St. Louis Arsenal

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The St. Louis Arsenal is a large complex of military weapons and ammunition storage buildings owned by the United States Army in St. Louis. During the Civil War, the arsenal's contents were seized and removed to Illinois by Union Captain Nathaniel Lyon, an act that helped fuel tension between secessionists and those citizens loyal to the Federal government.

Origin and Early Years of Service

In 1827, the United States War Department decided to replace a 22-year old arsenal, Fort Belle Fontaine (located 15 miles north of St. Louis) with a larger facility to meet the needs of the rapidly growing military forces in the West. Lt. Martin Thomas selected a 37-acre tract of land on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River and procured the land for the new arsenal. It was close to the main military base, Jefferson Barracks, and had easy access to the city and the river. By 1840, 22 separate buildings had been erected, and a garrison of 30 ordnance soldiers manned the site, along with 30 civilian employees, who assembled finished weapons and artillery from parts supplied by private contractors and armories.

When the Mexican-American War erupted, the demand for small arms, ammunition, and artillery substantially increased. At its peak during the war years, the St. Louis Arsenal employed over 500 civilian workers. During the two years of war, the arsenal produced 19,500 artillery rounds, 8.4 million small arms cartridges, 13.7 million musket balls, 4.7 million rifle balls, 17 field cannon with full attachments, 15,700 stand of small arms, 4,600 edged weapons, and much more.[1] Production was curtailed following the cessation of the war, although the arsenal workers (back to their normal complement of 30) did spend considerable time refurbishing and reconditioning surplus arms returned from the war.

Another flurry of activity accompanied the Utah War of 1857–58, when President Buchanan ordered an expedition of Federal troops to suppress the Mormons. Employment exceeded 100 workers, and the arsenal provided much of the weaponry for William S. Harney's forces.

Soldiers who died at the Arsenal were buried on Arsenal Island, which was located directly across from the Arsenal in the middle of the Mississippi River.[2]

Civil War

Anticipating secession, a number of Southern states asked for their quota of arms and ammunitions to be shipped from the St. Louis Arsenal to state armories and arsenals. Buchanan's Secretary of War, John B. Floyd, a Virginian, was accused of aiding in this transfer of arms and resigned his post in December 1860 to return to Virginia. An investigation cleared him, but many suspected that his involvement had helped arm the Confederate States and prepare them for war in advance of actual ordinances of secession from the individual states.

In the early months of 1861, Northern and Southern loyalists (often split along political lines between Republicans and Democrats) wrangled for control of the armory through political means. However, on February 6, Capt. Nathaniel Lyon of Company B, 2nd U.S. Infantry, arrived in St. Louis from Fort Riley in Kansas with 80 veteran Federal soldiers. Shortly after the attack on Fort Sumter in South Carolina in April, Lyon, an avowed Unionist and abolitionist, had the arms and ammunition in the arsenal sent to Alton, to prevent their seizure by Southern sympathizers.

On May 10, 1861, Lyon led the 2nd U.S. Infantry to nearby Camp Jackson, forcing the surrender of hundreds of Southern sympathizers assembled there by pro-secession Governor Claiborne F. Jackson. Riots broke out in St. Louis after Lyon marched his prisoners through the city. The event provoked the St. Louis Massacre over the next few days, in which Lyon's troops opened fire on a crowd of civilians, injuring at least 90 and killing 28.

The St. Louis Arsenal remained in Federal hands throughout the Civil War, and, with St. Louis firmly in Union control, provided substantial quantities of war material to the armies in the Western Theater.

Postbellum Years

In March 1869, ten acres of the old arsenal grounds were given to the City of St. Louis for the creation of Lyon Park, named for General Lyon, who had been killed at the Battle of Wilson's Creek in 1862. Much of the remainder of the arsenal complex was retained by the U.S. Army, with substantial peaks in weaponry and ammunitions storage and dispensing during World Wars I and II. In 1956, it was transferred to the U.S. Air Force.

21st Century

The arsenal complex remains an active part of the military today, with much of it off limits to tourists and visitors. The Arsenal is maintained by the USAF and the Department of Defense Mapping Agency Aerospace Center, and houses a major branch of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.



<googlemap lat="38.594384" lon="-90.208923" zoom="17" width="700"> 38.593804, -90.208966, Site of the original St. Louis Arsenal. The area is still controlled by the Federal government. </googlemap>