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Arsenals, workshops, foundries, etc.

Within the limits of the Confederate States, there were no arsenals at which any of the material of war was constructed. No arsenal, except that at Fayetteville, N. C., had a single machine above a footlathe. Such arsenals as there were, had been used only as depots. All the work of preparation of material had been carried on at the North; not an arm,1 not a gun, not a gun carriage, and except during the Mexican war—scarcely a round of ammunition had, for fifty years, been prepared in the Confederate States. There were consequently no workmen, or very few of them, skilled in these arts. No powder, save perhaps for blasting, had been made at the South; and there was no saltpetre in store at any point; it was stored wholly at the North. There was no lead nor any mines of it, except on the Northern limit of the Confederacy, in Virginia, and the situation of that made its product precarious. Only one cannon foundry existed: at Richmond. Copper, so necessary for field artillery and for percussion caps, was just being produced in East Tennessee. There was no rolling mill for bar iron south Of Richmond; and but few blast furnaces, and these small, and with trifling exceptions in the border States of Virginia and Tennessee.

Such were the supplies and such the situation when I took charge of the Ordnance Department on the 8th of April, 1861.

The first thing to be attended to was the supply of powder. Large orders had been sent to the North, both by the Confederate Government and some of the States, and these were being rapidly filled at the date of the attack on Fort Sumter. The entire product of one large Northern mill was being received at a Southern port. Of course all the ports were soon sealed to such importations from the North. Attention was at once turned to the production of nitre in North [70] Alabama and in Tennessee—in the latter State under the energetic supervision of its Ordnance Department. An adequate supply of sulphur was found in New Orleans, where large quantities were in store to be used in sugar-refining. The entire stock was secured, amounting to some four or five hundred tons.

The erection of a large powder-mill was early pressed by President Davis, and about the middle of June, 1861, he directed me to detail an officer to select a site and begin the work. The day after this order was given Colonel G W. Rains, a graduate of West Point, in every way qualified for this service, arrived in Richmond, through the blockade, and at once set out under written instructions from me to carry out the President's wishes. He, however, went first to East Tennessee to supervise and systematize the operations of two small private mills, which were then at work for the State of Tennessee.

Thus, in respect to powder and our means of making it, we had, perhaps, at this time (June 1st, 1861,) 250,000 pounds, chiefly cannon, at Norfolk and in Georgia, and as much more nitre (mainly imported by the State of Georgia). We had no powder-mills, except the two rude ones just referred to, and no experience in making powder or in getting nitre. All had to be learned.

As to a further supply of arms, steps had been taken by the President to import these and other ordnance stores from Europe; and Major Caleb Huse, a graduate of West Point, and at that moment professor in the University of Alabama, was selected to go abroad and secure them. He left Montgomery under instructions early in April, with a credit of 10,000 (!) from Mr. Memminger. The appointment proved a happy one; for he succeeded, with a very little money, in buying a good supply, and in running the Ordnance Department into debt for nearly half a million sterling—the very best proof of his fitness for his place, and of a financial ability which supplemented the narrowness of Mr. Memminger's purse.

Before this, and immediately upon the formation of the Confederate Government, Admiral Semmes had been sent to the North by President Davis as purchasing agent of arms and other ordnance stores, and succeeded in making contracts for, and purchases of, powder, percussion caps, cap machinery (never delivered), revolvers, &c. He also procured drawings for a bullet-pressing machine, and other valuable information.

The sets of machinery for making the rifle with sword bayonet, and the rifle-musket model of 1855, had been seized at Harper's Ferry by the State of Virginia. That for the rifle-musket was being [71] transferred by the State to her ancient armory at Richmond, under the direction of Lieutenant-Colonel Burton, an officer in the service of Virginia, whose experience in the armories of the United States and in the erection of the works at Enfield, near London, qualified him above all for the work. The other set of machines was sent to Fayetteville, N. C., by consent of the State of Virginia, to be there re-erected, as there was at that point an arsenal with steam power, and some good buildings, which had heretofore never been put to any use. These two setts of machinery—capable, if worked with but one set of hands to each, of producing 2,000 to 2,500 stands per month in all—were the only prospective resources at home. With additional workmen, and some extension of the machinery, much larger results could be obtained. But the workmen were not to be had. As it was, it would take many months to put it in working order. Parts were missing, and some injury done in the hasty transfer (partly under fire2) from Harper's Ferry. There were no private armories at the South; nor was there any inducement, prior to the war, to turn capital in that direction. Thus, the class of skilled operatives needed were unknown to this region. In New Orleans the Brothers Cook were embarking in the business of making small arms, assisted by the purses and encouraged by the sympathy of patriotic citizens.

Infield artillery the production was confined almost entirely to the Tredegar Works, in Richmond. Some castings were made in New Orleans, and foundries were rapidly acquiring the necessary experience to produce good bronze castings. The Ordnance Department of Tennessee was also turning its attention to the manufacture of field and seige artillery at Nashville. At Rome, Ga., a foundry—Noble & Son — was induced to undertake the casting of three-inch rifles, after drawings furnished at Montgomery; but the progress made was necessarily slow. The State of Virginia possessed a number of old four-pounder iron guns, which were reamed out to get a good bore, [72] and were rifled with three grooves, after the manner of Parrott. The army in observation at Harper's Ferry, and that at Manassas, were supplied with old batteries of six-pounder guns and twelve-pounder Howitzers. A few Parrott guns purchased by the State of Virginia were with Magruder at Big Bethel.

For the ammunition and equipments required for the infantry and artillery a good laboratory and shops had been established at Richmond by the State, but none of the Southern arsenals were yet in a condition to do much work. The arsenal at Augusta, Ga., was directed to organize for the preparation of ammunition and the making of knapsacks, of which there were none wherewith to equip the troops now daily taking the field. The arsenal at Charleston and the depot at Savannah were occupied chiefly with local work. The arsenal at Baton Rouge was rapidly getting under way; and that at Mt. Vernon, Ala., was also being prepared for work. None of them had had facilities for the work usually done at an arsenal. Fayetteville, N. C. was in the hands of that State, and was occupied chiefly in repairing some arms, and in making up a small amount of small arm ammunition. Little artillery ammunition was being made up, except for local purposes, save at Richmond.

Such was the general condition of supplies when the Government, quitting Montgomery, established itself at Richmond.

1 See note on transfer of arms to the South.

2 The saving of this machinery from the flames, was due to the heroic conduct of the operatives themselves, headed by Mr. Ball, the master armorer, who clung to his machinery, and by the greatest efforts, continued often under fire, saved almost the entire ‘plant.’ The names of Mr. Copeland and Major W. S. Downer are also mentioned in this connection. The older brother, Frederick, was a most competent mechanic, and a man of decided administrative ability. He was almost the only one who succeeded in producing a good service arm. He was finally killed in the trenches at Savannah, fighting with a command composed of his own operatives.

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