Before the Civil War, Mound City, IL was an unremarkable port town on the Ohio River. It certainly benefited from river traffic, but never became a major hub of commerce. Speculators had even built several warehouses in anticipation of the town's growth, only to remain empty at the war's outset. Mound City eventually grew, but never in the way investors imagined.
James Eads ushered Mound City into the spotlight when he began building new warships there in the summer of 1861. New building contracts kept rolling in from the Army, and quickly Mound City was transformed into one of the west's most important military centers.
The Marine Ways allowed steamboats to be hauled entirely out of the Ohio River so that carpenters could repair and improve them for wartime duty. In late 1861, a new military hospital (pictured behind the U.S.S. Daisy) was constructed and staffed by army surgeons, volunteers, and South Bend, Indiana's Nursing Sisters of the Holy Cross. With the large hospital came the creation of the Mound City National Cemetery.
1862 saw a new foundry built, and the town was connected to the Illinois Central Railroad. Mound City was now a center for troop transportation as soldiers disembarked by train only to re-embark on steamers headed for the Deep South.
By 1863, the Navy stored all ordnance for the Mississippi Squadron here and a detachment of Marines was entrusted with its protection. Through 1864, the Navy transformed Mound City into its headquarters for all western operations, a distinction the town kept until the close of the war. From 1863-65, if a western warship needed repairing or construction, Mound City was the place to do it.