Arsenal at War

This last week, people have been commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and the battle at Gettysburg. The Civil War impacted every state in one way or another, and Michigan is no different. Dearborn has a unique place in this history as home to a United States Arsenal. To help commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, we have put together a history of the Detroit Arsenal in Dearbornville and its service during the Civil War.

Not much remains of the United States Arsenal that was built in Dearbornville in the 1830s. When completed, the arsenal consisted of eleven buildings: the armory, sutler’s shop (where personal items could be purchased), guard house, the barracks, surgeon’s quarters, carpenter’s shop, smith’s shop, saddler’s shop, gun-carriage shed, the arsenal office, and the commandant’s quarters. The powder magazine, with its two foot thick brick walls, wasn’t completed until 1839 and was located safely outside of the arsenal walls.

The Detroit Arsenal at Dearbornville was smaller than similar arsenals such as those at Springfield, Waterviet, and St. Louis. This is because, unlike bigger operations, the Detroit Arsenal at Dearbornville never manufactured weapons. Instead, the Arsenal staff repaired weapons and other military material.

The Arsenal wasn’t an army base; very few soldiers ever trained here. The Arsenal served as an armory where various companies would stop to procure arms before marching off to battle. The Arsenal became an important stop for Michigan troops on their way to fight in the American Civil War.


Due to the need for more soldiers at the front, many arsenals operated with skeleton crews and had only enough men to perform the most essential tasks. The Arsenal at Dearbornville is no exception. In 1864, there were only eight soldiers stationed full-time at the arsenal. If required, these eight men would be charged with handing out weapons and gear for hundreds of soldiers.

Depriving the Arsenal of guards created other problems. Due to the draft, support of the government was down and an attack on a poorly manned arsenal was a very real possibility. To fix this problem, General Order 69 was expanded. This allowed “invalids” or persons who were in part disabled either through natural causes or war to serve in non-front line duties.

On August 20, 1864, Cpt. George C. Davenport and Company F of the 2nd Regiment, Veteran Corps joined the small number still stationed at the Arsenal in Dearbornville. This increased the number of soldiers by a factor of almost 100.

Just a day after the Union victory at Gettysburg, a large celebration was held. Nearly 5,000 people gathered at the Arsenal parade grounds for a day of festivities. The Declaration of Independence was read by Cpt. Levan C. Rhines of the 1st Michigan Sharpshooters and Col. Charles V. DeLand, also of the Sharpshooters, made a short speech. Records show that the day of the celebration was so hot, thirty barrels of ice water was consumed within fifteen minutes.

At the end of the Civil War, the Arsenal was charged with re-collecting United States Property from soldiers returning home. The Arsenal collected arms from the First, Second, Fourth, Seventh, Eighth, Tenth, Eleventh, Thirteenth, Fourteenth, Sixteenth, Seventeenth, Eighteenth, Nineteenth, Twentieth, Twenty-first, Twenty-second, Twenty-third, Twenty-Fourth, Twenty-Fifth, Twenty-sixth, Twenty-seventh Regiments, the First Michigan Sharpshooters, and the Fourth Calvary.

In 1966, a marker was placed on the Commandant’s Quarters to commemorate those who served and trained at the Arsenal during the Civil War. The marker reads:

“Michigan Soldiers Trained at the U.S. Arsenal During Civil War
During the period of the American Civil War
the U.S. Arsenal in Dearborn (Then Dearbornville)
served as training facilities for Michigan soldiers.
This marker is a testimony and a memorial to
those men and their units who gave a measure
of their devotion. They include:

First Michigan Sharpshooters Regiment.
Approximately one third to one half
of the unit’s ten companies were
casualties, including men from the all
Indian Company K, four men received the
Congressional Medal of Honor.
Battery M of the First Light Artillery.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s