Looking for Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln’s presence in Alton can still be seen today – literally.

The Lincoln-Douglas Square, site of the last debate between Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, features statues of both figures engaged in a spirited discussion, one of the many reminders of Lincoln’s ties to the Great Rivers & Routes area.

The Lincoln-Douglass Square is also the stepping-off point of the Lincoln & Civil War Legacy Trail, a journey through the Alton area to see the places he stayed, paths he walked and sites he visited.

It’s all here in one of the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area’s gateways to the influential Illinois politician. Happy exploring!

Plan Your Trip

Lincoln — Douglas Square

The final senatorial debate between Stephen A. Douglas and Abraham Lincoln took place in front of Alton's city hall at the corner of Broadway and Market Streets in 1858.

The debate itself drew national attention and more than 6,000 people gathered in downtown Alton for the event.

That moment in time is forever frozen in time at the Lincoln-Douglas Square. Lifesize bronze statues depict the two men intensely debating the issues of the time.

Lincoln-Shields Duel

A member of the Illinois State Legislature at the time, Lincoln criticized Illinois Auditor James Shields' method of collecting taxes. Pretending to be a widow from the "Lost Townships," Lincoln wrote a series of letters to the editor of the Sangamon Journal making satirical allusions to Shields. Mary Todd and her friend Julia Jayne joined in the ruse by writing a letter containing vicious personal attacks, calling Shields a fool and liar. Shields challenged Lincoln to a duel when he learned of Lincoln's complicity in the letter writing. Feeling the entire situation ludicrous, Lincoln nonetheless followed custom and chose an island across the river from Alton as the site for the duel on September 22, 1842, with "Calvary broadswords of the largest size" as the weapons of choice. As Lincoln's long arms swung the broad- sword at a branch on a nearby willow tree, Shields wisely decided to settle the disagreement like gentlemen. The site marker can be found along the riverwalk, across from the Riverfront Amphitheater, looking out on the Mississippi River.

Lincoln & Civil War Legacy Trail

Walk with us and experience Alton's lasting legacies that shaped the history of America as you visit 10 Lincoln and Civil War sites in Alton.

Begin your journey with Lincoln at the famous Lincoln-Douglas Square where the last of the great debates took place. Walk in the footsteps of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, and Civil War soldiers from both North and South. Experience the life of young Lincoln as a lawyer, duelist and orator. It was here that the final Lincoln-Douglas Debate took place, with the issue of slavery on the minds spectators. It was here that Confederate soldiers were held captive, died and were buried. It was here that Alton resident and U.S. Senator Lyman Trumbull authored the 13th Amendment, putting an end to slavery in the United States.

Trail guides are available at the Alton Visitors Center at 200 Piasa Street in Downtown Alton.

National Cemetery

Fought on American soil, the Civil War was the deadliest war in American history. More than three million men fought in this “war between the states” that claimed the lives of more than 620,000 soldiers. An estimated 263 Union soldiers are buried in Alton’s National Cemetery. The men either died of disease at the Alton Hospital or onboard steamboats passing up the Mississippi River.

Smallpox Island

During the Civil War, a temporary tented area and wooden hospital on a Missouri island named Sunflower Island comprised the first hospital for patients of smallpox from the military prison at Alton. Patients who died of smallpox were buried on the island in the vicinity of the hospital. Today, a monument marks the grave site of the 260 Confederate prisoners buried near this site. The site also marks the location of the infamous "Lincoln-Shields Duel" of 1842.