Rock Island Prison Banner


(1) stockaded prison, (2) prison hospital, (3) pest house,
(4) guard barracks, (5) guard hospital

Situated on a swampy island in the Mississippi River between Davenport, Iowa, and Rock Island, Ill., the westernmost Union prisoner-of-war camp consisted of 84 barracks described by their builder as "put up in the roughest and cheapest manner, mere shanties, with no fine work about them."

The water supply and drainage were deficient, creating a sanitation problem. Yet, even though the new camp was not ready, 5,000 Confederate prisoners were delivered there in December 1863, when the temperature was 32 degrees below zero. The prisoners were immediately beset by a smallpox epidemic that sickened thousands and killed more than 600 within three months.

Perhaps because of the smallpox outbreak and its attendant publicity, conditions improved, with laundries, sewers, and a large hospital being built. Prisoner laborers were paid between five and ten cents per day, allowing them to by food, and packages from home supplemented their clothing allowance. Still, out of the 12,409 men confined during Rock Island's 19-month operation, 1,960 prisoners and 171 guards died from disease.