Virtual Tour - The Story

The story of the Rock Island National Cemetery began a year after the War of 1812 with the construction of Fort Armstrong a defensive structure built to secure the upper Mississippi Valley from incursions by armed British Traders from Canada.

In 1832, Fort Armstrong served as the base of operations for U.S. forces at war with the Native American confederation led by the Sauk warleader Black Hawk. In 1862, a year after the beginning of the Civil War, congress authorized the construction of an arsenal on the grounds of the then abandoned Fort Armstrong.

This Arsenal would grow into one of the most important supply depots of the Union Armies operating in the Mississippi Valley. Manned by “gray beard” volunteers above regular enlistment age, and later the former Kentucky slaves of the 108th Colored Infantry, the Rock Island Arsenal held over eight-thousand five-hundred Confederate prisoners of war at its peak capacity.

The inception of the Rock Island National Cemetery lies in the post cemetery, where gray beard and 108th casualties were laid to rest on the island, as well as the island’s separate Confederate cemetery.

The Rock Island Arsenal and its National Cemetery were developed into truly unique sites by Brigadier General Thomas J. Rodman. The Brigadier General was famous for his development of the “Rodman Gun”: a type of cannon cast around an air- or water-cooled core that made them stronger, more durable, and safer to operate.

He brought the same innovation and craftsmanship to his vision for the Arsenal; joliet limestone shops and officers’ quarters offer a beautiful architectural marvel to mirror his simultaneous development of the Arsenal into the premier arsenal of the United States military.

Brigadier General Rodman also conducted the movement of the National Cemetery to its current location at the east end of the island, and had many soldiers’ remains moved from Davenport, Iowa’s Oakdale Cemetery to this new National Cemetery. He is remembered as the “Father of the Rock Island Arsenal”, and is laid to rest in the National Cemetery alongside his wife Martha Ann; their gravesite marked with an obelisk monument and three Rodman Guns.

Over thirty-seven thousand people are currently buried at the Rock Island National Cemetery. The mission of the Veterans Legacy Memorial Project is to pass on the stories of a selection of individuals from across U.S. history that are buried at the National Cemetery. One example of such an individual is Edward Joseph Pfeffer, a bull of a man from Illinois who put a pause on his professional baseball career as a pitcher for the Brooklyn Robins to serve in the Navy in World War I.

Another example is Ralph Anthony “Iggy” Ignatowski, a young man who wanted so badly to be a marine that he subverted recruitment standards by using another man’s urine to pass a test that had rejected him for having a kidney problem. Iggy fought valiantly in the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II, where he was tragically captured and tortured to death by the Japanese military.

Veterans Legacy Memorial Project also records the stories of veterans who have served in more recent conflicts; such as Bradley Steven Korthaus, a young Marine in Iraq who bravely volunteered for the dangerous task of fording the Saddam Canal under potential enemy gunfire, tragically drowning in the process of the operation.

We at the Veterans Legacy Memorial humbly present to you the stories of these veterans and over two-hundred others, so that we never forget the accomplishments and sacrifices of the brave armed forces personnel that have served our country since its humble beginnings.


“RIA Self-Guided Tour: Brigadier General Thomas J. Rodman.”, April 9, 2019.
“Rock Island National Cemetery–Rock Island, Illinois.” National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior. Accessed July 28, 2022.
“Rock Island National Cemetery.” Find a Grave, January 1, 2000.

Read the story about the Rock Island Confederate Cemetery – Click here