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Armories and small arms.

Besides the Arsenals, a brief account of which has just been given, we had the armories at Richmond and Fayetteville, N. C.; and arms were also made at other points. [84]

The State of Virginia claimed all the machinery captured at Harper's Ferry, and was bringing it all to Richmond. It was agreed, however, with the State of North Carolina, that that part of the machinery which was specially adapted to make the Mississippi rifle (calibre 54) should go to Fayetteville, where there was an arsenal with good steam-power, the machinery to be returned at the close of the war to the State of Virginia. Colonel Burton, an admirably educated machinist, superintended the re-erection of the works at Richmond. He was subsequently made Superintendent of Armories, and given full charge of the entire subject of manufacture of arms in the Confederacy. The machinery of the rifle-musket (calibre 58), retained at Richmond, got to work as early as September, 1861. If we had possessed the necessary number of workmen this ‘plant’ could have been so filled in as to have easily produced 5000 stands per month, working night and day. As it was, I don't think it ever turned out more than 1,500 in any one month. Fayetteville did not get to work until the spring of 1862, and did not average 400 per month, for want of hands.

To supplement this scarcity of operatives, Colonel Huse was authorized to engage for us a number of skilled workmen, used to work on small arms, and to pay their passage over. They came in through the blockade at Wilmington without difficulty, but we could do nothing with them. They had been engaged to be paid in gold, which meantime had risen to such a price as to make their pay enormous, and would have produced utter disintegration among our own operatives. I offered to pay one-half of the wages promised them in gold, to their families in England, if they would take the remainder in Confederate money, which would support them here. I brought the British Consul to confer with them. But they stood upon their bond; and, foreseeing that their presence would do more harm than good, I simply, with their consent, reshipped them by the next steamer, and paid their passage back. The experiment cost us something like £ 2,000 in gold, and made us shy of foreign workmen, especially English. I think the Treasury Department did succeed in getting engravers and printers for their purposes at Columbia, S. C., to some extent, by importation; but my impression is they were not English. Of all obstinate animals I have ever come in contact with, these English workmen were the most unreasonable.

The Cook Brothers had, as heretofore stated, undertaken the making of rifle-muskets in New Orleans at the very commencement of the war. On the fall of New Orleans their machinery was hurriedly taken off by boats up the Mississippi. They finally selected Athens, [85] Georgia, as their point of manufacture, and under a contract with me, and assisted with funds under that contract, proceeded to reorganize and extend their ‘plant.’ They were reasonably successful.

The want of cavalry arms caused me to make a contract with parties in Richmond to make the Sharp's carbine—at that time the best cavalry arm we had. A set of machinery capable of turning out one hundred arms a day was driven to completion in less than a year, nearly all the machinery being built up ‘from the stumps.’ The arms were never perfect, chiefly for want of nice workmanship about the ‘cut-off’ It was not gas-tight. We soon bought out the establishment, and converted it into a manufactory of rifle-carbines, calibre 58, as the best arm our skill would enable us to supply to the cavalry.

Recognizing the necessity of some great central establishment for the production of small arms, plans of buildings and estimates of machinery were made for such an one, to be built at Macon, Georgia—a point of easy access and near to a fertile corn region, out of the way of the enemy. Colonel Burton went to England and easily negotiated for the machinery, which was to have been of sufficient capacity to turn out about 10,000 arms per month. Buildings were immediately obtained for some machinery for pistols, which was transferred there; and Colonel Burton had made good progress in erecting ample buildings for the new machinery, part of which had arrived at Bermuda and Nassau when the Confederacy fell. But about six months before the close of the war, finding that the blockade had become so stringent that the introduction of machinery would be very difficult, and reflecting, too, that as long as the war continued this extended machinery would be of but little use to us for want of work men, I got the authority of the Secretary of War to set it up at some point abroad and bring in the arms, which would be less difficult than to bring in the machinery and train the workmen. Colonel Burton was abroad on this duty when the war closed. Had the war been prolonged, we should in twelve months have been making our own arms in a foreign land, under the sanction of a private name. After the war it was proposed to transfer the entire ‘plant’ to the buildings which were in course of construction for it at Macon. Peace would have then found us in possession of a great armory, which I much desired.

One of the earliest difficulties forced upon us in the manufacture of arms was to find an iron fit for the barrels. The ‘skelps’ found at Harper's Ferry served for awhile, and when these were exhausted Colonel Burton selected an iron produced at a forge in Patrick [86] county, Va., and by placing a skilled workman over the rolling process at the Tredegar Works he soon produced ‘skelps’ with which he was satisfied. We found that almost any of the good brown haematite ores produced an iron of ample strength for the purpose, and the even grain and toughness could be attained by careful rerolling.

Besides the larger armories at Richmond and Fayetteville, smaller establishments grew up at Asheville, N. C., and at Tallassee, Ala. The former was the development of a private enterprise undertaken to repair and fit up old arms, by a citizen (Mr. Pullem) resident there, and afterwards as a matter of necessity assumed by the Confederate Government. Most of the machinery was moved before the close of the war to Columbia, S. C., whither, as a place of safety, other arms manufacturing machinery was moved from other points. Tallassee was selected as a good manufacturing point, a large building having been offered to us by the proprietors of the cotton mills there, and some machinery for making pistols moved thither from Columbus, Georgia.

A great part of the work of our armories consisted in repairing arms brought in from the battle-field or sent in from the armies in too damaged a condition to be effectually repaired at the arsenals In this way only could we utilize all the gleanings of the battle-fields. My recollection is that we saved nearly ten thousand stands of arms from the field of Bull Run, and that the battle-fields about Richmond in 1862 gave us about twenty-five thousand excellent arms through the labors of the armory at Richmond.

The original stock of arms it will be remembered, consisted almost wholly of smooth-bore muskets, altered from flint to percussion, using ounce-balls (cal. 69). There were some 15, 000 to 20,000 Mississippi rifles; and then some irregular arms, like Hall's rifles and carbines—some short carbines smooth-bore; and there were even some of the old flint lock muskets. All this original stock disappeared almost wholly from our armies in the first two years of the war, and were replaced by a better class of arms, rifled and percussioned. It is pretty safe to assume that we had altogether, east and west of the Mississippi, 300,000 infantry, pretty well-armed, by the middle of 1863. We must therefore have procured at least that number for our troops. But we must also have supplied the inevitable waste of two years of active warfare. Placing the good arms thus lost at the moderate estimate of 100,000, we must have received from various sources 400,000 stands of infantry arms in the two years of fighting, ending July 1st, 1863. I can only estimate from memory the several sources from which this supply was derived, as follows: [87]

Good rifled arms on hand at the beginning of the war (this includes the arms in the hands of volunteer companies),25,000
New arms manufactured in the Confederacy and in private Establishments40,000
Arms received from the battle-fields and put in good order (this includes the great number of arms picked up by the soldiers)150,000
Imported from January 1st, 1862, to July 1st, 1863185,000

This estimate does not include pistols and sabres, of which a small supply was imported.

To account for the very large number obtained from the enemy (rather an under than an over estimate), it must be remembered that in some fights, where our troops were not finally successful, they were so at first; and swept over the camps and positions of the enemy. Whenever a Confederate soldier saw a weapon better than his own, he took it and left his inferior arm; and although he may have been finally driven back, he kept his improved musket. So, too, on every field there were partial successes which in the early part of the war resulted in improved weapons; and although on another part of the field there may have been a reverse; the enemy had not the same advantage; the Confederate arms being generally inferior to those of their adversaries. The difference of arms was not so marked at a later day except in cavalry arms, in which we were always at a disadvantage, the celebrated Spencer carbine being generally in the hands of the enemy's cavalry during the last two years of the war.

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