Monday, September 2, 2013

Military Monday: William Woodson Bowen, Confederate Soldier during the America Civil War

Until recently I was under the belief that Ahab Bowen (my 4th great grandfather) sold his hotel and moved his entire family away from Bolivar, Missouri at the onset of the American Civil War to Dallas, Texas as a way to avoid the fight. I thought that none of his sons fought in the war. Just this past week my theory was proven wrong when I stumbled across Confederate pension records for a son of Ahab Bowen, who also happens to be my 3rd great grandfather! 

William Woodson Bowen fought with the Confederate Army as a sergeant in Company H, 10th Missouri Infantry. He enlisted on 8 August 1862. My interest was piqued to say the least, so I dug a little deeper. William was captured during at the Battle of Helena, Arkansas on 4 July 1863. By 9 July 1863, only five days after being captured on the battlefield, he was received at Alton, Illinois Military Prison. That did not sound so good.

 I am an avid watcher of the TLC show "Who Do You Think You Are?" where they have done a few segments on the horrible conditions of military prisons. I read the history of Alton Military Prison. Conditions in the prison was close to what I had imagined, horrible. It was one of the worst Union prisons. In the winter and spring of 1862-1863 they had a massive small pox epidemic with many of the prisoners dying. Here is an excerpt from a website on the history of Alton during the Civil War:

Conditions in the prison were harsh and the mortality rate was above average for a Union prison. Hot, humid summers and cold Midwestern winters took a heavy toll on prisoners already weakened by poor nourishment and inadequate clothing. The prison was overcrowded much of the time and sanitary facilities were inadequate. Pneumonia and dysentery were common killers but contagious diseases such as smallpox and rubella were the most feared. When smallpox infection became alarmingly high in the winter of 1862 and spring of 1863, a quarantine hospital was located on an island across the Mississippi River from the prison.
Up to 300 prisoners and soldiers died and are buried on the island, now under water. A cemetery in North Alton that belonged to the State of Illinois was used for most that died. A monument there lists 1,534 names of Confederate soldiers that are known to have died. An additional number of civilians and Union soldiers were victims of disease and illness.

I have no idea how long William stayed at Alton. According to his Confederate pension paperwork he had been living in Texas since 1865. Alton Prison was closed on 7 July 1865. Did he spend two years in that prison? If he did, it was a miracle he came out a live! Here is another quote about Alton Prison:

Military Prison, First Illinois state prison, built in the 1850s and denounced by Dorothea Dix as unhygienic. Abandoned as soon as Joliet was completed. Alton opened as a "military detention camp" early in 1862. Severe overcrowding and bad sanitation brought on a smallpox epidemic which killed as many as a dozen Southern prisoners a day. Alton citizens demanded that the sick be removed as a health danger and they were taken to a deserted island in the Mississippi. Several thousand Southern prisoners were buried on the island 1863-64 (an estimate; no records were kept) and many more were buried in Confederate Soldiers' Cemetery in North Alton. There were continual escape attempts. In July 1862, 36 prisoners led by Col. Ebenezer Magoffin of Missouri cut a tunnel through 8 ft of masonry, 50 ft underground, and 3 ft of limestone foundation, and escaped; only 8 were recaptured. The prison was completely demolished shortly after the War.

As a note of interest, William Woodson Bowen was only twenty three years when he was captured. He was married to Mary Jane Goss with two young sons waiting for him at home. It would have been at least three years until William saw his family again. It wasn't until March 1867 that their daughter Clara Alice Bowen was born in Dallas.

The following images are William Woodson Bowen's Confederate Pension application.


  1. My 5 Great Grandfather, Curtis King the oldest man in the Civil War at 80 years old was assigned guard duty at Alton from May 1863 to Dec 1863. Here is a book about the Greybeards. source=bl&ots=FtdKwR58uk&sig=-U6EFypAyN95fBXxsukjjvxYZvs&hl=en&sa=X&ei=2zVuVIivE 4fWoATLtYHgBg&ved=0CFUQ6AEwCA#v=onepage&q=camp%20strong%201862&f=false

  2. Thank you for the tip and the link.

  3. Ahab Bowen is my great-great grandfather. His son, Henry Booker Bowen, was my great-grandfather. My cousin and I have been searching to find the burial site of their two daughters that died in infancy or very young, Minnie and Maude Bowen. Do you have any information regarding this? I know Ahab and his wife are buried in Dallas.

    1. I did not make myself clear on the above. Minnie and Maude Bowen were the daughters of Henry Booker Bowen and Alice Bowen.