It has been said that, "...the first armed skirmish of the Civil War.." occurred in Alton, Illinois.
This event, in November, 1837, was the murder of the outspoken newspaper publisher and abolitionist Elijah Parish Lovejoy by a pro-slavery mob. The murder inflamed northern passions and so polarized northern opinion that future compromise on the issue of slavery became impossible. Nearly thirty years later the words of the thirteenth amendment to the Constitution which abolished slavery were penned by a resident of Alton. A scant few years after emancipation that the first Memorial Day celebration in the United States was held in Alton; the current celebration, beginning in 1868, is the oldest consecutive Memorial Day Parade in the United States.
Alton's heritage is so deep that had the City been south of the Mason-Dixon line it might well be venerated much as communities in the south are to this day. Situated as it is in west-central Illinois, this heritage has become a quiet part of the fabric of a bustling Mississippi River community. From the remains of a prison that housed Confederate soldiers and sympathizers, to buildings housing stops on the underground railroad, Alton has a Civil War heritage that is unmatched by any community north of the Mason-Dixon line.
This page of the Altonweb is the basis for a continuing exploration of a period of nearly thirty five years extending from the Lovejoy murder to the first Memorial Day celebration in the United States. The time line presented sketches in broad strokes that period of time and forms a frame, which in time, will be clothed in the richness of our unique heritage.
1837 - The first prison in Illinois
1837 - Elijah P. Lovejoy
1830's to 1860 - The Underground Railroad
1840's to 1860's - Encampment at Rock Springs - "Pie Town"
1851 - Drill, Fellowship & War - The Alton Jaeger Company
1858 - The Last Lincoln/Douglas Debate
1861 - First Call of the President
1861 - Emptying the St. Louis Arsenal
1861 - The prison Re-opens
1830's to 1870's - Historic Civil War Buildings - Alton in the War Years
1863 - Plague
1865 - Emancipation
1865 to 1870 - Peace and Remembrance
Credits and Contact Information For comments or questions regarding Civil War History in Alton, please use our Information Request Form. Alton Museum of History and Art Alton Historical Society.