Rock Island Confederate Cemetery is located just 2,500 yards northwest of Rock Island National Cemetery in Rock Island, Illinois. During the Civil War, the federal government established a prison on Rock Island to ease the crowded conditions at other prisons in the Midwest. The first prisoners, taken at the Battle of Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, arrived from Chattanooga in December 1863. In a little over two years more than 12,000 prisoners passed through the gates of the prison. As in many other prisons on both sides of the war, smallpox and other diseases presented a significant problem at Rock Island. Located in a low-lying area, the prison suffered from a lack of drainage, which contributed to the unhealthy living conditions. Over the course of the war, hundreds of Confederates died from disease and exposure.
Two separate cemeteries were developed on the island, one for Confederates and one for Union soldiers who served as prison guards. The latter became Rock Island National Cemetery after the war.
As early as January 1864, rumors began to circulate regarding the conditions at Rock Island. Critics of the camp began to refer to it as the “Andersonville of the North.” When burials in the Confederate cemetery were discontinued on July 11, 1865, interments totaled approximately 1,950. Smallpox and pneumonia accounted for most of the deaths in the prison.
After the war, the federal government transferred all the extant prison structures—including the barracks, hospital, and garrison building—to the Rock Island Arsenal. Subsequently, all of the buildings associated with the prison have been destroyed. Today, Rock Island Confederate Cemetery is the last vestige of the Rock Island Confederate prison.
The Rock Island Arsenal, including Rock Island Confederate Cemetery, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1969.
Monuments and Memorials
A granite obelisk on a block base was dedicated on Nov. 2, 2003, at the entrance to the cemetery by a local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Engraved in the front of the block is “In Memory of the Confederate Veterans Who Died at the Rock Island Prison Camp. May They Never Be Forgotten…”
There are four 12-lb Confederate artillery monuments within Rock Island Confederate Cemetery.