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Savanna Proving Ground

June 1, 2022
By the Army Sustainment Command History Office
Black and white photo from June 17, 1919 showing a large number of five ton tractors in storage at the Savanna proving grounds

Portrait of Black Hawk by George Catlin, 1832

The Savanna Proving Ground was the oldest depot in the Industrial Operations Command. Savanna was constructed in northern Illinois as a sub-post of Rock Island Arsenal in 1918. Its original mission was to proof and test artillery and ammunition. In 1921, Savanna Proving Ground became independent of Rock Island Arsenal and was reorganized as Savanna Ordnance Depot. When the mission changed to mostly storage in 1962, the depot was renamed as Savanna Army Depot Activity (SVADA).

Throughout World War II, SVADA was responsible for storage, processing, and handling munitions, explosives, and industrial chemicals. The Defense Ammunition Center and School and the U.S. Army Technical Center for Explosive Safety were also housed there. After the war, heavy manufacturing slowed and many areas were used for demolishing and burning outdated ordnance.
SVADA was one site set as a BRAC closure in July 1995. It was officially closed in March 2000, and most munitions were sent to McAlester Army Ammunition Plant in Oklahoma. The Defense Ammunition Center and Technical Center for Explosive Safety were also realigned to McAlester.

The Savanna area tried to offset negative economic impacts by competing to be the site for a proposed medium security prison. They were top contenders for proposed sites three different times between 1995 and 1998 and were finally chosen in 1998. Opposition grew steadily with each attempt to bring in a prison facility, and Governor Jim Edgar bent to environmentalists, deciding that the prison would be built in Thomson, IL instead.

Because of its mission testing artillery and storing chemical weapons, Federal and State EPA agencies have been working to remove items like unexploded ordnance and chemical residue that remain on the grounds. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services will take over about 9,404 acres after the cleanup is complete and utilize the area as a wildlife refuge.

The Black Hawk War and Ft. Armstrong

March 23, 2021
By the Army Sustainment Command History Office

Portrait of Black Hawk by George Catlin, 1832

Sauk warrior Black Hawk was the leader of the last hostile Indian uprising in the state of Illinois, known as the Black Hawk War of 1832. The Sauk originally used Rock Island as one of their settlements. However, as white squatters moved into the area and resided on Sauk land, Black Hawk and the Sauk tribe found themselves moving towards confrontation with the newly arrived Americans.

The Americans stationed at Fort Armstrong encouraged Black Hawk to permanently leave the area in 1832 and move west of the Mississippi. Black Hawk believed a signed 1804 treaty accorded the Sauk the right to remain on Rock Island. Emboldened by false information and promises of support, Black Hawk set out to reclaim his former village.

As Black Hawk returned to the area in the spring of 1832, many of the settlers perceived his return as an “invasion.” Governor Reynolds of Illinois immediately mobilized 1,500 militiamen to pursue Black Hawk. Over the course of 15 weeks, militiamen and federal troops would skirmish with and chase Black Hawk and his followers throughout Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin. During this time, the marauding band of Indians attacked cabins, murdered and scalped the inhabitants, and attacked other travelers. The Black Hawk War would end on 2 August 1832 when the Indians were decisively defeated by federal forces at the Battle of Bad Axe. Black Hawk fled but was captured two weeks later by cooperating Winnebago Indians. Veterans of the Black Hawk War would include Abraham Lincoln, Zachary Taylor, and Jefferson Davis. In the aftermath of the war, in the Treaty of 1832, Sauk and Fox tribes ceded 6 million acres of land to the present day United States Government.

Rock Island, United States Garrison, by George Catlin, 1835-1836.

Rock Island Arsenal Mysteries

October 15, 2020
By the Army Sustainment Command History Office

Sepia image of the Rock Island Arsenal in the wintertime with clipart of ghosts in the middle of the frame

During the month of October, the weird, strange, and uncommon make their appearance in many aspects of life. Often these are stories passed by word of mouth, getting further and further from the truth. Our fair arsenal is not spared from creative suggestions to provide explanations for mundane events. A list of ten myths was solicited concerning Rock Island Arsenal. The myths, mysteries, and some explanation are below.

  1. There is a secret tunnel that connects all arsenal buildings. Only if you call steam line tunnels a secret. Steam line tunnels approximately 5x5 feet do lace the island.

  2. There is a secret tunnel connecting Quarters 1 to building 390 and/or 350. Again, no such tunnel. If anything, there are more steam tunnels, but Quarters 1 has its own heating system.

  3. There is a tunnel connecting Quarters 1 to the mainland. This is false. In the 1960s, a group of high school kids were caught on the island without permission. When asked how they got there, they replied, “through a secret tunnel.” They had really arrived through standard means.

  4. The arsenal was used as a nuclear test site. Uranium cores lurk underwater in a basement of one of the buildings. The windows were painted black because the interior glowed at night. Unlikely, though Building 64 had extensive remediation due to the chromium plating pits. In regards to atomic bombs, Rock Island Arsenal was never a part of uranium work, but did contribute to the effort by forging the shell body for the first bomb.

  5. Rock Island Arsenal is/was on the top ten list of nuclear strike sites by an enemy. There is not one “official” list for this. Most are from bloggers, or doomsday believers who have compiled lists of their opinions. Rock Island Arsenal does not appear on these lists. In fact, Moline occurs more frequently.

  6. Confederate grave stones used to be on the other side of the road – but they only moved the headstones, not the bodies when they put in base housing. The cemetery was not moved across the street. The Confederate burial spot was moved twice during the Civil War with 671 remains moved to the current site in 1864. Over 1,000 more were buried there before the POW camp was closed in 1865. Union dead were buried close to the Confederate dead, near the west edge of the housing area, but were moved to the old post cemetery in the back of the current Federal cemetery before 1880.

  7. Confederate gravestones were designed with a peak to keep “Yankee arses” from sitting on them. Confederate graves were granted grave stones by an Act of March 9, 1906. They were built from the same material as Federal stones. The variance was the shape, with Confederate stones pointy on top. The intent for the pointed design— a desire of the Daughters of the Confederacy to keep Yankees from “sitting their arses” on the stones— is cited in the official history of the national cemetery system.

    Grave marker of Confederate James C. Alford, Company C, 4th Tennessee Regt.

  8. Black Hawk or members of the Sauk/Fox tribe, used to bring their girlfriends here to pick berries and court them. I’m sure there is some grain of truth to this as this was Native land before the Americans arrived. Black Hawk mentioned in his autobiography that the island was used as a garden and relaxation spot. Whether young men brought their girlfriends there on dates is a fact lost to history.

  9. Tarantula spiders were raised here. Their thread were harvested and used in the manufacturing of gun sights. The webbing was used as the crosshairs in the sights. This is our favorite. Maybe the spiders were radioactive and the windows were painted black because the creatures glowed. However, tarantulas do spin silk, but this product is mostly used to line their nests. Tarantulas are warm climate creatures and are only rarely found in Illinois. Reticles, known as cross hairs, are made from wire, etching, or illumination, not actual hair. We don't think there were industrial spiders.

  10. Quarter’s One is haunted by Civil War soldiers, unhappy servants, and deceased commander Thomas J. Rodman. On this one, we have no comment…

The 1909 Infantry Equipment Board at Rock Island Arsenal, Part 2

August 5, 2020
By the Army Sustainment Command History Office

M1910 Equipment

In Part 1 we discussed the mission of the Infantry Equipment Board of 1909 and some of the problems they were charged to correct. Part 2 will address some of the key innovations they developed.

Overall the most important innovation of the board was to design an ergonomic kit that allowed the Soldier to carry a full load with the least amount of stress on the body. The new kit used two suspenders to carry the full kit one two shoulders rather than straps over one shoulder. In addition, the pack and accessories were integrated into the cartridge belt. This allowed more weight to be carried on the hips. The Board Report goes into detail about how the new kit distributed the weight for the least wear on the Soldier during the march.

The kit was also modular and included most of the items a Soldier needed for a longer campaign. But pieces could be detached into a Normal Equipment configuration— without the bedding, extra clothes, and tent— and a Fighting Equipment configuration that added two bandoleers of ammunition to the Normal Equipment. The Board also directed the amount of transport required for all equipment not worn on the march.

At a more specific level the Infantry Equipment Board developed a new cartridge belt. The old belt adjusted in the front which required all the ammunition to be carried on the back of the belt and relatively inaccessible where the Soldier was firing. The old adjustment also interfered with adding other accessories. The new belt adjusted in the back so ammunition could be carried more in the front and the load was better balanced. The adjustments were simpler and the grommets were made of a new metal that would not rust. More grommets were included in order to allow for easier and more balanced attachments.

The grommets were also spaced differently to accommodate what may have been the most simple, yet critical, innovation of the Board– the double hook attachment clip. The double hook, which was completely designed in the Arsenal shops, was used to attach every accessory to the belt. Two points of contact ensured that items did not swing and bang into the Soldier’s leg. This made for less wasted movement on the march and also vastly increased the service life of the grommets on the belt. This very simple item is still in use today on some items of equipment.

Another innovation of the 1909 Board was the new style canteen and canteen cup. The new canteen was kidney shaped which allowed it to sit comfortably on the Soldier’s hip when attached to the web belt. The screw on cap was attached by a chain. The canteen was made of spun aluminum as one piece, a process patented by a US company in Wisconsin. When that company charged exorbitant rates to make the canteen, Rock Island Arsenal devised a process to stamp out two halves and then solder them together. The canteen cup was also kidney shaped and nested with the canteen so they could both be carried in one canvas carrier. The cup could be used to heat beverages over a stove or to cook in. Because cup and canteen were metal they could be more easily boiled to sanitize.

M1910 Canteen Drawing

A final innovation of the 1909 Board was the mess kit. While an earlier model of the mess kit looked similar, the new mess kit was reinforced so it would not bend and the latch was strengthened. As important, the knife, fork, and spoon were sized shorter so they all fit inside the mess kit. The mess kit also had a separate carrier that could be hung to the pack to keep it separate from other items in the pack. This improved sanitation if the mess kit could not be washed. The mess kit, like the double hook, canteen, and web belt, were used into the 21st Century, a testament to good design.

M1910 Meat Can Drawing

The equipment discussed represents just a few of the innovations from the 1909 Infantry Board. While not every item in the M1910 Infantry Kit survived the test of time, the invention, outputs, and usefulness of most items mark the 1909 Infantry Board as one of the most successful development teams in Army history.

The 1909 Infantry Equipment Board at Rock Island Arsenal, Part 1

July 9, 2020
By the Army Sustainment Command History Office

1909 Infantry Equipment Board

In April 1909 a board of senior officers assembled at Rock Island Arsenal charged by the Army with developing a new kit for Infantry soldiers. War Department Memo no. 1459931, dated 14 April, 1909 directed the board to complete “a thorough study of and report on the subject of equipment, carrying devices and distribution of the load for the infantry soldier.” In just twelve months the board developed and tested what became the M1910 Infantry Kit, with many equipment items that were still in use almost a hundred years later.

Why did the Army convene the board in 1909? It appears that the experience in the Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection had highlighted many problems with the old kit— poor design, poor alignment on the body, and, in a tenuous link with the preceding editions on the 1919 Influenza Pandemic, poor sanitation. Soldiers had been debilitated during the campaign of 1898 and in the Philippines in part because of issues with their equipment. One of the criteria for a selecting items of equipment was that the “[e]ntire equipment is so constructed as to prevent undue fouling from contents and to permit of easy cleansing and renovation.”

Spanish-American War Equipment, ca. 1910

How does equipment lead to a sanitation issue? What did they mean by “undue fouling from contents”? The main culprit was the haversack bag, usually the Model 1878. The haversack was a single pocket bag hooked to the belt or worn over the shoulder. A passage from the Board’s report makes clear the is-sues with the bag: “The present type of haversack is a bag into which are dumped in a more or less untidy manner, the various components of the ration and the ration utensils, together with such other articles as the individual soldier wishes to carry; the coffee, sugar, pepper and salt. Bacon, when issued from the side has nothing to protect it from contamination or to prevent the haversack and contents from be-coming saturated with grease.” Imagine reaching into this bag after a few days on the march and grabbing the bacon instead of your spare socks and underwear. The board experimented with several solutions to keep food, condiments, coffee, and spare clothing separate.

The canteen was another problem that created increased risk. The old canteen was oval plugged with a cork. Because of the shape there was no integrated cup. Soldiers were issued a separate cup that, like the haversack, they often attached to the belt and clanked with every step. “The tin cup now in use has always presented embarrassment in the matter of its transportation. Hung on the canteen strap it has been a most effective warning of the approach of the individual soldier.” There was no sneaking up on an enemy.

Another issue that impeded performance was the bed roll. This was a blanket rolled up and containing spare clothes and a tent. It was worn over one shoulder. Ergonomically, the bed roll put most of the weight on one shoulder. But practically, the way it draped over the abdomen ensured it was in the way when firing the rifle, especially when firing laying down. The soldier could not lie flat, but had to lay on top of the bed roll.

Another significant problem was the cup, haversack, bayonet, and other equipment was attached to the belt with a single snap hook. This caused everything to swing when marching and led to rapid deterioration and rusting of the grommets on the belt and the snap hook.

These different issues, especially when compared with the kit of the Spanish Army fought in Cuba, gave the US Army a decidedly inferior Infantry Kit that was unsanitary, loud, non-ergonomic, and an impediment to accurate fire.

The 1918 Spanish Influenza – Part Three – A Tale of Two Cities

May 1, 2020
By The Army Sustainment Command History Office

Members of the St. Louis Red Cross Motor Corps on duty during the 1918 Spanish Influenza epidemic. Library of Congress.

In our last two posts we studied how the U.S. Army and Rock Island Arsenal responded to the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic that swept the globe.  In this edition we are using the tale of two cities, without Charles Dicken's help, to demonstrate the results of two very different responses to the pandemic in two large American cities in 1918. The cities in question are St. Louis and Philadelphia and they not only had different initial responses but also continued intervention differences.

The comparison between these two cities highlight the need for early, sustained, thought-out layered applications of non-pharmaceutical interventions to mitigate the infection and mortality rates. The city of Philadelphia initially reacted very slowly to any kind of intervention.  The first cases within Philadelphia were reported on 17 September 1918, but authorities downplayed their significance and continued to allow large public gatherings. City officials were warned by medical personnel about a planned Liberty Loan parade and its dangers saying that it was “a ready-made inflammable mass for a conflagration.” The city-wide parade was allowed to continue, because it was expected to raise millions of dollars in war bonds. More than 200,000 people participated in the parade on 28 September 1918. Just 72 hours after its conclusion, all 31 of Philadelphia’s hospitals were full. By the end of the week 2,600 people were dead.  George Dehner, author of Global Flu and You: A History of Influenza, says that while the City’s decision to continue the parade was absolutely a “bad idea,” Philadelphia’s infection rate was already accelerating by late September.

“The Liberty Loan parade probably threw gasoline on the fire,” says Dehner, “but it was already cooking along pretty well.”  School closures, bans on public gatherings, and other social distancing interventions were not implemented until 3 October, long after the disease had already overwhelmed local medical and public health resources.  In total Philadelphia would record more than 10,000 deaths resulting from the flu in this second wave alone in late 1918.

St. Louis clearly had a number of advantages in their efforts to limit the pandemic. First, as cases of influenza, which would become known as the second wave, spread from East Coast cities to the Midwest, attentive medical officials could watch the response and plan for intervention. Second, St. Louis had just such an individual.

Dr. Max C. Starkloff was the City of St. Louis health commissioner and in late September he began to act even before the first reported cases had occurred in the city.  He requested that all doctors voluntarily report any cases of influenza or pneumonia and wrote an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch detailing how best to avoid influenza and the deadly pneumonia.  He warned residents to avoid fatigue, alcohol, and crowds. He also recommended residents get plenty of fresh air and avoid those who were ill. By 5 October the first reported cases within the city had occurred. The next day he pushed for an emergency bill declaring influenza a contagious disease. The bill gave the mayor legal authority to declare a state of public health emergency. By 9 October all St. Louis city schools, theaters, churches had been closed. All planned public gatherings over 20 individuals and a Liberty Loan parade were cancelled. The result was that St. Louis’s infection and death rate were dramatically lower than other cities.  Another important lesson can be applied today from the St. Louis example— when deaths rates starting to fall after roughly five weeks in quarantine, the city loosened restrictions.  But soon after, officials noticed a rise in the number of cases and deaths and promptly reinstated quarantine and distancing.

The comparison of these two cities give valuable lessons as to the initial responses that are required to slow the spread through non-pharmaceutical interventions giving health officials the crucial time to identify and react to the disease. Even in 1918 vaccines were sought in treatment but time was needed to develop them, same as today. The most important aspect of flattening the curve, then and now, is to slow the spread and not overwhelm the medical and supply systems. St. Louis and a number of other cities also demonstrate the importance for staying the course to ride out follow-on waves of spread. If restrictions are lifted too early, or not rapidly re-imposed, infection rates and deaths will increase due to the newly found freedom and “catch up” interactions. As was stated earlier, these studies demonstrate a strong association between early, sustained, and layered application of non-pharmaceutical interventions.  Similar interventions should be considered for inclusion as companion measures to developing effective vaccines and medications to return the curve and our lives to their normal state.

The 1918 Spanish Influenza – Part Two – Rock Island Arsenal's Response to the 1918 Spanish Influenza

April 24, 2020
By The Army Sustainment Command History Office

The Arsenal Record on December 10, 1918.

Local firsthand accounts of the disease are important to understand how the flu was treated in the Quad Cities area.  During WWI, Rock Island Arsenal (RIA) produced a newsletter known as the Arsenal Record.  The first known cases of flu on RIA were reported by the Record on 15 October 1918. Arsenal leaders were concerned about the impact on Arsenal readiness, as ill workers would slow down or stop munitions production.  Remember that we did not know the war would be over in less than a month.

Workers were warned by Major C.H. Clark, Arsenal surgeon, to follow certain practices to stop the spread of the disease. The “antidote” was to, “avoid needless crowding, to smother your cough and sneezes.” Additionally “remember the three “C’s” Clean mouth, Clean skin and Clean clothes. Your fate may be in your own hands, wash your hands.” The most serious complication were pneumonia.  He noted most patients had recovered in three to four days but were entirely incapacitated for duty during that time.  Lastly, the article strongly encouraged civilian employees that showed any of the symptoms to remain at home and to be cleared by a civilian hospital prior to a return to work. He understood that the disease could easily pass between people before the symptoms were fully exhibited. Symptoms could appear as soon as 48-72 hours after exposure.

Davenport’s The Daily Times reported on 21 October that a “large public meeting” had been held to discuss possible new restrictions. The Arsenal Commander, COL L.T. Hillman, appealed to the patriotism of the crowd at the Davenport Board of Health meeting to help stamp out the flu. “The seriousness of the matter cannot be impressed too strongly upon the people.” At the time of the meeting 20 civilian workers and several Soldiers were reported with influenza, several with serious cases of pneumonia. The following day the Arsenal Record reported that passes for officers and enlisted Soldiers at the Arsenal were discontinued additionally Soldiers reporting to the Arsenal were to be quarantined for 14 days. The first Arsenal Soldiers to die from the disease were reported on 23 and 24 October. Both Soldiers were reported to have been in excellent health prior to contracting influenza but they ultimately succumbed to pneumonia.

A sense of urgency accelerated among local leaders despite an Arsenal Record report on 29 October that Army wide (CONUS) cases of influenza had fallen from a new daily reported cases total of 7,271 on 13 October to 6,498 on the 14th with 889 deaths. On the same day city officials ordered that only essential business were allowed to be open, with shortened hours and large public events were being restricted. Visitors were no longer being allowed on the Arsenal.  Residents and businesses complained that officials were overreacting with too extreme of action, including the closure of whole towns, before many people had died.

By the second week of November 1918 it was being reported that city-wide closures and quarantines had been successful as new cases of influenza were dropping in Davenport as well as at the Arsenal.  Despite the disapproval of health officials, on 7 November restrictions were approved to be lifted.   This was in contrast to deaths of Arsenal workers still being reported in the Arsenal Record as of this date. People went back to work and crowded local bars.

Suddenly, in mid and late November the number and severity of cases spiked again in the area. It is suspected that lifting the restrictions combined with huge gatherings and parades that took place celebrating the end of the war. Not only were there celebrations on 11 November, but there were celebrations based on false rumors starting on 8 November and continuing each day until the 11th.   One city physician said that "all precautions, which the board urged the public to take, had apparently been forgotten in the excitement which resulted from the fake message that peace was at hand and that hostilities had ceased." A week later the spike hit hard across the region.  The earlier city wide and Arsenal restrictions were reinstituted as well as more restrictive measures.  These included: a limit to total passengers on street cars within the cities excluding transport to the Arsenal, requiring the wearing of masks that covered the nose and mouth, and the closure of all schools, public gatherings, and all businesses. This second spike hit the area harder and was more wide spread. On 8 December COL Hillman attended another public meeting at the Health Board to continue restrictions.   Within the next two days Hillman was on TDY traveling by train to Washington D.C. to work on post-war contraction of the Army’s industrial base.  He returned to the Arsenal on 18 December and worked in his office on the 19th although he complained he was not feeling well. It then reported on 29 December that COL Hillman dies of pneumonia, surrounding newspapers would later report his death being a result of the flu.

By the start of 1919 new cases of influenza had again subsided and the local restrictions were being removed. At the end 1918, Davenport reported 4,475 cases of flu, with 270 deaths. The city of Rock Island had 3,167 cases and 114 deaths. The Arsenal had 5 or 6 soldiers die from the flu.  Those totals were likely underestimated. New cases of the flu subsided until the end of January when the Daily Times reported that the city physician noticed a resurgence of about five to six new cases per day. This is suspected to been a new strain of flu that did not lead typically lead to pneumonia and was the third and final major wave to be witnessed.

The current COVID-19 virus is not an unprecedented event nor is our response to it. The lessons of the 1918 flu are important to demonstrate the useful, if imperfect, measures attempted to curb the rise in infection rates and deaths, as well as the impact of lifting restrictions too soon.  A simple first lesson: a virus is a living thing that takes us time to understand. It can also can mutate making it harder to fight.  Secondly, viruses are usually more widespread than initially understood because of lack of testing or precise confirmation of the cause of symptoms. Many people do not have as severe symptoms and are often not initially reported. Third, drastic interventions can work. The decreased deaths after the Rock Island Arsenal and surrounding area quarantines at the start of November 1918 were at least partly successful until the Armistice Day celebrations that followed. Early reporting of successes, as well as public and business concerns about the impact of restrictions should not be relied upon to lift restrictions.  Many of the common sense precautions announced in 1918 as the same as today.  Avoid gatherings.  Close businesses.  Stay at home if you do not feel well.  Cover your mouth and nose.  WASH YOUR HANDS!

Spanish Influenza (1918, October 15). Rock Island Arsenal Record, Pg. 2
COL Hillman Appeals to Patriotism. (1918, October 21). Davenport Daily Times, Pg. 7
Influenza and Pneumonia. (1918, October 29). Rock Island Arsenal Record, Pg. 2
Mend for Soldiers. (1918, October 29). Davenport Daily Times, Pg. 7
Influenza Ban is Partially Lifted. (1918, November 7). The Dispatch, Pg. 2
Armistice Day Parade. (1918, November 11). Davenport Daily Times, Pg. 7
Commandant Is Paid Tribute. (1919, November 1). The Rock Island Argus, Pg. 5
Health Council Meeting. (1918, December 7) Quad-City Times (Davenport, Iowa). Pg. 8
Commanding Officer Confined due to Illness. (1918, December 26). Rock Island Arsenal Record, Pg. 1
COL Hillman Dies of Pneumonia. (1918, December 30) Quad-City Times (Davenport, Iowa), Pg. 1
Ambrose, G. (2020, March 15). 102 years ago, the Spanish flu slammed the Quad Cities. Here's what it teaches us about pandemics. Quad City Times. Retrieved from 

The 1918 Spanish Influenza – Part One

April 14, 2020
By The Army Sustainment Command History Office
US Soldiers

U.S. Soldiers wearing masks during the Spanish Influenza Pandemic, ca. 1918. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

As we navigate the once-in-a-lifetime pandemic known as the coronavirus, it might be useful to look back on how Rock Island Arsenal and the Army adapted to the influenza epidemic of 1918-1919. It is important to see how many similarities there are from events that occurred over a century ago. We hope that exploring how we met the epidemic then might give us some insight into how we can meet a different virus today.
In 1918 an invisible enemy made its entrance onto the world stage and would prove to be deadlier in just over one year than four years of fighting in the world war. This invisible enemy would become known as “Spanish Flu” and it would kill more than 50 million people worldwide including approximately 675,000 civilians in the United States.

It became known as the Spanish Flu because Spain, as a neutral in the war, had no censorship and was reporting the spread. There is no universal consensus on the flu’s origins, and it is more properly called the 1918 flu pandemic. This strain of influenza was of the H1N1 avian origin and would infect more than a quarter of the world’s population before disappearing.  It is still not known why its virulence was so great, but mass movements of troops around the world would serve to partially explain the rapid spread.

In the U.S. there were three waves that swept the country. The first wave in the spring of 1918 was relatively mild, causing few deaths, and received almost no press coverage due to the excitement of the war buildup. By early May 1918 the flu had found its way to Europe where it spread to friend and foe alike. It is believed that during late summer 1918 the virus mutated and exhibited as an extremely virulent form of pneumonia.  This new version of the virus was very different in that it did not target its traditional victims, the young and the old. This strain targeted healthy adults in prime of life. To make things worse, this new airborne virus spread in an area where several million Soldiers were living in cramped and dirty conditions, allowing for quick transmission.

By fall 1918 this new and deadlier form of influenza had become so wide spread that it was impacting the operation of the war on all sides. Nearly one third developed pneumonia, and the mortality rates varied from 20 to 40 percent in the war zone, depending upon treatment and time. Overwhelmed, admission to field hospitals were triaged to accept only those having temperatures in excess of 104 degrees. U.S. Army Medical Department records report that military hospital admissions for influenza in 1918 totaled 791,907. A more sobering number were fatalities. The total of American Soldiers who were killed in battle or died as a result of combat wounds numbered 50,500. The total number of deaths from the flu during the same time, separate from the previous killed in battle, were 55,322.

At the same time this second deadlier wave of influenza returned to the U.S. carried by troop movements.  On 14 September, 36 new cases were reported in Boston with over 6,000 cases in the city by the end of the month. This is partially attributed to slow responses to quarantine or social distance after the flu had presented itself. Within a month of these newly reported cases the virus had spread to San Francisco. It is important to note that the individuals who had suffered from the first wave, suffered considerably less when they were infected by the second and third wave. This suggests that the new more virulent form of influenza was genetically similar to the spring version. A third wave made its way again around the world in early 1919 with less dramatic effect. The common symptoms of each of these waves were described as starting with mild headaches, muscular pains, and high fever. These could progress to vomiting, dizziness, breathing difficulties and profuse sweating. Severe cases would progress to bronchitis and pneumonia often resulting the death.

Local firsthand accounts of the disease are important to understand how the flu was treated. In part two we will explore local accounts of how the pandemic was treated in the Quad Cities.

Dred Scott's Quest for Freedom

February 13, 2020
By The Army Sustainment Command History Office
Dred Scott

Dred Scott, ca. 1857.

In the fall of 1833, John Emerson, an Army physician, received a promotion to serve as an assistant surgeon in the United States Army. Following the promotion, Emerson received orders to report to Fort Armstrong to serve as the garrison's physician. Accompanying Emerson on his journey was a slave he acquired just before leaving St. Louis, named Dred Scott. Few would have guessed that a simple move to Rock Island would later serve as a pivotal moment in the run-up to the Civil War.

In November 1833, both Emerson and Dred Scott arrived at Fort Armstrong and would serve at the installation for over three years. Dred Scott's stay at Rock Island provided his first opportunity to sue for his freedom under the terms of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. The Northwest Ordinance prohibited slavery in regions between the Mississippi and Ohio rivers and the Great Lakes, except as punishment for crimes. In addition, when the state of Illinois was created from part of the Northwest Ordinance territory in 1818, the state constitution prohibited slavery. Even though Dred Scott could have pursued his freedom due to his residence at Rock Island and Fort Armstrong, he did not—most likely because he possessed little knowledge of his right to sue under the terms of the Northwest Ordinance. Instead, Scott would continue to follow Emerson to Fort Snelling in Minnesota and later return to St. Louis in 1840.

Not until 1846 did Dred Scott file a petition with the St. Louis Circuit Court to obtain his freedom based on his residence at Rock Island. The trial took place in 1847, and Scott lost. However, a new trial was granted on technical grounds, and in 1850, Dred Scott won freedom for himself and his wife. Emerson appealed the decision to the Missouri Supreme Court, which found in Emerson's favor in 1852.

Dred Scott appealed the Missouri Supreme Court decision to the Supreme Court of the United States, which rendered a decision in 1857. Chief Justice Roger Taney wrote the majority opinion holding that slaves were not citizens of the United States and therefore had no right to bring suit in federal court. Interestingly, Justice John McLean, one of two dissenting justices in the Dred Scott case, also presided over the Rock Island Bridge Case involving the Effie Affton the same year. In spite of the Supreme Court's decision that Dred Scott was a slave, he finally received his freedom in May 1857. The case served as one of the Supreme Court's most controversial decisions and accelerated the chain of events leading to the Civil War.

M55 Quadmount

January 27, 2020
By G. Neuhaus
M55 quadmount photo.

The mount in action.

How do you increase the firepower of your magnificent .50 cal. M2 Browning Machine Gun when there’s only room for one finger on the trigger and someone else has to feed you the belt so it doesn’t get kinked up? You climb out of your foxhole, take it off the tripod, mount it on a carriage, and stack up four of them, ready to go. Thus you have the M55 Quadmount.

In WWII, one M2 did not have the rate of fire, at 450-600 rounds per minute, to take out a plane, but four of them concentrated on one aircraft could bring it down. And there was a lot of room on that mount for large cases of ammunition. Each gun had its own box right next to it that could hold 200 rounds. The system had two pairs of machine guns separated by an armored plate to protect the operator sitting in the middle. He could swivel the mount all the way around, 360 degrees, and elevate the guns anywhere from -10 to 90 degrees. Most operators fired the guns in pairs, either the uppers or the lowers, to prevent all four from overheating at once. The system was designated the M45, and it was used to great effect in WWII.

In the Korean War the mount was changed to a round trailer design and called it the M55. During the Korean War, one of the Rock Island Arsenal’s many projects was working on these .50 cal. multiple machine gun mounts.

Then in Vietnam we loaded it in the back of a deuce to cart it around. Once again, jet technology was flying faster than our old anti-aircraft artillery could shoot it down, and the M55 was then used for ground combat and escort duty against enemy troops.

GI’s called these gun systems and their mounts “Meat Choppers”, and a trip to the Rock Island Arsenal Museum will show you why they were so effective in their time.

Building the Arsenal: Sanger and Steel Fraud

January 10, 2020
By The Army Sustainment Command History Office
Arsenal under construction, looking northwest, 1878.

Arsenal under construction, looking northwest, ca. 1878.

The Rock Island Arsenal was not built in a day; in fact there were many bumps in the road to its completion. One of these bumps was in the procurement of the limestone used as the primary building material. The stone was contracted out, and a "reputable company" took up the contract. This company was Sanger and Steel of Joliet, Illinois, who agreed to provide the stone necessary to complete the ten stone manufacturing shops on the island.

The choice to use Sanger and Steel was peppered with favoritism. During the Civil War Lorenzo Sanger was commissioned a Colonel. His son served as General Sherman's aide during the Civil War, and later as his inspector general. For providing such good service, Sanger had received recognition from Sherman. This relationship influenced the choice to award the limestone contract to Sanger and Steel over other companies who had submitted bids. The reality of this decision set in almost immediately. Shortages of stone and higher proposed costs created delays to the completion of the stone shops. The amount of stone arriving at the Arsenal was below what had been agreed upon, and it failed to arrive on time.

When questioned about their poor performance on the contract, Sanger and Steel blamed shipping costs, inaccuracies, and misunderstandings in the contract. The truth of the matter was that the company had been shipping the stone to other customers, who had agreed to pay higher prices. The plethora of customers requiring limestone occurred not only because of the multiple government contracts besides the arsenal, but also because of the Chicago Fire of 1871. After the four mile devastation caused by this disaster, rebuilders used limestone rather than the more vulnerable wood of which the Chicago buildings had previously been made.

Once Rock Island Arsenal officials learned of the fraud Sanger and Steel was committing, the commander at the time, Major Flagler, sent soldiers to the quarry to oversee the delivery of the stone to the Rock Island Arsenal. This helped with delivery of the desired product. Shipments that were supposed to arrive in the summer started slowly arriving during the winter months. However, having Army personnel present at the quarry did not make everything run smoothly. Sanger and Steel were still upset with the price they were receiving and constantly campaigned for a higher price stating that the Arsenal was wasting the limestone they received by not cutting it in a way that would maximize usage. This second complaint was found to be valid, and soon remedied. Not all of the problems could be fixed, and continued complaints and lack of adherence to the contract caused Sanger and Steel to go into default. Breaking the contract by Sanger and Steel left the Arsenal free to begin a contract with a different company for the procurement of the remaining limestone.

M1890 3.2 Inch Field Gun

December 23, 2019
By G. Neuhaus

Photo Credit: US Army Signal Corps, Spanish American War. This is the M1897 3.2-inch type of the M1890 Series.

The M1890 3.2 inch field gun is associated with some of our less familiar wars. The Spanish-American War was mostly about Cuba and established our dominance in the Caribbean. We inherited Spain’s Pacific territories, one of which was the Philippines, and we had to fight to hang on to those islands. Then there was the Boxer Rebellion, when the Chinese tried to kick out foreigners who came to open up the country to international trading. The M1890 Series was the primary field gun used in these conflicts.

After the Civil War, technology took the final leap to breech-loading guns. The M1890 was the first of its kind, a breech-loading gun made of steel instead of iron, with a rifled barrel for accuracy. It took a crew of seven to load it, and its range was five miles. At first we used up our supply of black powder in the bagged charges and projectiles before switching to smokeless powder in the later models.

Recoil was controlled by the wheel brakes on the carriage, and that’s where the Rock Island Arsenal came in. The gun barrel of the M1890 Field Gun in our museum was produced by Watervliet Arsenal, but the carriage was our baby, as well as the limber, which was the cart the gun sat on so it could be towed.

The Army Ordnance Department realized that the other arsenals did not have the manufacturing capacity to make all the components of the new field guns and began to give us the contracts they needed to get the guns to the new battlefields. Colonel Rodman had been busy building up Rock Island Arsenal and we had already expanded from woodworking and equipment to machining, foundry, and blacksmithing.  In 1898, we received an order to produce 102 field carriages and limbers for the Spanish-American War. You can admire the M1890 3.2 inch field gun mounted on our own handiwork at the Rock Island Arsenal Museum. Open Tuesday – Saturday from Noon to 4:00pm.

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.