The Civil War in Missouri

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Gratiot Street Prison Key

ca. 1861-1865
MHM Collections

This large iron key locked one of the doors of the Gratiot Street Prison, the largest military prison in St. Louis during the Civil War. It had previously been the McDowell Medical College, but was confiscated by Federal authorities after the school’s founder, Dr. Joseph McDowell, fled South to join the Confederacy. Gratiot Street Prison confined not only Confederate soldiers, but also political prisoners and Union soldiers accused of desertion and other crimes. As it was not designed to be a prison, the facility faced serious problems including disease, overcrowding, and prisoner escape. It operated from December 1861 until the end of the war.