Rock Island Arsenal and Prison Camp

Great River Trail

Military & War Native American History

View from the North towards the entrance to the National Cemetery; this section is reserved for Union soldiers.

Before the appearance of European settlers, Rock Island was already home to the Sauk and Meskwaki peoples, who used the island for farming and the surrounding Mississippi River for fur trading. [1] Black Hawk, a Sauk warrior, noted in his autobiography that the island was considered sacred to the Sauk people. He continued to say that the European American settlement and construction of Fort Armstrong in the early 1800s had disrupted the island’s good spirit and drove it away. [2]

By the Civil War (1861–1865), Indigenous residents had been displaced across the Mississippi River, leaving land for the Union Army to hastily construct the Arsenal Confederate Prison Camp. This prisoner of war camp held thousands of captured Confederate soldiers from 1863 to 1865. Due to lack of food, warm shelter and sanitation, nearly 2,000 prisoners lost their lives during the camp’s two years of operations. Just south of the camp, the bodies of these prisoners were laid to rest in the Rock Island Confederate Cemetery. [3]

Now known as Arsenal Island, much of the land is utilized by the Rock Island Arsenal, a government-owned manufacturer of weapons and goods for the U.S. Armed Services. [4] Aside from this, the island maintains the Confederate Cemetery along with a separate National Cemetery and the Rock Island Arsenal Museum. Off the island, visitors to the Quad Cities region can learn more about the diverse history of Rock Island at the Black Hawk State Historic Site and the Rock Island Preservation Society.



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