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Ft. Armstrong, 1816-1836

December 5, 2019
The Army Sustainment Command History Office
Report of Fort Armstrong
Fort Armstrong from the report of Major Marston, 5th U.S. Infantry to Major General Macomb, 1819.

In the spring of 1816, Brevet Brigadier General Thomas led an expedition up the Mississippi River to build forts in strategic locations. The expedition consisted of 800 regular army soldiers and 150 laborers. This total amounted to 10% of the nation’s standing army.

On 10 May 1816, the group landed on Rock Island and began building the fort, which would be named after former Secretary of War John Armstrong. Between 1816 and 1819, the US government spent 2.3 million dollars for fortifications. Surprisingly, Fort Armstrong cost only $77.70, a bargain considering its importance to the development of the area.

The site of the fort was chosen for four reasons: First, it would deter British and other foreign trading outfits from operating in the river valley; second, observation of Sauk and Fox Indians, who had aligned themselves with the British during the War of 1812; third, protection for American fur traders; and finally the preservation of lines of communication to Prairie du Chien and other posts up river.

In 1819, Major M. Marston, commander of the fort, provided this description: “The fort is about 270-feet square with three block houses, mounting three 6 pounders, the barracks are well constructed of hewn timber, stone and well built… the fort is built on the lower point of Rock Island upon a perpendicular bank 25 feet in height. It completely commands both channels of the river.” After construction of the fort was complete, the garrison was reduced from 600 to 50. In 1823 a second company was added to the garrison raising the total number to around 100 soldiers.

For the soldiers at the fort, life was not easy. Major Marston wrote, “Life at Fort Armstrong was monotonous and unpleasant, it was a sacrifice in the best of times to be stationed two or three hundred miles from civilization.” At that time, army logistics left much to be desired. Mail service was poor in the area, which added to the soldier’s isolation. Likewise, soldier’s had to grow their own food to sustain the garrison throughout the year. The fort’s gardens produced beets, carrots, onions, potatoes, beans and corn. When the soldiers were not providing for their own sustenance, they were employed as carpenters to build stables and repair barracks, as teamsters, herdsmen, blacksmiths, stewards in the hospital or on detachment at local lead mines.

Like other forts on the frontier, Fort Armstrong projected American power and control over critical areas. In the age of westward migration, these frontier forts provided security for settlers either passing through or those choosing to live in the area. The influx of settlers strained relations with local tribes, placing the garrison in a difficult position. The garrison had to uphold the rights of the Sauk and Fox, many times to the detriment to settlers and squatters on Indian land. Despite the fort being built to specifically keep an eye on the Sauk and Fox tribe, relations were relatively peaceful between them and the US Army from 1817-1828.

In 1828, relations started to turn for the worse. With demands for more land by settlers, George Davenport and Indian Agent Thomas Forsyth asked the Sauk to relocate to the west bank of the Mississippi, instead of returning to the east bank in the spring. A majority of the Sauk relocated to the west bank of the river, however Blackhawk and his band tried on a couple of occasions between 1828 and 1831 to cross the river to their village Saukenuk around present-day Blackhawk state park.

Mounted Illinois militia were called out to enforce existing treaties and ensure Blackhawk and his band returned to the opposite bank. In 1832, Blackhawk moved his band peacefully across the river to reside in Prophetstown after an invitation was extended to him and his followers. The peaceful move degenerated into open warfare after a minor clash between Blackhawk, his band and inebriated Illinois militiamen. It is important to note that because of this incident, the US Army eliminated the daily whiskey ration for soldiers. Throughout the conflict, Fort Armstrong would provide logistical support to the myriad of units in the field, not so dissimilar to the present-day. By early August, Regular army units and militia brought the war to an end at the Battle of Bad Axe.

With the end of the Blackhawk war, there was no longer a need for Fort Armstrong to check Indian aggression or monitor the meddling of foreign powers along the river. In 1836, the garrison, except for a small caretaker force of 12 soldiers, evacuated the fort and moved to Fort Snelling, near present-day Minneapolis. From 1840- 1856, the fort would continue to be utilized as a depot until it was destroyed by fire. Fort Armstrong had played a vital role in the founding and development of the Quad cities. The garrison maintained order, as best as it could, between settlers and Indian tribes. Likewise, it projected American power as the nation continued its westward migration.



Powering the Arsenal: The Telodynamic System

November 13, 2019
The Army Sustainment Command History Office
Historical sepia photo of the Telodyne wheel tower in front of a stone workshop building
Telodyne wheel tower behind Shop E

Energy supplies have always been important to the Arsenal, especially to the ten stone workshops. When the stone workshops were constructed (1866- 1892), electrical power was not yet feasible and a major obstacle to any power supply was the distance between the source of power and the buildings where the power was required. The Arsenal, therefore, devised a concept by which power could be transmitted mechanically from the dam to the arsenal shops. This concept, known as the “telodynamic system,” would be economical to install and allow the Arsenal time to develop a more complicated rigid shaft system in future years. Using the telodynamic system to transmit power over a great distance had yet to be tried in the United States. Major Flagler, the 3rd Arsenal Commander, corresponded with several European firms that had manufactured wire-rope and had built telodynamic systems in Germany and other European countries to get a better understanding of how to properly construct a telodynamic system.

Beginning in 1874, Major Flagler had all gear work and shafting for the power system manufactured at Rock Island Arsenal’s foundry and shops, and in conjunction with the power system, Major Flagler ordered metal to produce the castings needed for the power system. The telodynamic system was installed in 1878, and the first use of Arsenal water power in the shops occurred in February 1879.

The telodynamic system mechanically transmitted power to the Arsenal shops by using water, which passed through openings at the dam, to rotate turbines. The rotation of the turbines was transferred through gears which, in turn, rotated a large drive wheel. This wheel, fifteen feet in diameter, functioned as a large drive pulley from its location inside a power house adjacent to the dam. An endless cable loop extended from this ground station northward along First Avenue to a pulley at the top of a tower. From there, wire -cables, one inch in diameter, formed loops which turned additional elevated wheels at the rear of the shop buildings situated south of Rodman Avenue. Long main drive shafts ran just below the ceilings of each shop area, constantly rotating when the telodynamic system was activated. Individual machines were powered by engaging a clutch drive belt connected to the overhead shaft.

By 1890, the combination of wire-cable and rigid shafting to generate power was inefficient and obsolete. The Arsenal’s makeshift arrangement, at best, provided only limited power to a portion of the Arsenal shops. All the shops that comprised Arsenal Row on the south side of Rodman Avenue, with the exception of Shop A (102), had access to the power carried by the telodynamic system. However, only Shops C and E (Bldgs. 104 and 106) actually received power from the wire cable and tower arrangement. Power failures occurred frequently due to friction which jammed the shafts; and at times, due to cables which snapped or developed too much slack. Also by 1890, technology in the transmission of power had advanced to such a degree that it became feasible to update the Rock Island power system.

While the telodynamic system did not provide the energy supply required for the Arsenal at the beginning of the twentieth century, the system remains an engineering marvel and a unique aspect of the development of a national arsenal.



The Ghosts of Quarters One

October 28, 2019
The Army Sustainment Command History Office
Historical black-and-white photo of Quarters One, the residence on the Rock Island Arsenal
Quarters One

Completed in 1871, Quarters One at Rock Island Arsenal has its fair share of recorded history. This includes stories from distinguished visitors, residents, and many others. However, the most requested stories are undoubtedly ghost tales and other strange happenings. We have included a few here for your reading pleasure.

More than one enlisted aide reported that they often heard footsteps on the third floor while working on the second floor. The aides also reported other strange occurrences, such as the windows opening and closing on their own, lights turning on and off, and items been thrown about the building while no one was home. One aide created a checklist to track when he had opened turned lights on and off.

Another series of reports came from previous residents. The reports often included hearing unidentified noises throughout the house. On several occasions the post police were called with reports insisting that someone was walking or running around on the third floor. No one was ever found in the house nor was a reason ever determined that could have produced the sounds in the house.

Enough stories surfaced while writing a short book on Quarters One that the History Office sent a survey and floor plans to several former residents and aides. Many marked the same kinds of incidents in the same rooms.

A final story for this edition related to the call box in the kitchen. The callbox in Quarters One is notorious for many stories of how it will ring and random numbers will drop without physical input. This is despite being in apparently perfect working condition. During a recent tour the group made their way into the kitchen. As the group approached the call box a number dropped down and the bell started ringing and rang for about a minute. Thinking it was a joke the tour guide laughed and checked the room number, only to realize the number was for a room on the third floor. The third floor was empty and locked at the time.

As historians we try to always remain factual; however, there are enough accounts across time that add up to leave questions in our minds. Regardless of your belief in ghosts or the unknown, one thing does remain true: that Quarters One is a treasure for us here at Rock Island Arsenal and one of Brevet Brigadier General Rodman’s many achievements that has withstood the sands of time.



Nambu Pistol Series

July 24, 2019
G. Neuhaus

Nambu Pistol

Of all the things you own that were made in Japan, we're betting a Nambu pistol isn't one of them. The Nambu pistol series was developed by Lieutenant General Kijiro Nambu in 1092, who claimed the design for Japan, but it looked a lot like the Mauser C96 Japanese officials admired while touring Europe.

The Rock Island Arsenal Museum has on display two pictols, the Nambu Type 14 and the smaller Type B "Baby" Nambu. Both are semi-automatic, using the recoil of the first round to provide the energy to move the next round into position. The Nambus have a skinny barrel and one-piece frame, were loaded by magazing instead of a spring-clip option, and had an effective firing range of about 55 yards.

Baby Nambu Pistol

The Baby Nambu was smaller, firing 7mm rounds. It held 7 rounds in the magazine, as opposed to the 8 in the Type 14. The Nambu magazines slid into the bottom of the pistol and are not shown in the video. The Baby Nambu was supposed to be a sidearm for Japanese officers. Like the British officers, the Japanese were expected to purchase their own pistol but it was priced out of reach for all but the most high-ranking and thus became a status accessort. Only 6,000 were made and the Japanese army never adopted them as an official sidearm.

Such was not the case with the larger Type 14 which made it into the Japanese inventory. Based on the original Type A "Grandpa" Nambu, it was issued to NCOs in 1927 and could be purchased by officers. The Nambu Type 14 is prized by the Japanese-style production date stamped on the right side. Most Type 14's are engraved wiht the current year of Hirohito's reign and the name given to his reign. Ours is 17.12, adding 17 to the year 1925, with the last digits as the month of production, which would be December of 1942.



M198 Howitzer

July 24, 2019
G. Neuhaus

Photo Credit: US Army. 1-377 Charlie Battery, Field Artillery, live fire exercise. Boom!

The 155mm M198 Howitzer has something for everyone. A howitzer is defined as a towed artillery piece with a short barrel that fire a projectile up and out, then swoops down for a sharp descent. All kinds of nasty stuff can come out of that tube. We've used rocket rounds, willy-pete, parachute flares, high-explosive guided rounds, and even had a nuclear warhead for it, although we took that out of the inventory in 1992. It puts the "heavy" in heavy artillery, weighing in at almost 8 tons, but that still makes it light enough to be dropped onto the battlefield by a Chinook. The M198 has to be folded up for transport, and sits on its wheels when ready for use. Then it takes a crew of nine and six minutes to put it into lethal action, and they can fire four rounds per minute. Its maximum effective range is 14 miles, but a rocket can goose it up to 18 miles. If you're keeping an eye on the defense budget, the M198 costs $527,337.

Rock Island has always been famous for its superior howitzers, and we can claim the M198 too. We designed it, tested it, and manufactured it right here on the Arsenal. Rodman Laboratory started development in the 70's when we needed a new howitzer to replace the old WWII-era M114's. We made 1,908 recoil mechanisms for it and produced 421 complete howitzers. It was a stand-out during the Gulf War and is still in use today. You can watch our Weapons Wednesday video on the M198, then drive down Rodman Avenue to check it out.