St. Louis Arsenal (1827-Present) - A large
complex of military weapons and ammunition storage buildings owned by the United
States Army, the arsenal, which was built in 1827, is still utilized today. In
1825, the arsenal was located at Fort Belle
Fontaine some 15 miles north of
Missouri, but the old fort and its small arsenal were falling into
disrepair. Additionally, the War Department felt like it needed a bigger
facility and began making plans to build a new one.
A new site was selected on a bluff overlooking the
Mississippi River by Lieutenant Martin Thomas. The 37- acre site was was advantageous
for its strategic view, access to the river, and its proximity to the main area
military base -- Jefferson Barracks. In 1827, the first building on the new
arsenal grounds was completed but, it would be a year before it would actually
store the ammunition. In the meantime, Fort Belle Fontaine continued to supply ammunition and military supplies to
troops operating in the Louisiana Territory until June 1828.
When the St. Louis Arsenal began to store the
ammunition and supplies, Fort Belle Fontaine was abandoned. The new St. Louis Arsenal grew to house a
large three story brick building, an armory, an ammunition plant, and several
wagon repair shops. 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.
When the Mexican-American War erupted in 1846, the arsenal was
very busy producing small arms, ammunition,
and artillery and increased its civilian workers to some 500 men. During the
war, the arsenal 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.
When the war was over, the civilian staff was reduced to about 30 and the
arsenal was relatively quiet for about a decade until the Utah War began in
1857. Civilian staff was once again increased, this time to about 100 civilians.
Prior to the
Civil War, a number of congressmen,
anticipating secession, began to demand that their quota of arms and ammunitions
to be shipped from the St. Louis Arsenal to state armories and arsenals. In
December, 1860, President James Buchanan's Secretary of War, John B. Floyd, a
Virginian, was accused of aiding in the transfer of arms to southern states. He
quickly resigned his post and returned to Virginia. Afterwards, an investigation
was conducted into his involvement, where it was found that he had bolstered the Federal arsenals in some Southern states by
over 115,000 muskets and rifles in late 1859. He had also ordered heavy ordnance
to be shipped to the Federal forts in Galveston Harbor, Texas and to Fort
Massachusetts in Mississippi. Though he was officially cleared of any wrong
doing, many continued to suspect that his
involvement had helped arm the Confederate States of America in preparation of
By early 1861, the
Civil War was looming
and the states were choosing sides.
Missouri was caught in the middle
as most of its residents supported slavery. Despite this, the Missouri
Constitutional Convention of March, 1861 voted to stay with the Union,
but refused to supply men or weapons to either side if war broke out.
This resulted in a state of war within its own borders between the
U.S. Army and
Missouri citizens and the St. Louis Arsenal would become a
In March 1861,
General Nathaniel Lyon arrived in St.
Louis to command of Company D of the 2nd U.S. Infantry. At the
that time, Missouri Governor Claiborne F. Jackson was a strong
Southern sympathizer, as were many of the state legislators. Lyon was
accurately concerned that Jackson might try to seize the federal
arsenal in St. Louis if the state seceded and that the Union had
insufficient defensive forces to prevent the seizure.
One of Lyon's first objectives was to
strengthen the arsenal defenses, but he was opposed
by his superiors, including Brigadier General William S. Harney of the
Department of the West. However, Lyon soon requested the aid of
General Francis P. Blair, who agreed that southern leaders might try
to carry neutral Missouri into the Confederate movement. Lyon was soon
named commander of the arsenal and General Blair formed a secret
paramilitary group of some 1,000 men called the Wide Awakes.