Vancouver Arsenal (1853-1881) - A U.S. Army arsenal established in 1853 as Vancouver Ordnance Depot by Theodore J. Eckerson in present-day Vancouver, Clark County, Washington. Renamed Vancouver Arsenal in October 1862 during the U.S. Civil War. Discontinued in 1881.
Established as a temporary ordnance depot in 1853 adjacent to what was then Columbia Barracks in Vancouver, Washington. The depot was established by the ordnance department to store and issue arms, munitions, and equipment to federal, state, and militia military forces. It operated under the U.S. Army Ordnance Department with its own officers and employees ostensibly independent of the adjacent post command structure.
The first appointed commanding officer of the depot was military storekeeper (M.S.K.) Theodore J. Eckerson a well-liked extraordinary military veteran of the Seminole and Mexican wars who had served with Ulysses S. Grant and maintained a friendship with him. Eckerson was commissioned twice by U.S. Grant and once by President Abraham Lincoln. Eckerson improved the temporary depot facilities and built a log magazine in anticipation of a proper arsenal being authorized and constructed.
In 1853-1855 the Washington and Oregon Indian Wars created a great demand to arm Federal, state, and militia forces, and Eckerson responded well to the requests earning him the admiration of the population. The depot was not large enough and did not have sufficient stores to meet the demand and Eckerson had to requisition additional arms from Benicia Arsenal in California.
Many new posts were established in the Pacific Northwest as a result of the Indian Wars and the need for a proper arsenal to supply them was apparent. The posts included Fort Lane (1), Fort Steilacoom, Fort Orford, Fort Dalles and Fort Vancouver. On 30 Aug 1856, Congress approved an appropriation for the arsenal and this date is used as the established date for Vancouver Arsenal. The planning and specifications were completed and the materials were ordered and many were delivered by June 1858.
On 22 Jun 1858 command of the depot changed to 1st Lieutenant Joshua W. Sill who had been selected to erect the new arsenal at Vancouver. News that the project had been put on hold arrived shortly after Sill arrived. Land claim issues with the site were such that they could not be overcome easily. The British Government, the Catholic Church, and the claim holder all had issues that could not be easily cleared. The project remained on hold even after the British claim was resolved in 1869. Lieutenant Sill and the new Commander of the Department of Oregon, General William S. Harney had a disagreement over who headed the depot, and Sill was placed under arrest for several months.
Lieutenant Sill departed and was replaced with Lieutenant William T. Welcker who, despite some of the same problems with Harney began the construction of a series of wooden buildings to house the functions of an arsenal. That process continued along with the hiring of additional personnel.
Theodore J. Eckerson returned to the Depot in July 1861 at the beginning of the U.S. Civil War as the commander. In October 1862 the name of the depot changed to Vancouver Arsenal and the construction of the temporary buildings was just about complete. Arsenal activities increased during the war and it produced some 300,000 cartridges for the war effort.
Following the war, the arsenal was improved mostly by adding officer and enlisted quarters but the necessary permanent buildings were not built. The need for an arsenal gradually evaporated as the Indian War posts closed and the border disputes were settled. Improved transportation in the form of steamships and railroads meant that large quantities of men and arms could be quickly moved to any trouble spot. The U.S. Army responded by closing the regional arsenals and transferring the remaining necessary functions from the Ordnance Department to operational commanders. General Order 89, 14 Dec 1881, discontinued the Vancouver Arsenal and established the Vancouver Barracks Ordnance Depot under the jurisdiction of the Quartermaster Department and the Department of Columbia. The Vancouver Barracks Ordnance Depot was discontinued on 30 Sep 1894.
At Vancouver Barracks the discontinuance of the arsenal allowed the post to expand officer's row across the northern side of the old arsenal property and build a new headquarters complex on the east side. The remaining frame buildings were torn down and none of them remain today. The remaining surplus stores at the arsenal were distributed to the Washington Territory government and to Benicia Arsenal in California. By 1886 post maps show the new quarters and the headquarters complex completed and just outlines of where the old arsenal buildings had been.
Part of the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. No visible remains of the arsenal at Vancouver Barracks in Vancouver, Clark County, Washington. The visitor center is said to be built over the site of one of the arsenal storage buildings but there are no visible remains or markers.
Visited: 2 Nov 2013