Rock Island Rebels in Illinois Confederate Prison
From the collections of the
Kentucky Historical Society
Accession Number 2000PH05.p45
The prison was built in mid 1863, and not yet completed in December 1863 when the first prisoners were incarcerated. 468 Confederate prisoners captured in battles at Chattanooga, Tennessee were the first to arrive, although, over 5000 total would swell the population of Rock Island Prison in that month alone.
There were over 12,000 total prisoners imprisoned at Rock Island during the Civil War. Recorded deaths numbered almost 2000.
Temperatures when prisoners began arriving in December 1863 were below 0 and sanitation was deplorable due to the overcrowding. Disease broke out swiftly, including a smallpox epidemic which killed hundreds of prisoners in the first few months of the prison’s existence. Prisoners were buried next to the prison. In the spring of 1864, the bodies of dead prisoners were moved, a hospital built, and sewers installed. These measures improved health conditions tremendously and ended the smallpox epidemic.
In June 1864, the government ordered rations to be cut at Rock Island, in response to the treatment of Union prisoners at Andersonville. Malnutrition and scurvy resulted from these orders contributing to the death toll of Confederate prisoners at Rock Island Prison.