock the Colonel made some excuse for going into town, but scarcely had he left, when an Irish servant girl beckoned to him to come into the kitchen, which he did, and learned from her that the Colonel had gone after a guard to arrest him.  She begged him to fly, at the same time handing him two dollars in silver. He was not long in taking her advice, and ere night closed in was miles away in the boundless prairie. We will not follow him in all his adventures to Chicago, where he found friends and means, and thence to Detroit, Montreal and Halifax, where he embarked on a blockade-runner, and on his fearful voyage along Hatteras, the passage of the blockading fleet, his safe arrival at Wilmington, from which point he immediately proceeded to join his command, then in NOrth Mississippi. Suffice it to say that he did so, and fought through the remainder of the war, and then was paroled, and now walks the streets with an air decidedly more legal than warlike. A few days since he entered a store where quite a number of gentlemen were collected, when one of them suddenly accosted him with: "Hallo! ain't you the Reb I hired to carry the hod?" "Yes, I am," responded the limb of the law, "and I want the seven dollars you owe me for it."  Mid roars of laughter, Colonel S. produced his pocketbook and handed over the amount, stating that he never experienced more pleasure in liquidating a debt in his life. We venture the prediction that this is the first debt of the kind collected since the close of the war.  (From the Memphis Appeal.




Source: Ogdensburg, New York Daily Journal, May 24, 1867

.....It seems Capt. Hine had been tried, convicted (as he claimed, unjustly), and sentenced to the Alton Penitentiary. Before the sentence was carried into execution, however, he escaped and fled to Canada.




Source: Utica, New York Morning Herald, 1869

Three prisoners escaped from the Alton jail in Illinois, on the night of the 23d ult. (leaving behind them the following note to the City Marshal: "John Young - Dear Sir: As we do not like your style of board we have concluded to change our boarding place. We wanted Harry to go, but he likes the board and says he means to stick to it. Catch us if you can.
"Oh I how dark looks this world,
And how dreary when we part
From the ones that we love.
But there is rest for the faint and weary.
And we will meet with our lost ones above."
H. Teason
G. T. W.  Horner
G. Crawford




Source: The New York Times, July 26, 1869

The controversy in relation to the State Penitentiary and its management still goes forward, and is exciting considerable public interest. As is usual - but perhaps a little strange in this case - it is a fight between the ins and the outs. The outs are trying to get in to the Penitentiary! Had they their desserts, perhaps the end would have been accomplished long since without any volition of their own. But as they wish to get in for the purpose of plundering the State, there is some objection. For about thirty years, the institution, while at Alton, was leased to the same parties. It was carried on for the purpose of making money, both out of the labor of the prisoners and the State. A nominal sum was agreed to be paid to the State as rent; but the State was always brought into debt by the lessees, who contrived to make charges under all possible pretenses. The government of the prison was horribly barbarous, and the diet of the prisoners of the poorest and meanest description. At one time, I am informed by the person who was acting as Chaplain, while they were manufacturing corn brooms, the seed of the broom corn was manufactured into meal, and made into bread. Drunken bosses and drunken guards were employed, and the lash and the shower-bath were in constant requisition. And to such an extent were they used that men were known to have died from the effects. In fact, I suppose from what I learn from good authority, that a more barbarous institution scarcely ever existed than the Illinois Penitentiary for a period of over a quarter of a century. After its removal to Joliet, as long as it continued to be managed on the lessee plan, there was little or no change for the better, except in the matter of diet, which was much improved. But the same barbarous, inhuman and brutal system of discipline was continued. Instead of being reformed, the prisoners were brutalized and hardened. The new prison was in process of construction, and the contractors were the lessees of the labor of the prisoners - one of them acting at the same time as Warden, so that the State was not virtually represented at all. At the outset, the Penitentiary was to cost - according to the estimates of the architect - $400,000. It has cost nearer $1,200,000 - a large proportion of which has been taken from the State Treasury fraudulently, and much of it through party favoritism, and through the connivance of the State agents appointed to oversee the work. About two years ago the State assumed control of the institution, and placed its management under the control of three Commissioners, who are elected by the people. A new order of things was inaugurated, and an attempt made to render the prison reformatory as well as a place of punishment. A more humane system of discipline was adopted, and efforts made to improve the minds and morals of the inmates. A good measure of success attended these efforts, and the State was relieved from any financial burden connected with the prison. But the "old Penitentiary Ring" has never been at rest since they were ousted from this means of public plunder. They have entered upon a systematic course of falsehood and misrepresentation in regard to the management of the prison, and hence the excitement which has been created throughout the State in regard to the matter. There are now about 1,200 prisoners confined there, and the Commissioners find more difficulty in these depressed times in keeping them profitably employed. But an investigation has shown that the charges of the "Ring" are unfounded, and got up to affect their own selfish purposes.




Source: The Congressional Globe - Speeches, Reports, and the Laws of the Second Session of the Forty-Second Congress, by F. & J. Rives & George A. Bailey, 1872

The Confederate prisoners of war who died were 30, 152, as shown by the mortuary records of the War Department, gathered from the eighty-nine different places of interment at hospitals, forts, and prisons where they were buried, and are stated thus:

Officers - 455

Enlisted men - 29, 216

Citizens - 481

TOTAL - 30,152


Of these, the names are kept and graves designated of 29, 426, and names not kept of 726. Of this latter number, 662 were at Alton, Illinois, leaving only 64 unknown at the remaining eighty-eight places. Why this neglect at Alton I do not know; but it is reprehensible, and is the only record in all our responsibilities to be condemned. There were only 1,549 deaths of confederate prisoners at Alton prison, and 662 of these are marked "unknown." 


Burials at Alton:

Commissioned officers - 7

Enlisted men - 1,549

Unknown - 662

TOTAL - 2,218




Source: Syracuse, New York Daily Journal, January 20, 1872

Alexander Manning, representing himself to be a Deputy Sheriff of Carroll parish, La , and another, giving his name as Laddy. arrived in St. Louis, Mo., Friday, from Lake Providence La., having in charge Harry Freeman, whom they allege is a burglar and murderer, and was an associate of Quantrell in the Lawrence, Ks., massacre during the war, for whom they state the Governor of Missouri offered $5,000 reward. They left their prisoner with Chief McDonough during the day, saying they expected the Sheriff of Atchison county to come and take him. Not having any authenticated papers. Chief McDonough suspected something wrong, visited the prisoner and found him barbarously ironed. He ordered the removal of the shackles and heard his story, from which be, McDonough, believed that the man had been kidnapped, and refused to deliver him to his captors until they produced properly authenticated papers. Today (Saturday) Chester Harding applied for a writ of habeas corpus, and Freeman was brought before Judge Ewing and discharged, his captor failing to show cause why he was arrested. The man, whose real name it Wm. Thurman, states that he was drugged in Lake Providence, some ten day* ago, and when ho came to his senses found himself on board a steamer, loaded down with irons, and on his way to Missouri. It appears from the man's own statements, and from the statements of others who knew him, that he was a Union scout and spy during the war, and rendered valuable service to the Federal cause. Ho served under General Harding, who was his counsel Friday, also under General Rosecrans, and others in that department. It is further stated by those cognizant of the facts, that in 1865 he was tried by a military court martial at St. Joseph, convicted of seven different murders, and sentenced to be hanged, but the sentence was commuted to imprisonment in the Alton penitentiary, from which he was pardoned after nine months imprisonment. He was one of the original *Kansas Red Legs, and is said to have been one of Quantrell's gang. While acting as a Federal spy he was much in the rebel country, and fought, and was wounded in their ranks. Ho was captured by Union soldiers on one [unreadable], tried as a spy and sentenced to be hanged, but was pardoned by the President, through the intercession of  General Harding, to whom he had always been true. After the war he was sent to the Missouri penitentiary for passing counterfeit money, but was pardoned by the Governor after serving two years. Since then he has been living in Louisiana and Mississippi. By his own story and statement he is, or has been, a most desperate villain, and but for manner in which he was brought to St. Louis, would have been held. He attributes his arrest to some of Quantrell's men living In Louisiana, who he says, were afraid he would expose them, and took this way of getting rid of him.


*Redlegs were a company of (Missouri-Kansas) border scouts, formed sometime in the year 1862. It was an independent organization, never regularly mustered into the United States service, and no official record of it has been preserved. The men composing the company became known as "Red Legs," from the fact that they wore leggings of red or tan-colored leather. The Redlegs were a secret Union military society, organized in late 1862 by General Thomas Ewing and James Blunt for desperate service along the border, and numbered as many as 100 men. These men were Union spys and infiltrators, and incurred the wrath of Quantrill, Anderson, Todd, etc. Some of the men which comprised the Red Legs were "Wild Bill" Hickok and William S. Tough. To read more about this fascinating story of the Redlegs, see this website: The Redlegs of Kansas




Source: Utica, New York Daily Observer, December 9, 1874

The St. Louis Democrat publishes the following, commenting upon which another paper says: "if this story is true it puts Spiritualism in a new aspect and makes it a very practical matter of serious import to all." At Mendota, Ill., lives a medium of extraordinary force named Betty Milton. Although its' but a short time since her powers in this line have been developed, she has succeeded in producing manifestations, according to the testimony of respectable, intelligent, and credible witnesses, which are fully equal to any of the phenomena which have been observed among the most advanced Spiritualists. Lately she has been troubled by the presence of a Spirit whom she feared and dreaded, but who, in spite of all her efforts, persistently strove to gain control of her organization. It was evident that this spirit desired to manifest through her some strange and dark statement, and its nature could be guessed at by her occasional wild mutterings concerning hatred and murder, revenge and remorse. She gradually yielded to the influence of this troublesome spirit, and finally, near the close of last month, to be exact, on the 23rd of October--he stood beside her in the shape of a slender, tall young man, with long hair and German features! There were a dozen or more persons present, all of whom saw him and saw that the medium was in a state of trance, while the materialized spirit made his ghostly confession in these words, which were heard by all in the room: 'I come to make a confession, to express my remorse, to atone as far as I may for a wrong doing. My name, when in life, was Carl Reystadt. On the night of May 8, 1872, I murdered Andrew Garrity. It was my crime for which Martin Fynes died in Alton prison. I was at the time in spirit form, but assumed the likeness of Martin Fynes when the deed was done, in order that he might be suspected of the crime and hanged for it. I stole his knife; I purposely encountered two men who knew him, that they might honestly swear to have seen him near the scene of the murder. |I hid the bludgeon where it was found at his house. I did all this that I might be revenged upon him for a great wrong he had done me. I was the instrument in the hands of an all-wise justice in taking the life of Andrew Garrity, for he deserved his fate; but my purpose |was evil. In my later spirit-life, in higher stages of progression I have learned forgiveness. I have been taught to repent the deeds of my wicked heart. For this reason I have come back to attest the innocence of Martin Fynes.' Having finished this confession, the form began to fade, and shortly disappeared and was never seen again! The circumstance was so singular that inquiries were set on foot by two gentlemen, Mr. N. Moulton, of Mendota, and Mr. B. Longley of Centralia. They discovered that there had been such a person as Andrew Garrity, that he had been murdered as stated in the spirit confession, that Martin Fynes had been arrested for murder, and that he had died at Alton. They also discovered that  Carl Reystadt been ill-treated by Martin Fynes, and that ee was dead when Garrity was murdered. In the trial the evidence was conflicting. Two men swore they had seen Fynes, on the night of the murder, near the place where the body was found, with a bludgeon in his hand, and that they had spoken to him but he did not answer them. Four other persons testified that he was at a distance from the spot where the murder occurred and accounted for all his movements during the night. It was proved, however, beyond a doubt, that the knife which was found near the murdered man was his property. Several other circumstances were put in evidence for and against the prisoner and the entire testimony was so puzzling that the jury could not agree and were finally discharged. Fynes was sent to the State prison for a third trial, but died before it could take place. In these proceedings, there was nothing unusual or supernatural, but there were some circumstances connected with Fynes' prison life, in jail, and in State prison, which are entirely unexplainable except in view of the revelation which purports to have been lately make by the spirit of Carl Reystadt, through the mediumship of Miss Betty Milton.  While in prison, Fynes professed to have been visited and persecuted by the ghost of the young German who appeared to him when his cell was dimly lighted, even in the presence of other persons, telling him that he (Fynes) was going to be hanged, and frightening him to such an extent that it was thought best never to leave him alone at night. The only person besides Fynes who claimed to have ever seen this spiritual persecutor was one of the keepers, who declared that he caught a glimpse of him at a time when Fynes' cellmate was removed for a few minutes. He described the ghostly intruder as being the exact counterpart of Martin Fynes, standing by his side, and differing from him in no particular of dress, or in feature. The keeper was so astonished at this vision that he hastily closed the door and called for help. In a few minutes it was opened, but the counterpart had disappeared, and Fynes was lying on his pallet in a fainting condition, or in a state of trance. Thereafter Fynes declared that the murder of Garrity had been committed by a demon that had taken his form and had possessed itself of his knife, and that this demon had frequently visited him in the jail at Carlinville, and in the State prison, terrifying him almost to death. Of course he was regarded as insane and the keeper who declared he had seen the vision above referred to was considered as being in no better mental condition. Fynes died without making any confession, but stoutly adhering to his statements concerning his supernatural visitant, and both he and his supposed crime were forgotten until the time of the remarkable revelation that purported to be made through the mediumship of Miss Betty Milton. It is a strange story as it stands, and we leave the credulous and the incredulous to puzzle their brains over it as they please, only adding that it is published here just as we received it.




Source: The Phelps County New Era, [Rolla, Missouri] December 4, 1875
....The crumbling walls of the old State Prison [in Alton] may be seen looking like the remains of some ancient feudal castle. A trip through the cells above and beneath the ground will well repay one's trouble.....



Source: Utica, New York Daily Observer, March 25, 1876

The career of Walter Sheridan is a most wonderful one, considering the life of an ordinary criminal as a comparison. Sheridan is now thirty-eight years old. He was born in New Orleans of respectable parents, and received a very fine education. He is about five feet seven inches in height, weighs about one hundred and sixty five pounds, has light complexion, blue eyes, light hair, sandy mustache and beard, and is of a gentlemanly address. He has friends at Sandusky, Ohio, and his wife and one child live at Hudson, Mich.- When a mere boy he drifted into crime, and made has first appearance in the character of a criminal in Western Missouri as a horse thief about sixteen years ago. Then be became so accomplished general thief and confidence man, but especially distinguished himself as a bank sneak. In 1858 he was arrested in company with Joseph Moran, a noted Western robber, for a bank robbery, in Chicago, convicted and sentenced to five years in the Alton Penitentiary, which term he served.......




Source: Auburn, New York Daily Bulletin, July 5, 1889

A ghost with the lockstep is one of the rarities of spiritualism, but that is what they say has been heard near the old prison at Alton, Ill. [Note: a lockstep is a way of marching in very close file, in which the leg of each person moves with and closely behind the corresponding leg of the person ahead.]




Source: Alton Daily Telegraph, February 24, 1893

(Advertisement) - Wanted - a picture of the old penitentiary during the war. A reward will be paid. J. E. Collins, photographer.




Source: Alton Telegraph, February 8, 1894

When Samuel H. Denton, the first warden of the Illinois Penitentiary, was living in Alton in a log house on what we then called Penitentiary Hill, with his one or two prisoners who he boarded in his own house and worked them during the day in preparing to build the penitentiary, I went first to see the picture of the "Piasa Bird" painted on the face of the rock that fronted the river from the top of the Penitentiary Hill, and then up the hill to see my old friend Denton. Though he was a man and I a boy, we were always warm friends.... [Continues to describe Alton]




Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, March 14, 1895

Up-to-Date, the paper published by the inmates of the Joliet Penitentiary, this month prints an article giving details of the first years existence of the old penitentiary in Alton, when John C. Bruner was Warden. There are two cuts of the old prison, one as it appeared in 1859, at the time of its abandonment, and the other of the ruins in 1894. The first prisoner received was William Hess in 1833. A month later the second prisoner was received, James Hyatt, who is described as "about 30 years of age and very talkative." Hyatt escaped about three weeks after his arrival and was never heard of after. No. 3 was the first colored man ever received. He was sent up from Monroe County under sentence of one year for manslaughter. His name was James Mitchell. Prisoners came very slowly, as there were less than a dozen in the first two years of the prison's establishment. Up-to-Date compares the manner of keeping the records in the early days of the Alton prison with the records of the Joliet prison, as now kept. A footnote describes the walls as 35 or 40 feet high, which is considerably wide of the mark. The walls at the highest point (near the corner of William and Short [Broadway] Street) were probably not over 20 or 25 feet in height. The little paper is for sale in the bookstores, and will be interesting to many of our old citizens as well as to the generation which has grown up since the removal of the prison to Joliet.




Source: Source: Confederate Military History by Clement Anselm Evans, 1899, page 598

..."Dr. Tebault has held the rank of surgeon-general of the United confederate veterans during the past four years, and his official reports in this capacity are valuable contributions to the literature of the Confederary. In one of them he recounts his experience in caring for two hundred exchanged Confederate prisoners at Fort Pillow, who had been at the Federal prison camp at Alton, Ill., and were nearly all sick with smallpox. He had no vaccine matter with which to protect the garrison from contagion, but with the resourcefulness of a true physician he conceived the idea of diluting lymph from the sick with fresh cow's milk, a method which proved entirely successful, and is now recommended by high medical authority for use in emergencies when the resources of modern medical supply are unavailable, as was often the case in the Confederate service."




Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, May 7, 1901

Graders who have been grading the lots of J. H. Raible on Summit street have been employed today driving long steel bars into the ground in the lot in a search for three old caverns that were formerly used by the United States government as magazines [a room or place for keeping gunpowder and other explosives] for powder and ball, when the old penitentiary was used for a prison for captured Confederate soldiers. On the brow of the bluffs a cannon was mounted for purposes of defense of the prison in case of an attack from Missouri, and the three caves were made in the ground for use as magazines for ammunition. Many years ago the caves were walled up by Mr. Raible, as they had become the roosting place for tramps and boys and had become nuisance. It is now desired to locate these caves and fill them up so that they will not endanger the limbs and lives of horses that are working on the lots grading them. Old residents of Alton remember these magazines and their discovery will be full of interest.




Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, July 14, 1902

W. S. Llewellyn of Seymour, Iowa is said to be the only survivor of the famous Thirty-Seventh Iowa Graybeards regiment that did guard duty at the Alton Military prison in the spring of 1864. The members were all men old enough to have gray beards, therefore their name. They volunteered for guard duty to relieve regiments of younger men.




Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, September 12, 1902

Captain Francis Valle of St. Louis, and Captain W. H. Kennan of Mexico, Missouri, ex-Confederate officers who have not seen each other in 40 years, have promised to meet in St. Louis soon. They met last as prisoners of war in Alton, where both were confined in 1862 until released a few months later in exchange for Union soldiers held in the South. Each lost track of the other, after they rejoined the ranks of fighting men, and since the war neither has known whether the other was killed or what had become of him. Several weeks ago the St. Louis Republic printed a sketch of Captain Valle.  Captain Kennan, who is a prominent lawyer in Mexico, read it and wrote to his old comrade as follows:


"Nearly all of those with whom you and I were immediately associated in the Alton prison have long since passed away. Colonels Stone and Murray and Major Dougherty have been dead for many years. Colonel Murray was drowned in crossing the Mississippi River between Alton and St. Louis. Where the McGoffin boys, Elijah and Beriah, are I don't know. They served through the war. Elijah was Lieutenant Colonel of the Tenth Missouri, commanded by William M. Moore, Colonel, of Lewis county. There were none braver and more daring than the McGoffins. They tunneled under the prison wall at Alton, and through the tunnel made their escape and took with them their father, Col. McGoffin of Sedalia, who was, you will remember, closely confined and guarded in prison, awaiting trial before a court martial for the killing of a Federal officer at Sedalia. One of the most noted men in St. Louis, ex-mayor John M. Wimer, was also in prison. He was a very strong man intellectually. I was a member of a mess, composed of Col. Stone, Doctor Jackson of Jackson, Tennessee, and father of Gen. W. H. Jackson, now of Nashville, Tennessee, Col. John M. Wimer and others. Doctor Jackson and Col. Wimer were two of the most interesting men I ever met. They regaled the prisoners with anecdotes and recitations. Col. Wimer made his escape from prison crouched down in an empty barrel in a water wagon, which was driven beyond the penitentiary walls to the river early in the morning. He was afterwards killed in the fight at Hartsville, Missouri. Doctor Hope of Alton, Illinois was arrested and placed in prison. He became a member of our mess. He furnished us fine Havana cigars and Mexican red pepper for the table, which he said his brother-in-law, General Pope, had brought with him from Old Mexico. When he heard of Stonewall Jackson whipping his brother-in-law, General Pope, in the valley of Virginia, he rejoiced as loudly as did any rebel in the prison. Colonel Wimer, spoken of above, made his escape in a big box. He crouched in the bottom of the box and was covered over with loaves of stale bread placed on a dray and hauled out. The dray belonged to Thomas Callahan, who three times a week hauled stale loaves of bread, garbage, etc., away from the prison. The bread amounted to several hundreds of loaves in a week, as the prisoners got fresh bread daily. The unused bread was good, but would not be eaten by the prisoners after it was 24 hours old. Mr. Callahan hauled it to his home on Prospect street, where three times a week the very poor children and women with baskets came and carried it to their homes. When Colonel Wimer arose from under the bread in the box after arriving at the Callahan home, he asked for some place to hide until dark, and Mrs. Callahan told him to hide in a cask which had been placed by her husband as a refuse receptacle in the Dolbee pond in the Callahan pasture, located between the old Dolbee house - the present Old Ladies' Home - and David Ryan's residence. The water in the cask was only about half-knee deep at the time, and he took an old nail keg along to sit on. At night he made his escape to Missouri. Mr. and Mrs. Callahan are both dead, but they have a son in this city, one in Mexico, Missouri, and one in St. Louis."




Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, September 17, 1902

Mark Dickson of the Bluff Line freight office clerical force, while delving around and in the walls of the old penitentiary the other day, uncovered a pocket or alcove in the walls, and a further investigation rewarded him with several interesting relics of war times, and several specimens of the expert handiwork of the Confederate prisoners, it is supposed. Among things taken from the "pocket" were seven dangerously genuine looking counterfeit half dollars, a pair of steel pincers, and a couple of toothpicks fashioned out of bone into the shape of a human limb, with a long, slender, overgrown toenail as the tooth excavator. It is supposed merely that these articles were the work of Confederates, but they may possibly have been made by prisoners confined there during the time the "pen" was an Illinois State prison. How prisoners, whether military or civil, could find the apparatus and opportunity necessary to coin counterfeit money is one of the unsolved mysteries of the find. Mr. Dickson will treasure his trophies as most interesting relics of times and men of a period when human blood was held cheaper than beef blood or meat is held now.




Source: Rochester, New York Democrat Chronicle, December 7, 1902

One of the many prisoners received at the Alton Penitentiary when I was deputy warden was a man named Horton. He was editor and proprietor of a weekly paper. He was a pretty strong writer and made many enemies. The article which led to its author's imprisonment was a five-line squib ridiculing a local doctor. The doctor railed to demand a retraction, a fight ensued, and the editor had the misfortune to kill his man. He was sentenced to be hanged, but the Governor commuted it to imprisonment for life. When Horton reached the prison, he was in such a bad state of health that he had to go to the hospital, but after a few weeks he was made librarian to the prison library. After a year or so, Horton's wife got a divorce, his friends ceased to call, and he was virtually dead to the world. As far as I could judge, the man submitted to the inevitable without a murmur, and it has ever since been a sore thought with me that I made such a mistake in sizing him up. Subsequent events proved that he begun plotting from the very first, and we were to learn that he was a man willing to take the most desperate chances to regain his liberty. There was living in the town in which the prison was situated a young lady named Calhoun. She used to come in every Saturday afternoon at 2 o'clock, with papers or other things for the prisoners, and sometimes she had company and sometimes not.  Saturday afternoon was a holiday with the prisoners-that is, all were locked up in their cells after the noonday meal and could read, write or sleep. This order did not include the librarian and certain other "trusties." One Saturday afternoon Miss Calhoun was an hour late. It was in April, and the day was dark and foggy. The order was to pass her in and out without question. At 7 o'clock in the evening, some of her friends called at the prison to say that she had not returned home. At midnight, after a search of the town had been made, Miss Calhoun's friends returned to the prison. Horton was the first to be consulted. He said she had come in late, bringing two books and some tracts. The books were left in the library, but he went with her to the west corridor to distribute the tracts. We verified his statement by going to the corridor. The country around the prison was searched all night long, and soon after daylight the mystery was solved. The dead body of the girl was found in the Prison yard. On the second floor of a storehouse lay the half naked body, while hat, dress, skirts, and wrap were in a heap beside it. In spite of my good opinion of Horton I suspected him of this awful deed.  There were nine other "trusties" who might possibly have had opportunity, and so the deed could not be brought home to him. Whoever had killed the poor girl had dressed in her clothes, but afterward had taken them off. If he had planned to go out in the disguise, his nerve failed him. About eight months after the murder, when Horton had been with us for three years and four months, he made his escape, by means of a tunnel which he had been over two years digging.  It began in a clothes closet of the library and ended ninety-three feet away outside the prison walls. What was done had to be accomplished between 7 A. M. and 6 P.M. Horton could not bar anyone out of the library, nor could he tell what minute someone would enter. No convict ever worked for liberty with such odds against him. He simply took the one chance in a thousand. There were times when he descended to his tunnel and worked for an hour before coming out. After coming out he had to wash his hands and remove all dust and dirt, and he must have had nerves of steel and a will of iron to bear up under the hourly fear of discovery. That tunnel was more than a nine days wonder after discovery. You will want to know how I learned of certain things. A year after Horton's escape we heard of him in Montana. He had joined a small band of trappers and hunters and was living among in the mountains. After he had been located it was decided that I should be sent out to attempt his capture. When I reached Gallatin, I learned that Horton's party was in the mountains to the north and enlisted two men in the search for him. We were on the trail of the hunters for a month before we found them. One evening we rode into their camp prepared to capture or kill the fugitive murderer, but he was not there. Two days before, he had started out alone to inspect some traps and had not returned. The rest of the party, numbering six, had been out looking for him on the day of our arrival, but had found no trace. The search was resumed next day, and along in the afternoon we found him. He had fallen over a cliff and landed on a shelf about forty feet below. His fall had been broken by a bush, but he had been severely injured and was almost dead when we got him up. He had broken a leg and an arm, and as there was no way to get a doctor we knew that death soon must terminate his sufferings. During the last day of his life Horton was not only conscious, but talkative and free from pain. He insisted on telling me all about the tunnel business, and of course I was interested in the details. I plainly told him that I had suspected him from the hour of finding Miss Calhoun's body and that, figure it out as I might, no one else had the opportunity that he had. He did not answer me for several minutes, and then quietly said: "I will give you my idea of that affair, though of course it may be all wrong. When Miss Calhoun and I separated, she started for the exit and I for the library. There were several "trusties" about, and no doubt one of them spoke to her and she may have turned aside. It was a dark, foggy day, you remember, and the man might have clutched her by the throat to prevent an alarm and carried her to the storehouse. He took great risks, but was not discovered. I have always felt much grieved over the fate of that poor girl."  "What motive do you think the murderer had?" I asked. "Probably to don her clothes and pass out to liberty." "But why didn't he carry out his plan?" "Probably something threw him off his nerve as he approached the wicket. He could have gone out unquestioned, but something happened to make him suspect that he would be nabbed." "And you will not confess, realizing as you must, that death is not far away?" "My dear man," Horton replied as a smile played over his pale face, "let's talk about that tunnel and drop all dismal subjects. So all of you called it an excellent bit of civil engineering, eh? Well, I think it was. I was very proud of that tunnel, and sometimes I felt like going back to have a look at it."  Four hours later he was dead, passing away as peacefully as if he had never shed a drop of human blood.




Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, April 27, 1903

Terrell, Texas, April 8 - I notice the picture of the old Alton prison in the Dallas News. I think I would have known it if you had not told what it was. The river, the boat landing, the corner of the house, all looking familiar to me as I was there the winter of 1863, and the spring of 1864. I left Georgia in the spring of 1862 in Company A, Thirty-Ninth Georgia Regiment; was in Tennessee and Kentucky campaigns, left Tennessee just before the Murfreesboro fight to reinforce Vicksburg; was captured at Baker's Creek, May 16, 1863, sent up the river to Alton, stayed there seven months, then to Fort Delaware, and stayed there until the war ended. But to look at the picture of the old wall makes me feel - well, I can hardly tell you how. It was there I first had a taste of prison life. I remember how high the prison was - forty feet - as well as I remember. There were five rows of cells in the wall - one above the other. I remember one dark night we cut through the top of the house, cut the flag pole ropes and tied them together and then slid down to the ground. We had a good thing, we thought. There were somewhere about thirty or forty on top of the house, and it was snowing like thunder. About the tenth man to start down was a man from Texas by the name of Mosley, and the rope broke and a guard caught him and the rest of us, but we tried it again. I remember two of our boys removed two men out of their coffins and got in themselves. The undertaker started out with them. A friend stopped the hearse to put some socks on his friend. Well, he ran; so did the driver and the Reb, but Bob Frick, who was in the other box got caught. Well, I never saw so much excitement - a Yankee trick played by a Rebel. Well, they made Bob get back in the box and nailed him in, and swore they would bury him alive, but they let him out in about ten minutes, the whitest looking man I ever saw. I had some friends in there with me. I would give anything to hear from, if alive. There was K. D. D. Shiflett of Texas, and Jim Kitchens and Zach Hudson of Arkansas, and the redheaded Texan that was recaptured and brought back. But I spent my longest time in Fort Delaware; was there when the war closed. Yes, I remember old Hike Out. Would love to hear from anyone that was in Alton the time I was. I was Sergeant, had 100 men on my list; all of their names commenced with S.  Had a time calling the roll it was so cold.  W. D. Swanson, Abilene, Texas, April 16, 1903.  [The above is from the Dallas, Texas News, and will be read with great interest locally.]




Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, June 18, 1908

Alton is about to carry out another metropolitan idea through its enterprising park commission, that of a model playground for the children of Alton. The Penitentiary Plat on William street, now used as a residence section and occupied by a number of small houses, may be leased from the owners for a term of years, and with funds to be raised for the purpose made into a model playground. Grass and trees and flowers and shrubs and swings and many other play things for children would make it a pleasant place for mothers to take their children to spend a delightful cool morning, afternoon or evening. The plan is just in the rough at present, but it is that far advanced that arrangements will be made for taking over the property, and if not carried through this year it will be carried out next summer. If the plan proves a success it will be Alton's first children's playground, and will be another proof of the fact that Alton is fast growing larger.




Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, December 1, 1908

The Parks commissioners have secured from Mayor Beall an order that the prisoners who have been heretofore employed on the streets be used to help in cleaning up the old penitentiary plat grounds which have been leased by the city as a playground for children. The grounds need much cleaning up and there will be enough work to keep prisoners busy a long time. It is proposed to clear away the old stone foundations which project above the ground, and remove or burn the rubbish that has been accumulating there for many years. One big ruin of the penitentiary wall will be left standing, and it is planned to train vines over this ruin and make it appear attractive. The ruin will serve as a historic monument of bygone days and a bygone institution. Alton was very glad to be rid of the old penitentiary. Officer Pack, the man-herder, can work a good number of prisoners and he desires to give notice that all who come will be welcomed by him and will be given plenty to do.




Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, March 22, 1909

A few days ago Charles Wade found a queer shaped tool deep in the ground under the place where the old penitentiary wall stood. Wade is operating a stone quarry there. The tool was about four feet below the surface. It was apparently filed out of hard steel. On one end was a narrow hatchet-like blade, and on the other end was a strong hook, such as might be used in digging in a wall. Some prisoner, it is believed, either lost it or had secreted it and was never able to use it. The tool has marks on it indicating it was hand made and that crude working tools were used in fashioning it. Mr. Wade is keeping it as a curio.




Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, July 7, 1909

Uncle Remus Park is the name to be bestowed on the old penitentiary grounds next Friday evening at a formal naming of the place. The park commissioners have had the place cleaned up, and they have decided to put the White Hussars band in Uncle Remus' Park Friday evening to give a concert. In connection with the concert, brief talks will be made by Mayor Beall and Chairman P. W. Coyle of the parks commission. The concert will begin about 7:30 o'clock and last until 10, being interrupted just long enough for the two short talks by the officials mentioned in recognition of the change in name of this place that so long has borne a name filled with a horrible retrospect. The grounds have not been equipped as a playground for the children, but will be very soon, it is planned by the parks commission. The public is invited to attend the concert and formal naming of the playground for a friend of childhood.




Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, June 16, 1910
Mrs. Michael Gleason, for fifty years or more a resident of Alton, died yesterday at the home of her daughter, Miss Bridget Gleason, in St. Louis, where she moved from Alton about 11 years ago. She was 90 years old the first day of last February, and up to about nine weeks ago was strong and sound in every way, considering her age. The body will arrive in Alton tomorrow afternoon at 1 o'clock, and will be buried in Greenwood cemetery. Michael Gleason died about ten years ago, or about a year after he and his wife moved to St. Louis. He was in the employ of the late Henry W. Hart during the Civil War, and it was he who buried all of the Confederates who died in the Alton prison. He it was who discovered that one of the soldiers was a woman, and he was the only one who knew the exact spot where she was buried. It is related that annually while he lived in Alton, after the war, he visited that grave and placed flowers on it.



Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, October 24, 1910

Everett Pennington, aged 4, while playing around at Uncle Remus park, accompanied by his father, picked up an old brass key which probably belonged to one of the cells of the old penitentiary. The key was partially buried and was pulled out of the ground. It is 7 inches long. The key was badly corroded by having lain in the ground so long. The boy's father says he will let his son keep the key as a relic, and yesterday the child had it down town and it was shown to a number of people. The boy lives at 553 east Third street.  [Note: Uncle Remus Park was located in down town Alton on the site of the old State Penitentiary/Civil War Prison. After the prison was dismantled, it was turned into a park, and later paved over. It is located on Williams Street in Alton.]



Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, January 23, 1911

J. E. Duffield, while on a business trip down in Alabama, went to Milan, a small place twenty five miles from a railroad. He went to the home of a resident and asked for permission to remain over night. The person who greeted him was an old southern gentleman whose cordiality was as gracious as his hair was snowy. When asked where he was from, and Duffield replied Alton, Illinois, the old gentleman started from his chair. The old southerner had himself been in Alton. He was a prisoner in the old Alton prison, being captured at Ft. Donaldson and brought here. Mr. Duffield's father had also been injured at Ft. Donaldson, but was on the other side. And the old southern gentleman who was a prisoner in the Alton prison, held by the Northerners, was all the more gracious in entertaining the son of a man who was also injured at the same battle, fighting against this same southern gentleman. The old southerner, whose name is J. B. Reir, remembered the bitterness of the war, but it was hidden by his graciousness. His young visitor remembered nothing of the war, but will always remember how his host did forget the war and treat him cordially.



PRISONERS TRANSFERRED FROM ST. LOUIS TO ALTON (clip from a story about Sandford Kirkpatrick, chaser of moonshiners and member of Congress)

Source: Buffalo, New York Morning Express, May 3, 1914
....."I sometimes smile in myself," Mr. Kirkpatrick continued, "when I think that as a boy I feared the Civil War would end before I had an opportunity to do any fighting. I was born in Ohio, but my parents migrated to Iowa when I was seven years old. I often say that I came into the world between two rows of corn, but that fact does not make me a pumpkin. I hurried into the Union army at the beginning of the Civil War, enlisting as a private in the Second Iowa Infantry. Everything would be over, I complained, before I had a chance to fire a shot. It was not so, however. The South did not surrender at the end of 90 days as was prophesied, and it was four years and four months before I returned to the West and became a cowboy. It seems to me that I have had a gun on my back or under my arm ever since I left home, more than 60 years ago. My baptism of fire, as I call it, occurred at Fort Donelson. The Second Iowa got into official disfavor in St. Louis. We were detailed to guard a large number of Confederate prisoners confined to a medical college. After the prisoners were transferred to a penitentiary at Alton, some of our boys celebrated the occasion by getting drunk and breaking up the furniture. One of them put a skeleton on his back and paraded in the streets, to the horror of the bystanders. So we were sent to the steamboat in disgrace. No music sounded at the head of the regiment. We were not permitted to unfurl our flag. Arriving at Fort Donelson, we were in an ugly mood." .....




Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, June 18, 1914

Robert A. Guerrant, one of the confederate soldiers who was confined in the prison in Alton during the Civil War, died this morning at his home in East Alton at the age of 70, after a three weeks' illness with cerebral hemorrhage. Guerrant was born and reared in Missouri, and when the war broke out enlisted as a Confederate soldier. Towards the end of the war he was captured while with Gen. Price's men in Missouri and was imprisoned in Alton where he was kept until an exchange of prisoners was made. He settled here [Alton] after being liberated. Guerrant leaves his wife, an adopted daughter, Miss Ada Starkey, and three sisters, Mrs. Mary E. Hardesty of Beechville, Ill., Mrs. Jennie Ingle of Beechville, Ill., and Mrs. Olivia Wallendorff of Deer Plain, Ill. The two latter sisters are expected to arrive this afternoon. Robert Hardesty, of Beechville, Ill., Frank Delonay of Alton, James Anderson of Beechville, Ill., nephews, and Mrs. Bertha Wachtel of Upper Alton, were at the Guerrant home at the time of the death. The funeral will be held Sunday morning at 10 o'clock at the East Alton Baptist Church. The burial will be in Milton Cemetery.




Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, February 29, 1916

Percy Lewis, employed by the Kinloch Telephone Company, discovered two skulls and a part of one skeleton of a human being while digging in Uncle Remus Park yesterday, to set an anchor for a guy wire of the telephone system. The two skulls were close together. Both of them were badly decayed. It is not believed they could be Indian bones because of the fact that the place where they were found was doubtless far below the surface of the earth, before the penitentiary was put there. There was undoubtedly an excavation made for the penitentiary, and as the bones were about three feet below the surface of the ground now, it is supposed that the bones are of two persons who died in the early days of the penitentiary at Alton.




Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, May 26, 1916

The Telegraph office force this morning had a visit from an old Confederate soldier. He was in Alton to see the old prison where he served time for two years after being captured by Union troops at the battle of Wilson's Creek, and he wept and would not be comforted because the walls of the old prison were not there. He had visited the site of the old prison and he was too filled with emotion to see even the remnant of the wall that stands on the site of what is now known as Uncle Remus park. Failing to find anyone around who could serve as a friend and guide, like old Rip Van Winkle, he felt himself a stranger in a strange land. He was directed to the Telegraph office as a newspaper that was here in war times. He expected full surely he would find someone on the Telegraph staff who had been working there when the civil war was going on. He happened to strike the youngest member of the staff, and to him he told his story. Between sobs that told of an emotion that was deep and sincere, he told who he was and what was his errand. His grief became so great that he leaned heavily on the desk, and after being assured that there was still a remnant of the old prison on the site, the old man rose unsteadily and staggered out of the office, still filled with emotion. His story was that when a lad of 14 he was serving in the Confederate army and was taken with nine others at Wilson's Creek battle to Alton. He said he stayed in the prison for two years. He had never been back to see the place since he was released, and he wanted to revive old memories. He revived them all right, so that he wept, and comfort there was none, as the old prison walls he wished to revisit were down and had long since been converted into macadam for streets in the city of East St. Louis.




Source: General Orders of the War Department, Embracing the Years 1861, 1862, and 1863 by U.S. War Dept., Oliver Diefendorf, Thomas M. O'Brien

General Orders, 1863:

The proceedings of the Military Commission in the case of Alfred Yates, private in the rebel army, have been approved by the proper commanders and forwarded for the action of the President of the United States. Upon the recommendation of the Major General commanding the Department of the Missouri, the President directs that the sentence "to be hanged by the neck until he is dead," be commuted "to imprisonment during the war." The prisoner will be sent, under proper guard, to the military prison at Alton, Illinois.


The proceedings of the Military Commission in the case of George W. Casey, of the so-called Confederate States army, have been approved by the proper commanders and forwarded for the action of the President of the United States. Upon the recommendation of the Major General commanding the Department of the Missouri, the President directs that the sentence "to be hanged by the neck until dead," be commuted to "imprisonment during the war." The prisoner will be sent, under proper guard, to the military prison at Alton, Illinois.


The proceedings of the Military Commission in the case of John F. Cook, citizen, have been approved by the proper commanders and forwarded for the action of the President of the United States. Upon the recommendation of the Major General commanding the Department of the Missouri, the President directs that the sentence "to be shot to death," be commuted "to imprisonment during the war." The prisoner will be sent, under proper guard, to the military prison at Alton, Illinois.


The proceedings of the Court in the case of Private William Polson, Company "D," 8th Regiment Kansas Volunteers, have been approved by the proper commanders and forwarded for the action of the President of the United States, who directs that the sentence "to be shot to death," be commuted to "imprisonment during the war." The prisoner will be sent, under proper guard, to the military prison at Alton, Illinois.





Source: Annals of the Army of the Cumberland, by John Fitch, Attorney at Law, Alton, Illinois (Not in Copyright)

Salzkotter (for smuggling), released

C. J. Zeutzschell (spy)

Ogilvie Byron Young (spy)

Mrs. Judd (spy & smuggler)

"Mrs. Judd is the widow of an Episcopal clergyman who resides in Winchester, Tenn. It is respectfully submitted that she is a dangerous person to remain in these lines; that she is probably a spy as well as a smuggler; that cases of this kind being of frequent occurrence by females examples should be made, and that as there is at present no proper tribunal for her imprisonment at Nashville, she be committed to the military prison at Alton for trial."



Silas Norris (for kidnapping)

Mrs. Molly Hyde (spy - furnished rebel generals with information)

Joseph M. P. Nolan, arrested in St. Louis October 1861 for disloyalty to the United States, giving information to the enemy; released August 1863



Source: Switzler's Illustrated History of Missouri, from 1541 to 1877 by William Franklin Switzler, Chancy Rufus Barns, Robert Allen Campbell, Alban Jasper Conent, & George Clinton Swallow, 1879

..."The sentences of John C. Thompkins, Wm. J. Forshey, John Patton, Thomas M. Smith, Stephen Stott, George H. Cunningham, Richard B. Crowder and George M. Pulliam, heretofore condemned to death, are provisionally mitigated to close confinement in the military prison at Alton. If rebel spies again destroy railroads and telegraph lines, and thus render it necessary for us to make severe examples, the original sentences against these men will be carried into execution."   ..."In March of the same year [1862], James Quiesenberry, James Lane and William F. Petty were tried on the charge of railroad and bridge burning on the North Missouri railroad, on the night of December 20-21, 1861, found them guilty and sentenced them to be shot at such time and place as the General commanding the department shall designate; in the meantime to be confined in Alton military prison. Nor were these men ever shot; but on recommendation of the commission, the sentence was mitigated.



Source: History of Arizona by Thomas Edwin Farish, page 257

Columbus H. Gray (in prison for nine months; captured in Helena, Arkansas, escaped by jumping out of railroad cards as he was being transferred to Fort Delaware)



Source: Minnesota in the Civil and Indian Wars 1861-1865

Sylvester Dreger, in prison at Alton, Ill., on discharge of regiment



Source: History of Henry County, Illinois by Henry L. Kiner, 1910, page 639

John Root, for murder, 1850; court ordered imprisonment in Alton penitentiary, the first five days to be in solitary confinement and the rest at hard labor, the defendant further to pay the cost of prosecution. At the end of a year, Root was pardoned by Governor Joel A. Matteson, after petitions had been made for the purpose. He died not long after his release, a saloon brawl the cause.



Source: History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography by Thomas McAdory Owen & Marie Bankhead Owen, 1921

Robert Hodges, minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Cartersville, Mississippi; died at the prison in Alton, Ill. in 1862 or 1863



Source: The History of Rock County, Wisconsin, by Wesern Historical Company, 1879, page 413

David F. Mayberry; horse stealing in 1847, served 8 yrs and asserted someone would have to recompense him for time served. Later murdered Andrew Alger and was lynched.



Source: History of Boone County, Missouri, Written & compiled from the Most Authentic Official & Private Sources, 1882

James S. Hickam, captured at Rolla, Missouri, sent to Alton prison until the war was nearly over, when he was exchanged at Vicksburg.

Joseph Glenn Jones

Thomas Gilpin Tuttle; arrested on order of Gen. J. B. Douglass and held at Alton; released after swearing allegiance and giving bond of $4,000.

Edwin Ruthvan Westbrook; taken prisoner near Osceola, St. Clair county, Missouri, confined at Alton until March 19, 1865. Released on condition of enlistment in army to serve against Indians on

      the plains.

Durrett H. Barnes; kept at Alton until 1864, released and allowed to return home.

James Lawrence Henry; captured in 1862, confined in St. Louis, Alton, & Washington City. Exchanged in 1863 & sent to City Point, Virginia.

George Thomas Langston; Captured in 1861 gathering up recruits hiding in the brush in the vicinity of father's farm. Confined for 10 months in St. Louis, tried as a spy and sentenced to be shot.

      Granted new trial and sentenced to prison at Alton under hard labor. Released in fall of 1864 after being at Alton over a year.

Zephaniah Spiers; captured & taken to Mexico, Missouri, St. Louis, then Alton. Prisoner at Alton six months.

W. T. Maupin; captured in Cooper county, Missouri by soldiers of Col. Eppstein. Held prisoner for 13 months in St. Louis & Alton. Upon release, he weighed only 87 1/2 lbs. Became a physician.

William I. Roberts; captured and taken to St. Louis, then Alton. Released in 1863.

George Bryant Forbis; taken prisoner at Port Gibson, taken to Alton until released on parole.

Francis Marion Lowrey; captured and taken to St. Louis, then Alton, & remained there until 1865.



Source: Confederate Military History by Clement Anselm Evans, 1899, page 289

Second Lieutenant W. C. Osborne; died in prison at Alton, Ill.



Source: HIstorical Genealogy of the Woodsons and Their Connections, by Henry Morton Woodson, 1915

Horace Woodson Ardinger; captured and sent to Alton for several months. Through the influence of his uncle, Gov. Austin King, he was released.



Source: Centennial History of Missouri by Walter Barlow Stevens

Colonel John Hughes Winston; captured [abt. 1863] and sent to Alton prison until the Civil war ended.



Source: Missouri Historical Review by State Historical Society of Missouri, pg 587

Captain Hanson McNeil and son, Jesse; captured & held in Missouri, then taken to Alton from which young McNeil made his escape by bribing a guard to give him his clothes. Lieut. Jesse McNeil then succeeded in helping his father to escape by climbing a pile of lumber which had been placed against the prison wall. They went down the Mississippi river, up the Ohio and across country until they reached their old home in Virginia.



Source: Hancock's Diary by Richard R. Hancock, pg 567

J. H. McAllister, died in January 1864 in prison at Alton, Illinois.

J. H. Thomas was sent right to Alton, Illinois.

E. D. Thomas, wounded, sent to Alton, Illinois for about two months, then he and his brother, J. H. were sent to Fort Delaware.

J. K. Dodd; while an independent scout he was captured near New Albany, Mississippi abt. August 18, 1863 and sent to Alton for 5-6 months. Exchanged.



Source: History of the First Kentucky Brigade by Edwin Porter Thompson, 1868

John Pendergrast of Louisville, KY was wounded in battle at Donelson and is supposed to have died in prison at Alton, Illinois.



Source: The World's Word, Volume XXI, November, 1910 to April, 1911, 1911, pg 14,165

William Martinson, a private of Company G, Eleventh Illinois Cavalry, while in Benton Barracks near St. Louis, in 1863, went out one day (May 17) got drunk, and went up and down the streets insulting, assaulting, and shooting at peaceable citizens. He dragged a man named Dwight Durkee for several squares, with a revolver at his head, and he shot a Negro in the head. Martinson was court-martialed and sent for confinement to the military prison at Alton, Ill. He served two years, and was then sent under guard to join his regiment.



Source: The Captured Scout of the Army of the James: A Sketch of the Life of Sergeant Henry H. Manning  by Henry Clay Trumbull, 1869, page 37

Henry H. Manning was deemed a rebel prisoner, and as such was sent to the military prison at Alton, Illinois.



Source: The Confederate Veteran Magazine, 1895, page 24

D. T. Beall; captured in 1862 and imprisoned at Alton. Held for 6 months. Exchanged.



Source:  Official Roster of the Soldiers of the State of Ohio in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1866, 1895

Henry Cole; captured September 19, 1863 in the battle of Chickamauga, Georgia; confined in prison at Alton; paroled September 26, 1863.



Source: The Repeal of the Missouri Compromise by Perley Orman Ray

William Cecil Price; taken prisoner at Wilson's Creek and confined in the prison at Alton, Ill. for a long time.



Source: Annual Report of the Adjutant-General of the State of New York, 1898

Edward Stevenson; captured at Egypt Station, Mississippi, December 28, 1864, confined at Alton, Ill., 18 years old

Avery Bullis; captured at Egypt Station, Mississippi, December 28, 1864, confined at Alton, Ill., 20 years old

Lewis Reppersburger; captured at Egypt Station, Mississippi, December 28, 1864, confined at Alton, Ill. and released June 26, 1865 on take the oath of allegiance. 24 years old.



Source: A History of Northeast Missouri by Walter Williams

Major H. C. Caldwell



Source: Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Illinois for the years 1861-66, 1886

Jonathan B. Green; Dishonesty, discharged November 26, 1864; loss of all pay &c., and be confined in prison at Alton, Ill., 3 years

John S. Wharton; died at Alton, November 25, 1862



Source: A History of the State of Oklahoma by Luther B. Hill

William Dodson; died at the military prison at Alton, Illinois



Source: History of Ray County, Missouri by Missouri Historical Company

Andrew J. Greenawalt; captured by Union troops and taken to military prison at Alton, Illinois, and kept there until September 8, 1862, when he was exchanged.

Thomas Elder; taken prisoner at Springfield, Missouri and confined at Alton, Illinois about 7 months; exchanged.

Martin Elder; taken prisoner at Baker's Creek and taken to Alton, Illinois; exchanged.



Source: The Life of Lyman Trumbull by Horace White

Charles G. Flournoy; captured by Gen. Grant's forces near Vicksburg and confined at Alton, Illinois.



Source: History of Ramsey County and the City of St. Paul

Sylvester Dreger; in prison at Alton, Ill., on dis. of regt.



Source: St. Louis Christian Advocate, June 20, 1866

W. L. Reynolds, captured November 1862, died a prisoner at Alton, Illinois.



Source: St. Louis Christian Advocate, July 4, 1866

J. Clark Meadows, died in prison, Alton, Illinois, 1863



Source: St. Louis Christian Advocate, August 22, 1866

John Gossit, died 1862 at Alton, Illinois.

Wilson Hewett, died at Alton, Illinois April 10, 1862.



Source: St. Louis Christian Advocate, September 5, 1866

James Dunn, died at Alton, Illinois in 1862.



Source: St. Louis Christian Advocate, October 10, 1866

Perkins Sims, died at Alton, Illinois May 20, 1862.



Source: General Forrest by James Harvey Mathes

Major G. V. Rambaut was sent to join Major J. P. Strange in prison at Alton, Ill., and was exchanged with him, four or five months later.



Source: First Kentucky Brigade, 1868

John Pendergrast; wounded in battle - supposed to have died in prison at Alton.



Source: The Captured Scout of the Army of the James: A Sketch of the Life of H. H. Manning, 1869

Henry H. Manning; deemed a rebel prison and sent to military prison at Alton, Ill



Source: History of Wyandotte County, Kansas, edited by Perl Wilbur Morgan

Paris Davis; taken prisoner and sent to prison at Alton, Illinois, where he sickened and died in 1863.



Source: The History of the Civil War in America, by John Stevens Cabot Abbott, page 362

Ogilvie Byron Young and a bookmaker from Nashville, who made boots for rebel spies with area in heel of boot to conceal papers; rebels, smugglers and spies



Source: The Commonwealth of Missouri by Chancy Rufus Barns, Alban Jasper Conant, William F. Switzler, George Clinton Swallow, Robert Allen Campbell, William Harris, 1877, page 923

William T. Thornton; eight months confined in the Alton prison, captured at Cassville, exchanged on September 24, 1862.

Jacob A. Love; captured at Helena, Arkansas, taken to Alton, then to Johnson's Island.



Source: Our Women in the War, by News and Courier, Charleston, S.C., page 323

....The next day they received permission to bury them, and from the grave of Major Lundy [in Memphis], his sister was taken to Alton prison.



Source: Publications of the Arkansas Historical Association, 1906,  by John Hugh Reynolds

Livie Bushnell; taken prison at Elk Horn; died in Alton prison.



Source: Crimes of the Civil War, and Curse of the Funding System, 1869,  by Henry Clay Dean

J. C. Moore, son of Col. David Moore of the Federal army; taken prisoner at Helena, Arkansas, July 4, 1863, taken to Alton prison, where "men are kept with ball and chain at work in the street, for mere peccadilloes, where the keepers shot their victims and stabbed them, with all of the indignities usual in the prisons everywhere, which seemed under control of no military, but rather governed by the instigation of the devil."

John M. Weiner, formerly Mayor of St. Louis; arrested in St. Louis, transferred to Alton penitentiary, and from there made his escape. Killed near Springfield, Mo.



Source: Missouri the Center State, by Walter Barlow Stevens, 1915

L. F. Wood; captured near Arkansas line, taken to Alton prison for one year, paroled and returned home.



Source: Personal Record of the Thirteenth Regiment, Tennessee Infantry by Alfred J. Vaughan, 1897

M. J. Stegall; captured and died in Alton prison

William Ellis; captured and died in Alton prison.



Source: Southern Silhouettes by Jeannette H. Walworth, 1887

Joel Harvey; sent to Alton Prison, "There were a lot of fellows there that he knew, men who had been captured as scouts on the battlefield, men who had been picked up by the wayside sick and worn. They were hungry and gaunt, and woe-worn and heart sick. Harvey says he hung his head before them for very shame, because he was neither hungry, nor gaunt, nor heart sick, nor woe-worn. But he did the only thing he could do for them, sold his gold watch, and added materially to their comfort."



Source: History of Linn County, Iowa by Luther Albertus Brewer and Barthinius Larson Wick, 1911

? Granger; convicted of passing counterfeit money in Chicago, sentenced to Alton prison for four years.



Source: General Forrest by James Harvey Mathes, 1902

Major J. P. Strange; sent to Alton Prison and not exchanged for four or five months.

Major G. V. Rambaut; captured and sent to Alton Prison, exchanged with Strange four or five months later.



Source: 14 Letters to a Friend, the Story of the Wartime Ordeal of Capt. De Witt Clinton Fort by Laurier B. McDonald

John S. Jones, MO 2nd Cav., Co. G; captured October 29, 1863, died January 3, 1864 at Alton Prison, buried in Confederate Cemetery, Alton, IL

John K. Moore; released from Alton prison October 1862.

Tom Henry Fort; held at Alton prison June 1862 - September 1862



Source: Genealogy and History of the Related Keyes, North and Cruzen Families by Millard Fillmore Stipes, 1914

Nathaniel Greene North Cruzen; captured by Gen. Jefferson C. Davis, transferred to Alton. Many in his company took the oath of allegiance and were released under parole, but Nathaniel declined to

         do so. After six months he was exchanged at Vicksburg.  Nathaniel's letter from the Alton Prison to Thomas J. Winning:

.....The Saline boys of your acquaintance here are in tolerable health and all anxious to be released on any terms the government may see fit to dictate. I am very much reduced, and think it doubtful, if compelled to remain here much longer, of my being able to keep up. So far I have stood it as well as the most of them....  N. G. Cruzen.

Major Hiram Ferrill; captured December 1861, sent to Alton, exchanged at Vicksburg in 1862.



Source: New York Times, August 7, 1901

William Cecil Price, Treasurer of the United States under President Buchanan, was with Gen. Price at the battle of Pea Ridge and was captured by the Federal forces and confined in the prison at Alton, Ill., until September 1862, when he was exchanged.



Source: A History of Northeast Missouri by Walter Williams, 1908, pg. 58

Eight unknown soldiers, sent to Alton prison in 1861 for burning railroad bridges in Missouri. Sentence was death, but was commuted to imprisonment at Alton.

William W. MacFarlane, taken prison at the battle of Moore's Mill in Missouri. (see quote below)

"As to Macfarlane he was ordered to be taken to the execution ground and an order read to him as follows: In consideration of the noble stand taken for the right by your brother, Captain Macfarlane of the Ninth Missouri State Militia, the commanding general is pleased to order that your life be spared and your sentence commuted to confinement during the war."



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