Saturday, June 2, 2012

Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois and the Finding of Uncle Frank

The Rock Island Arsenal is located on Rock Island in the Mississippi River. Originally established as Fort Armstrong in 1816 the Arsenal has been an active manufacturer of military equipment and ordnance since the 1880's. The Arsenal is the only active U.S. Army foundry and manufactures artillery, gun mounts, small arms, grenade launchers, weapons simulators and a whole bunch of other stuff.

The museum was fairly interesting. It is the second-oldest US Army Museum in the US after West Point. They have an enormous collection of small arms weapons and lots of interesting facts like the Arsenal is the sole supplier of paper targets to all of the US Armed Forces.

This horse was used as a mannequin when the Arsenal
was making saddles and other horse related

What really drew us to the Museum was the fact that during the Civil War the Island was home to a large Union army prison camp for captured Confederate soldiers. The camp was operational from December 1863 until July 1865 and housed over 12,400 Confederates. Of those a total of 41 Confederate prisoners successfully escaped while many others tried and failed.

According to oral family history, one of those, who was a member of the unsuccessful and the successful was Shelley's great-great Uncle Franklin Shields Rhodes who was in the cavalry in the Army of Northern Virginia. Although most of the records have been lost or destroyed what has survived had been put on microfiche and has since been transcribed and digitized and is available to be searched at the Museum. From the time Shelley sat down at the computer until she located Uncle Frank's record of escape was about 30 seconds! It was true! He escaped successfully in December 1864. The story goes that after being incarcerated for a few months he escaped but was recaptured and returned to the prison. The second escape attempt was a few months later in December, the river was frozen over and he and a Dr. McGill were able to successfully make their escape. The record does not reflect his initial incarceration or escape attempt. It has to be surmised that the first attempt was in October 1864 as that is the date that it shows him being captured. Shelley was pretty stoked at being able to find this record.  Uncle Frank was Shelley's maternal grandmother's favorite uncle.  He had no heirs.

                        I know you cannot read this copy from the microfiche but - the info is there.
                                                 This is the transcribed information.

These types of finds just makes history come alive.


~Cheryl said...

Extremely cool! 30 seconds is amazing. So happy you made this stop along the way.

Patrick Wagoner said...

Wow that's too cool ;)

Maureen said...

Very interesting!!