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Excerpts from Report of Colonel Daniel W. Flagler [1]

Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois, September 23, 1880

Chief of Ordnance
U.S. Army
Washington, D. C.


     I have the honor to report that in obedience to your instructions of the 2d inst., I have visited and inspected the Fort Union Arsenal, New Mexico. I left my station on the 8th inst. and returned to it on the 18th inst.

Description of Buildings and Grounds

     I send herewith a plat of the Arsenal [this drawing has not been located] . . . to show you the general character of the Arsenal, and the arrangement and capacity of the buildings.

     The buildings have all only one story, except that the Commanding Officer's Quarters have a large roomy attic, or half second story, and a portion of the main storehouse has a good basement 34' by 90'. Except two wooden sheds and the houses over cisterns and wells, the walls of all the buildings are built of adobes, but have good stone foundations, extending from two to four feet above the level of the ground.

     The Commanding Officer's Quarters, the barracks and the clerk's quarters have good tin roofs. The other buildings have the ordinary flat adobe roofs, or ceilings, but over these are slant [gable] roofs covered with pine boards. These roofs are all in good condition, and the buildings perfectly dry but it will be seen that these board roofs are cheap and temporary in character, and require constant attention to keep them in good condition. Small leakage, however, only penetrates to the adobe roof and ceiling below, and does no harm.

     The Arsenal and all its buildings are in excellent order and condition. I was informed that the total cost of all the buildings at the Arsenal was only $47,000. The Arsenal was laid out and constructed entirely by its present commanding officer, Capt. W R. Shoemaker, M.S.K.

     Ord. Dept., and I believe the highest credit is due to Capt. Shoemaker for the great ability, economy and efficiency exercised by him in the construction and care of the Arsenal, and in its administration, and in the supplying of troops and the administration of the affairs of the Ordnance Department in the Territory of New Mexico during the past 30 years.

     My measurements make the capacity of the storehouses 13,000 sq. feet of floor space, and the magazines 3,720 sq. feet of floor space.


     The two buildings marked on the map as carpenter and saddler's shops, are now used as storehouses. They could at any time be quickly cleaned out and used as shops, if required. Besides these there is a good building now used as a smith's and general repair shop.

     The barracks have good, ample accommodations for 20 men, with good bakery and kitchen.

     The Commanding Officer's Quarters is a large, pleasant well arranged house.

     As shown on the map, only the small enclosure about the Commanding Officer's Quarters and the office is irrigated. In this enclosure, good grass and trees are cultivated. The rest of the grounds are barren. They have only the scant grasses that grow on the plains, and trees cannot be grown except by irrigation.

     Water Supply (see map). There are two cisterns of about 20,000 gallons capacity each. These are filled, in the rainy season, by water shed from roofs, and the water is kept for fire protection. In the house ever each cistern is a force pump, and fire hose, and the pumps are worked by mule power. An inexhaustible supply of water has been obtained by sinking a well below the level of a good spring which is nearly a half mile from the Arsenal. The well is 70 feet deep. Water is raised by mule power and stored in a tank in the house over the well. It is then distributed about the post in a water wagon.

     If the Arsenal is retained, I would recommend that a modern wind mill be substituted for pumping this water and that a few pipes be laid for carrying the water to points where it is required. The cost of the improvement would be about $400—and it would save from 4 to 6 of the mules now required for the service of the post. The mill could also be used for sawing wood.

     Post Garden. The garden is in the vicinity of an excellent spring on the Ordnance reservation, about a mile from the Arsenal. The spring furnishes a plentiful supply of water for irrigation, and an ample supply of vegetables for the command is raised.


     The annual rainy season at the Arsenal usually lasts about six weeks beginning in the early part of August. There is little or no rain during the rest of the year. The atmosphere is so dry that powder and arms can be stored indefinitely without material deterioration.

     The climate is exceeding pleasant and healthful. There is no hot season and the winters are mild, though there are generally a few weeks of cold about Christmas in which the mercury falls below zero, and in which ice can be obtained. The ground does not freeze to a greater depth than 12 inches.

Location of the Arsenal

     The railway station nearest to the Arsenal is Watrous on the main line of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe R.R. The distance is 9 miles. The wagon road is good throughout the year, but all stores that go to the Arsenal for storage must be hauled over this road and all issues to the Army must be hauled back again. This hauling is done by the Quartermaster at Fort Union, one mile distant. In times of Indian wars, when an excessive amount of transportation has been required, Ordnance stores have, of course, had to wait their turn. This has, I believe, sometimes caused vexatious delays, injurious to the reputation of the Ordnance Department.

     It is improbable that in many years any railroad will be built which will pass nearer to the Arsenal than the present line of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe. On this account, I believe you will decide eventually to abandon the Arsenal, or remove it to some point on the line of the railroad more advantageously situated for the transaction of business. If you should decide to abandon the Arsenal and substitute for it a temporary Ordnance depot for supplying troops and posts in New Mexico and adjacent parts of Texas and Arizona, then I think the depot should certainly be placed at Santa Fe.

     For many reasons, however, I believe it may be for the interest of the service and the Ordnance Department to maintain a small permanent Arsenal for storage and repairs in New Mexico. The rapid development of new railroad facilities will make such an Arsenal a good point from which to supply not only the troops and posts in New Mexico, but also those in portions of Texas and Arizona. It is probable that these posts will have to be maintained for many years on account of the Indians, and afterwards it is probable that posts will have to be maintained indefinitely along the border of old Mexico. The proposed Arsenal would be the most advantageous point from which to supply the latter posts.

     If you should decide to establish and maintain such an Arsenal the rapid changes and development of business in the country are such that I believe it would be unwise or impossible to determine immediately the best point for its location. It appears certain, however, that it should not be placed further south than Santa Fe.

     Watrous is on the Mora river, and is, in some respects a good site. It has an ample supply of water which could be made available without special constructions. This was the site originally selected by Capt. Shoemaker for the Arsenal, but he was prevented from building there. It would have resulted in great benefit to the Department, if his plans could have been carried out. As this point is only 9 miles from the present site of the Arsenal, its removal to this point could be more easily and economically effected than to any other.


     If you should decide to remove and re-establish the Arsenal at some other point—for reasons given in this report—I would recommend that action in the matter be deferred for one or two years, until the railroad and other facilities in the country have been so developed that the best point for its location can be determined with certainty. In the meantime, the affairs of the Department are being well administered, and I think you can feel assured that the Fort Union Arsenal furnishes good and ample facilities for the supply of all the troops that need to be supplied from that point. Its distance from the railroad is not so serious a drawback as to necessitate haste in the matter.

     The Arsenal itself, although ample in capacity and in excellent order and conditions, is so cheaply built, and its buildings are of such temporary character, that its abandonment or removal, whenever it may be deemed necessary, would not involve serious loss to the United States.

Ordnance & Ordnance Stores

     In view of the probable continuance of the campaign against Indians in New Mexico, I enclose, herewith, an estimate marked C, of stores which I respectfully recommend to be sent to the Fort Union Arsenal for issue to the Army. The storehouses and magazines at the Arsenal are now pretty well filled. A large portion of the obsolete and unserviceable stores will never be required at the Arsenal and cannot be used there. I have therefore made and send herewith an Inspection report, marked D, of stores which I respectfully recommend to be dropped, broken up, and shipped to the Rock Island Arsenal, to make room for new stores.

     A portion of these stores are practically worthless. They cannot be sold where they are, and are not worth the cost of transportation—about 3-1/2 cents per lb—to Rock Island. These I recommend to be dropped, and such of them as are of any value can be used up at the post.

     I was informed by the Commanding Officer of the Arsenal that he could break up the unserviceable artillery ammunition with his enlisted men. I recommend on the report that this ammunition be broken up, and that the cartridges be converted into blank cartridges for issue to the Army; the serviceable projectiles to be held at the Arsenal; the unserviceable and obsolete projectiles to be converted into scrap. This scrap and the scrap obtained from worthless artillery carriages, and other stores broken up, cannot now be sold at the post; but the railroad company will, in a year or two, have a rolling mill and foundry in the vicinity, and the scrap can then be sold at high prices.

     I have also recommended on the report that a considerable quantity of stores, the greater portion of which are unserviceable or obsolete, and none of which can ever be required at the Arsenal, and which are worth transportation, to be sent to Rock Island Arsenal, to be overhauled and repaired, broken up, or held for issue.

     I also enclose, herewith, a list marked E, of unserviceable and obsolete stores, principally arms and Grimsley saddles, not on my inspection report—which have been already condemned, advertised for sale on the last catalogue of condemned ordnance and ordnance stores, and are now held for sale at the Arsenal. I was informed by the Commanding Officer of the Arsenal that he cannot sell these stores to buyers in the vicinity for anything at all. As they can be sold to Eastern buyers only and as these buyer are generally unwilling to purchase without first seeing the stores, and they are prevented from seeing them by the cost of the journey, which is $135 from here to Fort Union and return, and also by the great cost of freights, this list and those facts are respectfully submitted in case you should wish to transfer these stores to Rock Island Arsenal to be held for sale.

     1. Flagler to Chief of ORD, Sept. 23, 1880, LR, ORD, RG 156, NA.

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