The Ordnance of the Confederacy
J. W. MALLET, Lieutenant-Colonel, Confederate States Army,
and Superintendent of the Ordnance Laboratories of the Confederate States
O. E. Hunt, Captain, United States Army
At the beginning of the Civil War the Confederate States had very few improved small arms, no powder-mills of any importance, very few modern cannon, and only the small arsenals that had been captured from the Federal Government. These were at Charleston, Augusta, Mount Vernon (Alabama), Baton Rouge, and Apalachicola. The machinery that was taken from Harper's Ferry Armory after its abandonment by the Federals was removed to Richmond, Virginia, and Fayetteville, North Carolina, where it was set up and operated. There were some State armories containing a few small arms and a few old pieces of heavy ordnance. There was scarcely any gunpowder except about sixty thousand pounds of old cannon-powder at Norfolk. There was almost an entire lack of other ordnance stores--no saddles and bridles, no artillery harness, no accouterments, and very few of the minor articles required for the equipment of an army. There was a considerable number of heavy sea-coast guns at the fortified seaports, and others were seized on board men-of-war at Norfolk and among the stores of the Norfolk Navy-Yard. The supply of field-pieces amounted to almost nothing. The States owned a few modern guns, but the most of those on hand were old iron guns, used in the war of 1812-15.
In the arsenals captured from the Federals, there were about one hundred and twenty thousand muskets of old types, and twelve thousand to fifteen thousand rifles. In addition to these, the States had a few muskets, bringing the total available supply of small arms for infantry up to about one hundred and fifty thousand. With this handicap, the States entered the greatest war in American history. President Jefferson Davis said that "it soon became evident to all that the South had gone to war without counting the cost."
At first, all the ordnance and ordnance supplies of the United States in the Southern arsenals and armories were claimed by the States in which they were found. This caused no little delay in the acquisition of necessary ordnance stores by the Confederate Government, due to the necessity for negotiating for their transfer. The first steps toward provision for ordnance needs were taken while the Government was still at Montgomery, Alabama. An Ordnance Department was organized. Colonel Josiah Gorgas, a graduate of the United States Military Academy in the class of 1841, was appointed chief of ordnance about the end of February, 1861. The department immediately sent out purchasing-officers. Of these, Commander Raphael Semmes (afterward Admiral Semmes) was sent to New York, where, for a few weeks, he was able to buy ordnance stores in considerable quantity and ship them to the South ; and Colonel Caleb Huse was soon afterward sent to London to act as general purchasing-agent in England and on the European continent. He remained on this duty throughout the war, and did invaluable service to the Confederate cause.
The seat of the Confederate Government having been moved to Richmond, Colonel Gorgas there proceeded to organize the center of activity of the Ordnance Department. There were four main sources of supply: arms on hand at the beginning of the war, those captured from the United States, those manufactured in the Confederacy, and those imported from abroad. The principal dependence at first was necessarily on the importations.
An officer was detailed in special charge of the latter service, and agencies were established at Bermuda, Nassau, and at Havana. A number of swift steamers were bought, and, after the blockade was established, these did valiant service in blockade running. Wilmington and Charleston were the principal ports of entry from which cotton was shipped in exchange for the greatly needed ordnance supplies. This trade was so essential to the existence of the Confederate Government, before the domestic supply of ordnance became approximately adequate, that vigorous efforts were made by all concerned to keep the channel open.
The arms on hand at the beginning of the war came forward chiefly in the organizations of the men who first volunteered. These were equipped, as far as possible, by the States from which the regiments came. In response to a call for private arms, many thousand shotguns and old sporting-rifles were turned in, and served, to some extent, to satisfy the impatience of men eager to take the field until better provision could be made for them, or they provided for themselves on some of the battlefields in the early part of the war.
Of those captured from the United States, the number obtained from arsenals and armories at the opening of the conflict has been noted, and, in addition to these, there were the quantities being constantly turned in from numerous actions in the field. In the summer of 1862, after the Seven Days' Battles around Richmond and the second battle of Manassas, men were detailed to collect arms from the field and turn them in. Thereby, several thousand Springfield rifles were added to the small supply. When General Jackson captured Harper's Ferry, in 1862, the arms of the defending force there were also added. Such increments greatly augmented the number that could be collected from other sources.
The stringency of the blockade rendered it imperative that every effort be made to increase the domestic manufacture of all kinds of ordnance and ordnance stores. In arranging for the manufacture of arms and munitions at home, establishments of two different kinds were placed in operation: those which were intended to be permanent, built and equipped for their special purpose and intended to concentrate work on a large scale, and those of a more temporary character, capable of yielding results in the shortest time, and intended to meet the immediate demands of the war, with such resources as the country then afforded.
The first of the permanent works undertaken was a first-class powder-mill, the erection and equipment of which were placed in charge of Colonel George W. Rains, of North Carolina, a graduate of the United States Military Academy in the class of 1842. The mill was placed at Augusta, Georgia, and its construction was commenced in September, 1861. The plant was ready to begin making powder in April, 1862, and continued in successful operation until the end of the war, furnishing all the gunpowder needed, and of the finest quality. Competent critics say of this mill, that, notwithstanding the difficulties in the way of its erection and maintenance, it was, for its time, one of the most efficient powder-mills in the world.
Another permanent work erected was a central ordnance laboratory for the production of artillery and small-arms ammunition and miscellaneous articles of ordnance stores. This was decided on in September, 1861, placed in charge of Lieutenant-Colonel J. W. Mallet, and located at Macon, Georgia. It was designed to be an elaborate establishment, especially for the fabrication of percussion-caps, friction-primers, and pressed bullets, in addition to heavier ordnance supplies. Special machinery was made in England and shipped, but did not reach its destination in time for use. A large instalment including a most powerful pair of engines, had reached Bermuda when blockade running practically came to an end, near the close of the war.
The third establishment projected to be permanent was a large central armory, equipped with a complete plant of machinery for the fabrication of small arms, and to which the Harper's Ferry machinery, which had been temporarily installed at Richmond and Fayetteville, was to be removed. This was put in charge of Lieutenant-Colonel J. H. Burton, who had gained experience at the factory in Enfield, England. It was determined to locate this armory at Macon, also. The buildings were begun in 1863, but they were not so far advanced toward completion as the laboratory when the end of the war arrested the work.
As a consequence of the necessity for immediate supply of arms and munitions to enable the armies to keep the field, resort was had to temporary arsenals and armories-at least they were designated as " temporary," although they were actually permanent, as far as the purposes of the war which the Confederacy waged was concerned.
The work was scattered among a number of available places throughout the South. Herein entered the problem of transportation by rail. The railroads were not very amply equipped at the outbreak of the war, and were overburdened in operation to such an extent that it would have been impossible to transport material to any single point from great distances, or to secure similar transportation for finished products over long lines. It was, moreover, uncertain how far any one place could be depended upon as secure from molestation by the foe. And there was not time for the removal of the plants from the localities in which they were when the Confederacy took possession of them, and various temporary ordnance works grew up about existing foundries, machine-shops, and railroad repair-shops, and at the various United States arsenals and ordnance depots. The chief localities that were thus utilized were Richmond, Virginia; Fayetteville, North Carolina; Charleston, South Carolina; Augusta, Savannah, and Macon, Georgia; Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee; and Montgomery, Alabama; New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Little Rock, Arkansas, and San Antonio, Texas. The events of the war soon compelled the abandonment of some of these, and from time to time others were added to the list, as, for instance, Columbia, South Carolina; Atlanta and Columbus, Georgia; Selma, Alabama, and Jackson, Mississippi. Of these, Atlanta and Selma became most important.
Heavy artillery at the beginning of the war was manufactured only at Richmond at the Tredegar Iron Works. Later in the war, excellent heavy artillery was produced at Selma, first in conjunction with the naval officers, and later by them alone.
Field-artillery was made and repaired chiefly at Richmond and at Augusta, small arms at Richmond and Fayetteville, caps and friction-primers at Richmond and Atlanta, accouterments to a great extent at Macon, while cast bullets and small-arms cartridges were prepared at almost all of the works.
After the Federals took possession of the copper mines of Tennessee, there was great anxiety as to the future supply of copper, both for bronze field-guns and for percussion-caps. The casting of bronze guns was immediately stopped, and all the available copper was utilized in the manufacture of caps. It soon became apparent that the supply would be exhausted and the armies rendered powerless unless other sources of supply were discovered. No reliance could be placed on the supply from abroad, for the blockade was stringent, although large orders had been forwarded. Of course, the knowledge of this scarcity of copper was kept from the public as much as possible. In this emergency, it was concluded to render available, if possible, some of the copper turpentine- and apple-brandy-stills which were in North and South Carolina in large numbers. This work was entrusted to Lieutenant-Colonel Leroy Broun, commanding the Richmond Arsenal.
In spite of the difficulties to be overcome and the constantly increasing pressure for immediate results, the Confederate Ordnance Department was able to boast of some useful new experiments and some improvements. One of the most notable of these was the method of steaming the mixed materials for gunpowder just before incorporation in the cylinder mills, which was invented and brought into use by Colonel Rains, and which very greatly increased the capacity of the mills for work, besides improving the quality of the powder. Other examples of improvements in materiel which were more or less notable were the casting of shells with polygonal cavities, introduced by Lieutenant-Colonel Mallet, securing the bursting into a determinate number of pieces, and devices for the ignition of time-fuses for the shells of rifled guns.
Smooth-bore muskets, of which some were in the possession of the Confederate troops, were not very accurate, and their range was insufficient. A plan was proposed at the Richmond Arsenal to overcome these difficulties. An invention had been devised for the shape and composition of the projectile, which undoubtedly would have overcome these defects in a measure, had it been practicable under the circumstances. It is interesting to note that this plan was devised in the early years of the war by the ordnance authorities, but later in the conflict was, in identically the same form, sent to President Davis from Canada as a scientific gift of great value, and by him turned over to the War Department. The idea was to use an elongated projectile made of lead and hard wood or papier-mache. In longitudinal section it appeared, in the lead part, shaped like the head of an Indian arrow, and the rear portion of the bullet was filled out with the wood or papier-mache. This threw the center of gravity well forward, causing the flight of the projectile to be like an arrow rotating on its longer axis.
From the Richmond Arsenal there were issued between July 1, 1861, and January 1, 1865, 341 Columbiads and siege-guns, 1306 field-pieces of all descriptions, 921,441 rounds of artillery ammunition of all classes, 323,231 infantry arms, 34,067 cavalry carbines, 6074 pistols, and nearly 72,500,000 rounds of small-arms ammunition, besides many thousand articles of other ordnance and ordnance stores. The enormous number of pieces of artillery issued were, of course, not all made at the arsenal, but had been obtained by manufacture, by purchase, or by capture. The Richmond Enquirer, on the day after the evacuation of Richmond, said that, assuming the issues from the Richmond Arsenal to have been half of all the issues to Confederate troops, which was approximately true, and that 100,000 of the Federals had been killed, it would appear that about 150 pounds of lead and 350 pounds of iron were fired for every man killed, and, furthermore, assuming that the proportion of killed to wounded was about one to six, it would appear that one man was wounded for every 200 pounds fired. These figures exaggerated the form of the old belief that it took a man's weight in lead to kill him in battle.
Considering the general lack of previous experience in ordnance matters, the personnel of the corps, both at the arsenals and in the field, deserved, great praise for intelligence, zeal, and efficiency. Many names of officers deserve to be remembered. Among the most prominent were Lieutenant-Colonels J. H. Burton, superintendent of armories; T. L. Bayne, in charge of the bureau of foreign supplies; I. M. St. John, at the head of the niter and mining bureau; Lieutenant-Colonel J. W. Mallet, in charge of the Central Laboratory at Macon, Georgia; Lieutenant-Colonel G. W. Rains, of the Augusta powder-mills and Arsenal; Lieutenant-Colonel Leroy Broun, commanding the Richmond Arsenal; Major M. H. Wright, of the Atlanta Arsenal; Lieutenant-Colonel R. M. Cuyler, of the Macon Arsenal; Major J. A. De Lagnel, of Fayetteville; Major J. T. Trezevant, of Charleston Arsenal; Lieutenant-Colonel J. L. White, of Selma Arsenal; Lieutenant-Colonel B. G. Baldwin, chief of ordnance, Army of Northern Virginia; Lieutenant-Colonel H. Oladowski, chief of ordnance, Army of Tennessee, and Major W. Alien, chief ordnance officer, Second Corps, Army of Northern Virginia.
Source: "The Photographic History of the Civil War, Volume III, Forts and Artillery"
This page last updated 12/07/05
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