U. S. Army Rock Island Arsenal
Rock Island, IL

Photos/text this page courtesy of Lee Hohenstein, Omaha, NE
For any use of these photos contact

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1. Rock Island Arsenal Garrison
2. Rock Island Arsenal Museum
3. Rock Island Arsenal - Wikipedia
4. Rock Island Nat Cem, Arsenal, and Confederate POW Camp

On an island in the Mississippi River between Iowa and Illinois sits a little-known piece of Civil War history that is still active today and is a National Historic Landmark. An act of Congress established the Rock Island Arsenal in 1862 and today it is the nation's largest government owned and operated arsenal.
The island also housed the Rock Island Prison Barracks, a Confederate prison camp which existed from December 1863 to July 1865. It was located on a twelve acre site on the north central shore of the island. The prison consisted of 84 wood framed barracks surrounded by a 12-foot high fence. Barracks and out buildings were also provided for the Union guards, headquarters buildings and a hospital complex.
A total of 12,192 Confederate prisoners were held at the camp with 8,954 the highest number held at any given time. A total of 1,964 prisoners died here and are buried in the Confederate cemetery.
The Rock Island National Cemetery (not pictured) was established in 1863 as the post cemetery for Union prison guards whose graves ultimately numbered 125. Subsequent burials have brought the cemetery to 70 acres and some 29,000 burials.
The Arsenal Museum also holds an artifact from 1856 which involved Abraham Lincoln as shown in pictures 16 and 17.
Following the Civil War the Rock Island Arsenal employees cleaned, repaired and shipped Civil War-era infantry, cavalry and artillery equipment to support troops on the western frontier.
Courtesy of Lee Hohenstein


(October 2007) Entrance gate to Arsenal Island

(October 2007) Enlarge  Overview of the prison barracks



(October 2007) The first Confederate prisoners arrive from Tennessee battles
When the first prisoners arrived on the island ninety-four cases of smallpox were discovered among them. The prison hospital had not been constructed and disease spread rapidly through the ranks of both prisoners and guards. It was only after the sick were isolated and the sanitation improved in March 1864 that the death rate began to decline

(October 2007) Enlarge  The Garrison Hospital


(October 2007) Enlarge Sample of hardtack from the prison bakery -a baked mixture of flour, salt and water that was so hard it could break teeth


(October 2007) Enlarge Population and Mortality Record

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