Updated date:

Pics of Rock Island Army Arsenal in Illinois: Civil War History with a Confederate Cemetery

I live in Houston and have worked as a nurse. I have a lifelong passion for traveling, nature, and photography (preferably all together!).

Tanks rumbling past us the day we were visiting Rock Island Arsenal

Tanks rumbling past us the day we were visiting Rock Island Arsenal

Rock Island Arsenal

In the year 1990 when visiting my aunt and uncle in Bettendorf, Iowa my mother, niece and I were taken to Rock Island, Illinois for a day of educational sightseeing.

Rock Island and Moline, Illinois join Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa as the group forming the so-called Quad Cities in the midwest portion of our country. Rock Island houses an active U.S. Army Arsenal.

This island sits sandwiched between the mighty Mississippi River and the Rock River.

The beautiful white limestone buildings on Rock Island were built in the 1800s for the most part. One building I noticed had the date 1867 inscribed onto the edifice. The stone came from nearby sources.

These limestone buildings are all a part of the U.S. Army Munitions and Chemical Command.

Photograph of a photograph in possession of Rock Island Arsenal Historical Office.

Photograph of a photograph in possession of Rock Island Arsenal Historical Office.

At the time of our visit, we were informed that this was the third largest active arsenal in the United States.

About 6,000 people are employed here manufacturing equipment as well as ordinance for our military forces on this 946 acre island.

If one wants to delve a bit further into the history of this particular site, there is the Rock Island Arsenal Museum which was originated in 1905. Over 1100 weapons are on display. Some of these weapons that can be viewed are domestic as well as foreign.

Besides weaponry, one can learn much about the building of Fort Armstrong which was originally on the island until it was destroyed by fire in 1855.

The Black Hawk War between Indians and the ever enlarging United States (at that period of time) is portrayed in the museum.

Replica of a blockhouse at Fort Armstrong on Arsenal Island in Rock Island, Illinois.

Replica of a blockhouse at Fort Armstrong on Arsenal Island in Rock Island, Illinois.

More information regarding the Confederate Prison Camp which was located here during the years 1863 to 1865 of the Civil War can be learned.

The people involved and the manufacturing processes from the past are also depicted in the Rock Island Arsenal Museum.

We were walking the grounds while we were viewing the Confederate grave markers, when suddenly the ground started to reverberate and we soon found out the reason. We heard them and felt them under our feet before we actually saw the tanks that started to roll past us on some military exercise. The deep rumbling sound accompanies the earth shaking experience.

This was a new piece of personally acquired knowledge for me! There would be no doubt during any kind of warfare involving the use of tanks that the opposing force would readily know when these noisy and heavy tanks were approaching. In other words there would be no chance of a stealth attack!

The photos below show some of the tanks and other equipment available for up-close viewing. The history of warfare comes alive when seeing these sinister looking appliances adorning the grounds of Rock Island Arsenal.

Fort Armstrong and Black Hawk

Fort Armstrong was one of the original frontier posts that were built after the war of 1812. At times the population of the fort was decimated by diseases like cholera which ran unchecked in those days. A fire finally destroyed the fort in 1855.

A historical plaque has been erected marking the site of Fort Armstrong on Rock Island.

The Black Hawk War ended in 1832 between the Sauk and Fox Indians and the United States government who desired the lands the Indians had occupied.

Black Hawk was a famous Indian War Chief.

The Treaty of Fort Armstrong was agreed to on this site and the Indians gave up land west of the Mississippi River (some 6 million acres!) and ceded it to the United States.

After gaining much notoriety and being taken to Washington, D.C. to meet with President Andrew Jackson of the United States, Black Hawk along with his tribe retired peacefully and lived out the rest of their lives on a reservation in Iowa.

But prior to that he was paraded through much of the northeast as an oddity. Many white people had never previously seen an Indian!

Black Hawk was an interesting person and we have the benefit of many portraits and books written about his life. He is even credited with authoring the very first autobiography by an American Indian.

The famous Indian, Black Hawk, will continue to be known because today many schools and other buildings are named after this most historic of figures in American history.

Cemeteries on Rock Island

During the time of the Civil War, many Confederate prisoners of war were sent to the detention camp on Rock Island where they were held until the end of the war.

Conditions were quite primitive in the beginning as prisoners started arriving before the camp was fully set up and operational. As time progressed more things were put into place for sanitary reasons, housing, etc.

A total of about 12,000 prisoners were detained there and almost 2,000 of them did not survive to leave when the war was ended.

Much of this was due to disease, but part of it was due to deprivation of food as "punishment" for how the Union soldiers were treated in another camp. Inhumane efforts on the part of the Confederates holding Union prisoners of war spilled over to equally bad treatment of their own comrades who were imprisoned once this became known. "Tit for tat" as the old saying goes or from the biblical saying "An eye for an eye."

Because of this there is not only a Veteran's Cemetery on Rock Island for about 18,000 soldiers who served the United States, but there is also a Confederate Cemetery in a separate section of Rock Island that is equally well maintained.

This is were we were walking when the tanks rolled by with their thunderous presence.

One interesting note: When looking at the Confederate grave markers we noticed the points on the tops of the markers. Supposedly that was intentional in order to keep Union soldiers from being able to sit comfortably on top of the gravestones!

Rock Island Golf Course

The military base on Rock Island has a nice looking golf course and what makes this one a bit unusual are the golf tees.

They have red and white golf tees shaped like bullets!

Lock and Dam Visitor Center on Rock Island

Lock and Dam # 15 is fifteenth in a chain of twenty-seven similar locks and dams starting in St. Paul, Minnesota and running down to Granite City, Illinois. About 60,000 people annually visit this site and there is no entrance fee.

There are exhibits regarding the Mississippi River and the United States Army Corps of Engineers' part in the construction and maintenance of these sites.

One can readily view the operation of the locks as ships regularly pass through this part of the mighty Mississippi River. The Iowa and the Illinois sides of the river can easily be viewed from this perspective.

I hope you enjoyed your visit to this particular area of the country (via this post) and learned a little history. If you liked this, please leave a comment.

Rock Island Arsenal with the huge display of military machines and weaponry along with the beautifully kept cemeteries will reside in my memory along with the interesting history that accompanies that location for some time.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2009 Peggy Woods

Comments are welcomed.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 16, 2016:

Hi Robert,

Will have to take a look. Thanks!

Robert Sacchi on May 10, 2016:

There is a Hub about a Confederate Cemetary in Lynchburg, VA. The author is Don Bobbitt.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 09, 2016:

Hi Robert,

I will have to start paying attention to see if all Confederate gravestones are pointed at the top. Interesting that they are also pointed in Arlington National Cemetery. Thanks for that information.

Robert Sacchi on May 07, 2016:

A very interesting article about Rock Island. In Arlington National Cemetary the Confederate headstones are also pointed.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 23, 2012:

Hi Don,

I just added the link to your hub into mine also. I really liked learning more about that swinging bridge & the tie to history...even Abraham Lincoln! Rock Island is certainly a historical & interesting area! Thanks for your comment. Appreciate it!

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on May 22, 2012:

Hi Peggy,

I've just written a hub about the Government Bridge on the Rock Island arsenal. I'm putting in a link to your hub here.


Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on May 13, 2012:

Hi Billy,

Nice to see you again commenting. Were you familiar with the Rock Island Arsenal? It is quite a place where people not only work, but live and play. The tees on that golf course we saw were certainly unique.

billyaustindillon on May 13, 2012:

Peggy it has been a while since I have been on here and here are on the first story - as always a great article. Thanks for the history lesson on the civil war.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 02, 2010:

Hi dahoglund,

I rearranged the title making it flow a little better. Rock Island's U.S. Army Arsenal in Illinois is quite the scenic place as well as historic. Thanks for linking to your hub...going there now to read it. It would seem as you say that one thing always leads to another...no lack of subject matter of which to write. Will look for a Black Hawk hub from you in the future.

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on July 02, 2010:

I did a hub on Fort Armstrong and linked to your hub. I'm afraid one thing always leads to another. Now I'll probably have to do one on Black Hawk. He tends to dominate the Illinois Quad cities

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 25, 2010:

Hi dahoglund,

Thanks for the link to this Rock Island Army Arsenal hub. Will look forward to reading your lastest hub. In the body of one of my hubs I linked to your Volkswagon adventure hub...no longer remember which hub. At the top of each hub there is a link to "suggest links." Words in the hub are highlighted and one can choose from an assortment. It is an easy way to link fellow hubpage writers together and this helps each of us. Or of course, one can always do it individually also using the add link feature. Going to your hub now...

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on June 24, 2010:

Hi Peggy w

I just published a hub on about the murder of Colonel davenport.I put a link to your hub here, since it is related to Rock Island The Davenport House is one of the tourist attraction.I don't completely have a handle on linking, The Title of my hub is"Murder of a frontiersman:Colonel George Davenport.

I may do a couple of others related to Rock Island depending on how the research goes.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 07, 2010:

Hello dahoglund,

I think that the perspective of you writing about the Rock Island Army Arsenal in Illinois would be great. Not only did you work there but with your love of history, you would add some great additional information. We could then link our hubs together. Mine was written more from the perspective of being a tourist with a little history thrown in. I know yours would be wonderful just from your comment.

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on June 07, 2010:

Peggy W

I was going to write about the Rock Island Arsena myself but you did it before I was even on hubpages, I think.It is where I worked for 20 years before retiring. Well you probably did a better job than I would, anyhow.

If you remember where the clock-tower is,I was told that Robert E. Lee had proposed a prison be built there. However, it ended up in Leavenworth, Kansas instead. Also Abe Lincoln was there, I've been told, when he was a private chasing Blackhawk.The area has an interesting North and south history. It has been said that there were two underground railroads-- one to smuggle slave to the North and another to smuggle confederate prisoners back south.

The organizations there are a bit confusing, even if you were there a long time. The Rock Island Arsenal is a manufacturing facility and essentially owns the place. I won't go into the names of all the organizations but most of os were "tenant" facilities, and may not even be there now. Usually employees would just say the worked at the arsenal, which saved a lot of explanation but was not precisely true.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 22, 2010:

Hello Nan,

Thanks for the comment on this Army Arsenal at Rock Island, Illinois. As you say the Civil War scars run deep and hurt many families some of which were torn into two different camps. Graveyards over much of America are still there to tell the tale.

Nan on April 22, 2010:

You have done a lot of research. Again, the Corp of Engineers oversee all of the waterway here, and they operate under the Dept. of Defense. Civil War times were very bitter and some have not forgotten the fighting that took place during the civil war.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 09, 2009:

Hello guru_onizuka,

Would be wonderful!

Thanks for visiting my Rock Island hub and leaving a comment.

guru_onizuka on August 09, 2009:

peace forever

guru_onizuka on August 09, 2009:

peace forever

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 28, 2009:

Hi shamelabboush, The prime focus of our trip was visiting my aunt and uncle and we were able to stay with them. While there, they were nice enough to show us some of the interesting things in their area.

I have more to come from that visit... Thanks for commenting.

shamelabboush on June 28, 2009:

A quite nice place to visit really... Your life looks amazing Peggy W for visiting all those wonderful places.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 27, 2009:

Hi Ethel,

Yes, the setting is gorgeous! My other Rock Island hub regarding "Fall Foliage in a Dead Zone" shows the beauty of this area at that time of year. Thanks for the comment.

Ethel Smith from Kingston-Upon-Hull on June 27, 2009:

It looks an interesting place to visit. The bonus is the setting looks great also

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 26, 2009:

Hi Melody,

Thanks for your complimentary comment. This may not be as scenic as many of my travel hubs, but is interesting for those that like U.S. history. Always nice to hear from you.

Melody Lagrimas from Philippines on June 26, 2009:

Another great hub, Peggy, thanks for introducing this place to me.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 26, 2009:

Hi Candie, As you say, history is very interesting. I enjoy it so much more as an adult than I ever did as a child in school. Always hated being tested on dates and such. LOL

Glad you enjoyed this tour and thanks for commenting.

Candie V from Whereever there's wolves!! And Bikers!! Cummon Flash, We need an adventure! on June 26, 2009:

What beautiful grounds! History is a facinating subject. You really have to "specialize" and spend a lifetime to understand all the facets of each battle. Thank you for taking us on this tour!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 26, 2009:

Hi Pete,

Feeling those tanks vibrating the earth under my feet was most amazing to me! All this weaponry is probably very interesting to those people who have served in the armed forces. To me, much of it looks very sinister...especially knowing the damage that it has probably inflicted at some point in time. Guess we need it...but wish we did not.

Pete Maida on June 26, 2009:

They have some vintage weapons on display. I was to Ft. Sill in Oklahoma when my step-son was stationed there. That's the home of the artillery and they had some good stuff on display there also.

Related Articles