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Rock Island Prisoner of War Camp - US Civil War

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  • Benjamin Caesar Kittrell (1832 - 1890)
    Benjamin C. Kittrell, a messenger in the Civil War, was captured and sent to Rock Island Prison for many months. His only recreation and solace was a copy of the New Testament. He used it so constantly...

Rock Island Prisoner of War Camp

The Rock Island Arsenal comprises 946 acres (383 ha), located on Arsenal Island, originally known as Rock Island, on the Mississippi River between the cities of Davenport, Iowa, and Rock Island, Illinois. It lies within the state of Illinois. It is home of First Army headquarters. The island was originally established as a government site in 1816, with the building of Fort Armstrong.

The island facilities were converted and built in 1863; they were not yet completed in December of that year, when the first Confederate prisoners were incarcerated. The construction was makeshift. The first prisoners were 468 Confederates captured in battles at Chattanooga, Tennessee. That month more than 5,000 Confederates would swell the population of Rock Island military prison. They were kept in 84 barracks, each holding around 100 prisoners. A total of 41 Confederate prisoners successfully escaped during the prison's operation, and many more would try but fail.

A total of 1,964 Confederate prisoners and 125 Union guards are buried in the adjacent military cemetery, including 49 members of the 108th Regiment of United States Colored Troops, who served as guards. Most died from disease, since sanitation was primitive as in all army encampments, and exposure to heat and humidity during the summers and freezing temperatures during winters. In 1864, deadly smallpox epidemics raged through the prison.

The prison camp operated from December 1863 until July 1865, when the last prisoners were freed. After the war, the prison facility was completely destroyed. During its two years in operation, the prison camp housed a total of more than 12,400 Confederates.

Other historical sites in the area include the Confederate Cemetery, the Rock Island National Cemetery, 19th-century stone workshops, officers' quarters along the river, Col. Davenport's House, and the site of the first bridge built across the Mississippi. Following the war, the federal government retained ownership of Arsenal Island and developed it for use as an arsenal and ordnance manufacturing center, which led to its being renamed.

Rock Island Arsenal