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One of my favorite trips I've taken to tour and research old military sites has to have been to the Rock Island Arsenal. Having seen so much equipment, weapons, and information regarding this legendary arsenal, it was a great treat to visit and see what was still remaining on this small little island in the middle of the Mississippi River.
The island is located near the Illinois side of the Mississippi river, just north of Moline and it's next door neighbor, Rock Island. On the north side are the two corresponding Iowa cities of Davenport and Bettendorf. The first military presence on the island was in 1816, when the small fort called Fort Armstrong was built near the western tip of the island. This fort was maintained until the end of the Black Hawk war in 1832, when it was no longer needed, soon falling into ruin. The site was uncovered and restored, and is a historic site of nearly complete uselessness (my personal opinion there!).
In 1862, Congress passed legislation authorizing the building of several new arsenals, including the one on Rock Island - construction of this arsenal did not begin until 1865. The island did house nearly 12, 000 Confederate prisoners from 1863 through 1865. A separate cemetery for the dead from this prison is located near the middle of the island, were it is kept in good condition. The wide-angle view above does not do this large field justice - for the visitor, you can walk down the entry to a weather-protected podium where a binder is kept that holds a graves locator, in case you wish to find a particular person or grave. There are more than 1,700 soldiers buried here.
For the artillery fan, Rock Island Arsenal is a real treat with many rare and unusual U.S. and captured guns mounted around the island, and the Confederate Cemetary is no exception. Standing in honor at the entrance are four captured Confederate bronze gun-tubes.
Construction of the arsenal began immediately after the Civil War ended, with the foundation laying of massive workshops and support buildings and warehouses. At the same time, the demobilization of the Civil War armies and disarmament of the southern states resulted in absolutely huge quantities of cannon and related ordnance (shot, shells, etc.) being shipped to Rock Island for permanent storage and (what we today would call) recycling.
One of the interesting things you'll see at Rock Island Arsenal is the many pieces of intricate and strangely detailed and decorative ironwork. While the era in which this arsenal was built was indeed victorian, the level of decoration and apparently frivolous embellishments given simple ironwork fencing, bannisters and balistrades, and light fixtures. At one time, much of the large National Cemetary on the island was fenced with this intricate oak leaf, vine and tree-trunk motif ironwork. While much of it was recycled during WWI and especially WWII, quite a bit still remains. On questioning the museum staff about this, it was explained that much of the old ordnance was melted down to provide the internal structural ironwork for the buildings and shops. Since the stonework took so much time, and there was so much scrap iron about the place - the foundry workers took great pains to make the best and most attractive products with the large amounts of time and materials they had.