General Rodman's Plans

General Rodman's plans were submitted to Congress during the session of 1865 and approved. An appropriation was made to begin work on the new buildings; and from that time forward steady progress has been made until now Rock Island Arsenal is the fore-most in the United States.

A portion of the Island had been sold under a special act of Congress. The Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad Company had located their track across the island and built upon its banks the abutments for their bridges. When the Government decided to utilize the island for a permanent and extensive manufacturing depot, it was found necessary to buy out the interests of the private parties and of the railroad company. A commission consisting of General J. M. Scofield, Selden M. Church and James Barnes, was appointed to appraise the lands on the island owned by individuals.

An act of Congress, approved June 27, 1866, appropriated the money necessary to buy out their claims, authorized the relocation of the railroad bridge, and provided for compensating the railroad company for changing its route across the island. The same act made an appropriation to begin work on the development of the waterpower.

Under this and subsequent acts the Government united with the railroad company in the erection of the iron bridge, which served the general purposes until the constitution of the. present magnificent bridge, sharing in the expense and securing a free wagon way in addition to the railroad tracks.

By order of the War Department, in July, 1863, Rock Island was made a military prison for the confinement of Confederate prisoners. During the same month, Captain Charles A. Reynolds, Assistant Quarter-master United States Army, arrived, and commenced building a prison and barracks. The first soldiers for guard duty arrived November 2, 1863. Lieutenant Colonel Schaffner arrived on the 19th of November and took command. On the 22d, Colonel Richard Henry Rush arrived and took command of the post, and Colonel A. J. Johnson was appointed in charge of the prisoners. The first installment of prisoners, taken at the battle of Lookout Mountain, arrived from Chattanooga, December 3, 1863; and from that time until the close of the war a large number of prisoners were kept under a strong guard upon the island. The whole number of prisoners confined here was 12,215; the number of deaths was 1,960. About 500 died of small-pox, many of scurvy, and others of various diseases, chiefly pneumonia. They were put into rough boxes and buried in trenches. The corner-posts of the cemetery where their ashes repose, are composed of cannon taken from the Confederates, planted with their muzzles in the ground, and strung around with chains. Within this enclosure sleep nearly 2,000 Confederate dead. At a few of the graves, friends of the deceased have erected plain headstones, and placed on them a few simple inscriptions. There is also near the head of the island, a Union soldiers' cemetery where 310 graves are enclosed by a neat fence.

On July 11, 1862, Congress passed the act authorizing the establishment of the Arsenal and providing the first funds for beginning the necessary buildings.

Major C. P. Kingsbury, a well known and competent officer of the Ordnance Department, was assigned as' the first commandant and under his direction, a year later, a store-house was erected at the lower or extreme western end of the Arsenal, which, with its tower and clock, has since been a landmark and an object of interest, not merely to the inhabitants of the three cities, but also to all travelers on the main line of the Rock Island road.

In 1865 General Thomas J. Rodman was assigned to the command, and followed in 1871 by General D. W. Flagler, who remained commandant until 1886. To these two officers is mainly due the general plan of the Arsenal as it exists today, with nearly all its principal buildings; their conception of the disposition and arrangement of the ten great shops, with the various subsidiary buildings, was an immense advance over the stereo-typed plan of all arsenal construction of pre-ceding years, and in subsequent developments, in response to great demands upon the Arsenal's resources, has proved most admirably adapted for the purpose for which designed.

These plans as first prepared by Rodman, developed by Flagler, and followed with only slight modifications by their successors, have resulted in the erection, principally .of Joliet stone, of a magnificent equipment of shops, storehouses, barracks, quarters and numerous subsidiary buildings.

The shops comprise ten stone buildings sixty feet wide, built around three sides of a rectangular central court, with fronts two hundred and ten feet and wings three hundred feet long; eight of the shops are of four stories, the other two of only one, but providing in all over thirty acres of floor space. Seven of these buildings are now occupied by machinery, the other three by the raw material for manufacture and by finished stores. There are also two large storehouses and numerous other small buildings for boilers for the heating plant and for lumber, coal, oil, etc., for officer's quarters, soldiers' barracks and for the many other necessities of a large government manufacturing establishment.

One of these storehouses replaced an earlier structure destroyed by fire with its contents was only completed in the spring of 1905. It is most recently erected of all the main buildings of the Arsenal.

For many years the commandant's quarters and three others of stone have provided accommodations for the' assistant officers, but within the last few years two attractive buildings of more modern design, one frame and the other of yellow brick, have been erected at the eastern end of Terrace Road, forming a most attractive addition to the residential district of the Arsenal, and during the present year, the old buildings, relics of the Civil War, used for many years as a hospital and as stables, have been replaced by attractive and convenient modern structures.

In May, 1886, Colonel T. G. Baylor, Ordnance Department, succeeded General Flagler as commandant. He was followed three years later by Colonel J. M. Whittemore and he, in 1892, by General A. R. Buffington, who continued in command for five years. Under these officers the main buildings were carried to completion, manufactures prosecuted at a moderate scale, and under the latter, the present magnificent bridge from the Arsenal to Davenport erected.

The island is connected with the three neighboring cities by bridges built and owned by the Government and maintained and guarded by the Arsenal, and by its own track with the railways that reach them. The bridge from the Arsenal to the City of Davenport is the third bridge provided for railway and subsequently for general traffic. Of the first nothing now remains but a vine-covered stone pier about a quarter of a mile above the present structure. It was the pioneer bridge across the Mississippi river from its mouth to its source and was completed fifty-two years ago, being used by the Rock Island railroad until October, 1872, when a bridge upon the present location was finished. Twenty-four years later this latter bridge, having proved insufficient for the traffic to which it was subjected, the present magnificent structure was finished. Its total length is 1,550 feet, divided into five spans and one draw. It is double decked, with a double railroad track above and double street car track and wagon bridge be-low. The traffic across this bridge is now much greater than formerly and is an indication of the growth of population in the cities of Rock Island and Davenport, which it objects. Now it is at the rate of about 40,000 engines annually, over 80,000 passenger cars, and 340,000 freight cars. In addition over 450,000 teams and nearly 1,000,000 pedestrians.

Only about 1,000 steamboats passed up and the same number down and the traffic through the draw of barges and rafts has decreased year by year.

A trolley line also crosses the bridge and is traversed during the year by over 100,000 street cars. A branch of this line was some years ago extended from Fort Armstrong Avenue, crossing the western end of the is-land, for about a mile up to the shops and extending beyond across the branch of the river at the south of the island to the neigh-boring City of Rock Island. It was built in response to petitions from Arsenal workmen for their accommodation and under a special revocable license granted by the Secretary of War for that purpose. It is not available for general traffic from Davenport to Rock Island, nor from either city to the Arsenal, being reserved solely for use of the employes.

In March, 1897, Captain Stanhope E. Blunt, Ordnance Department, was appointed commandant and through successive pro-motions to Major, Lieutenant-Colonel and Colonel, the. latter grade being given-in June, 1906, has through more than ten years' continued in command.

Colonel Blunt's administration has been marked by great expansion in the Arsenal's facilities for manufacturing war material; over $1,200,000 worth of modern machinery being installed in the shops, and the power transmission system changed from the antiquated wire rope transmission of the water power to a modern hydro-electric plant of amply capacity for the Arsenal's needs.

The island, containing nearly 1,000 acres, is irregular in shape, about two and one-half miles long and three-fourths of a mile across at its widest part.

The main channel of the Mississippi river passes between the island and the Iowa shore, a much narrower branch separating it from the Illinois bank. Across this smaller stream, a short distance above the shops, a masonry dam has been constructed producing, in con-sequence of the reach of rapids opposite and above the island, a water power of ample capacity; having a head of from seven and one-half to eleven feet, according to the stage of the river, and on the dam, operated by twenty turbines, have been installed three alternating current generators of 1,650 kilowat total capacity, with the accompanying exciters, switchboard, etc., required for their operation.

The building housing this installation, with generators, shafting and all other incidental machinery, has been completed, not only in a substantial but in a highly ornamental manner, rendering the power house not only one of the most interesting objects for visitors to the Arsenal, but also from its appearance one of the most attractive.

At present nearly 3,000 horse-power is thus provided, which can be increased, if it should ever prove necessary, by utilizing pen-stocks on the dam now occupied, and installing the corresponding additional electrical machinery.

None of the navy yards or other arsenals possess this combination of ample water power and electrical transmission, and the development of the power plant to its present really magnificent condition, permitting the greatest economy, with also the greatest facility and convenience of operation, is one of the principal distinguishing features of the Rock Island Arsenal.,

Several years ago Congress made a preliminary appropriation for the necessary machinery for manufacture of small arms at the Arsenal, following it at the next session with a sufficient sum to permit the installation of a plant that should turn out about two hundred and fifty finished rifles per day.

The complete establishment of the plant required a material increase in the power provided and also its transmission to the new armory; it also included the completion of three of the large shops, with elevators, a steam heating plant, lavatory conveniences, work benches for employes, rooms for fore-men and inspectors, and the introduction of the. many minor but essential appliances requisite for economical and efficient operation, including even tunnels connecting the basement floors of the different shops, which afford passage for the heating pipes, fuel oil pipes, electric power and lighting wires, and for small trolley cars for transportation between buildings of the various components of of the rifles in the different stages of their manufacture.

In this small-arms plant and in the shops of the southern row over 2,400 machines of a great variety are disposed, with the shafting for their operation and the necessary benches, and the other numerous appliances requisite for their occupancy by workmen. Operation of the shops upon the scale now required for the manufacture of gun carriages, equipments, small arms, etc., employs at present about 2,000 men, at a monthly charge for wages of from $125,000 to $130,000. If compared with its operation ten years ago it will be observed that four times as many men are now employed as at the earlier date and that the monthly wages are about five times greater. The annual tonnage of receipts and issues is also five times greater than in 1897. The total expenditures at the Arsenal in the fiscal year 1897 for all purposes amounted to $683,000; while for the last three fiscal years it has averaged nearly $4,000,000 annually.

The Arsenal upon the scale now operated provides the soldiers' ordnance equipment for an army of 60,000 men, and is besides constantly adding to the reserve supply. By merely taking on additional employes it could, without delay, increase its output to meet the demands of an army of half a mil-lion men, and by adding additional machinery, for which necessary space and power has been provided and its disposition arranged for, and also the employes for its operation, this output could be still further immensely increased.

Besides the saddle in all its parts, beginning with the lumber used in the saddletree, the bridle, saddlebags, rifle scabbard, halter, horse-brush, cartridge box, saber belt, and many other articles included under the general designation of infantry, cavalry and horse equipment, are also made. The haversack, canteen, cup, meat can, knife, fork and spoon, of duck and other material, which constitute the soldiers' more personal equipment, and of metal the bits, spurs, picket pin, etc., which he also uses, are included in the manufactures.

Many sets of artillery harness are annually made and also the numerous parts and general supplies pertaining thereto. Also pack outfits for mountain artillery by means of which guns, their carriages and ammunition are carried on mule back.

The Arsenal has recently completed some six-inch barbette carriages for seacoast forts and for four years past has been regularly engaged in the manufacture of a large number of the new three-inch field gun carriages, model of 1902, with the accompanying limbers, caissons, battery wagons, and their tools, implements, etc. This is of itself a most important work, requiring the services of a number of the best mechanics, and would alone be deemed elsewhere a sufficient task for many an establishment, though at Rock Island it comprises, as stated only a. portion of the manufacturing work.

In order that the field artillery carriages manufactured at the Arsenal may be tested before issue to develop any unknown defects if they should exist, all such material is . proof fired at grounds specially laid out for that purpose at the upper or eastern end of the island. This included . a large timber and sand butt into which the projectiles are shot. and, which is of such dimensions that they cannot emerge therefrom. The many additional instruments for determining the velocity of the projectile, velocity of recoil of parts of the carriage, or pressure of the powder charge in the bore, and other features necessary to give the constructing officer of ordnance the information which he needs. in de-signing other material, or in verifying the correctness of the design undergoing proof, are also installed in special structures erected at the proving ground for their reception. With these buildings is included an observation tower permitting by its use a river range for firing up the river of approximately 6,500 yards and enabling these carriages to be tested and proof fired under an. elevation.

The Arsenal also makes the wooden targets of different designs and all the paper targets, steel silhouette frames, and pasters used in target practice, as well as the insignia indicating the soldiers' classification in markmanship, and the various insignia on saddle cloths, rosettes on bridles, and similar ornamental jewelers' work.

In its armory shops the daily output for several years past has been from one hundred to one hundred and twenty-five finished magazine rifles per day, an industry. in itself of greater magnitude than that of the army's other small arm factory until within very recent years.

Besides its manufactures the Arsenal is also the distributing. point to all parts in the middle west for the product of other arsenals and of the private establishments from which the government purchases.

The total cost of the Arsenal from its establishment to July 1, 1907, including the erection of the permanent buildings, the acquisition, development and later improvement of the water power, the large bridge across the Mississippi, and the smaller ones to the Illinois shore, and the purchase and installation of the machinery in the shops, under the different commandants is as follows:

Major C. P. Kingsbury, 1863-65, $231,384.-72; General T. J. Rodman, 1865-71, $2,302,-626.30; General D. W. Flagler, 1871-86, $4,982,481.45; Colonel T. G. Baylor, 1886-89, $663,450.00; Colonel J. M. Whittemore, 1889-92, $377,318.48; General A. R. Buffington, 1892-97, $477,375.50; Colonel S. E. Blunt, 1897-07, $2,051,198.88; total, $11,085,835.33.

The total disbursement for labor has been $17,213,056.90 since the establishment of the Arsenal. to July 1, 1907.

During the first twenty-five years, or up to the conclusion of General Flagler's administration, construction of buildings, bridges, roads, etc., and the earlier steps in development of water power formed the principal work, the very limited amount of machinery which had been installed, being operated to only a moderate extent and the disbursements, including wages, being mainly in connection with building construction.

In the second period, continuing until about the time of the Spanish War, construction except for the rebuilding of the bridge from the Arsenal to Davenport, nearly ceased, while the manufacturing operations of the Arsenal continued at a slightly increasing but still very moderate extent.

The third period embraces the great in-crease in amount and variety of manufacture, including that of small arms, and accompanying expansion of plant, with some incidental building operations, commencing in the latter part of 1897, during the first year of the administration of Colonel Blunt, slightly before the earlier days of the Spanish War, and continuing to the present date.

Senator Allison, to whose faith and interest in the Arsenal must be largely ascribed the generous appropriations granted during many years past for its construction and development, is quoted as saying that "Rock Island Arsenal, during the few months of the late Spanish War, more than returned in advantage to the country the great cost of its construction; and unquestionably in a war of any magnitude and duration this cost would again be repaid many fold.

The Arsenal from March, 1897 to August, 1907, was commanded by Colonel Stanhope E. Blunt, Ordnance Department. The other officers are now Majors Babbitt, Thompson and Burr; Captains Gallup and Hillman and Contract Surgeon Craig. The garrison is a detachment of one hundred soldiers of the Ordnance Department,

Commencing in the spring of 1907, the superstructure of the old truss bridge, over Sylvan Water, connecting the Island with the Illinois shore, was removed, for the preparation of the new viaduct concrete bridge. The old four stone piers, with two abutments, were used in the new substructure, and owing to the girder style of construction of the new bridge, four new concrete piers were built. The new viaduct bridge was designed by Ralph Modjeski, the noted architectural engineer, and built under the supervision of the war department; the contractors being Bayne and Hewett of Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Its construction represents an expenditure by the government of $125,000, with $1600 additional, for widening the causeway, between the bridge and Fort Armstrong Avenue, and bridge sidewalks. The Tri-City Railway Company, assuming the cost of the brick cemented driveway, trolley poles, and new tracks, amounting to $10,000; making a total cost of $136,600. The new bridge was opened for street car and passenger traffic December 12, 1907; opened for general traffic, December 18, 1907, and was accepted by the government, January 16, 1908.

The width of the structure is twenty feet between curbs, with two sidewalks, each six feet.

The incline approach from the City of Rock Island side consists of the original stone wall one hundred and twenty-four feet long; the new concrete wall, joining same, extending to railroad track abutment, is one hundred and seventy .feet long. The bridge proper consists of eleven spans, making a length of 801.1 feet, and total length with approach approximately 1096 feet. The solidity of the entire structure is evident in every detail.

The present commandant (1885) of the Island, is Colonel S. E. Hobbs.

 

 Rock Island Arsenal

 

Source: Historic Rock Island County, pub. Kramer & Company, Rock Island, Illinois, 1908

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