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Confederate Ordnance. [from the Baltimore, Md., sun, September, 1901.1

The good work done by General Gorgas in his Department.

Mr. Levi S. White thus tells how he became an agent of the Confederate States in Baltimore during the civil war:

Early in 1861 I became acquainted with General Gorgas, chief of the Confederate States Ordnance Department, one of the ablest men in the Confederate service—and I will say it was marvelous how much was developed under his skillful management. He resigned from his position in the United States Ordnance Department, went to Richmond and was at once placed at the head of the Confederate States Ordnance Department, which at that time was destitute of almost everything except brains and energy.

When I first met General Gorgas he said to me: “Can you get me some chlorate of potassium? We have very few musket caps. I have started a factory for making them, but have no chlorate of potassium, and can't find any in the country. If you can speedily get a few hundred pounds you will render me a great service.” From chlorate of potassium is made the fulminating powder of caps and shells, and it is, therefore, a very necessary article for ordnance.

I returned at once to Baltimore, but could find none in first hands. I wired a friend in New York, Mr. Joseph D. Evans, formerly of Richmond, and he obtained for me two cases—about 500 pounds—which was all he could obtain. This was shipped at once by canal line to a commission merchant on south Frederick street, and immediately upon delivery was carried to a wharf and sent by boat to Curtis creek—as Mr. Evans had wired me that detectives were after it. They traced it to Frederick street; came there about two hours after it had been hauled away, and it was then being boated to Arundel's hospital shore. A vigorous search was made [320] for it, but the detectives were baffled, and that night I started with it and other goods for Richmond down the Chesapeake. It was safely delivered in Richmond, and from it began the musket-cap industry of the Confederate States Government, but it was a close shave.

General Gorgas was so much pleased with this result that he urged me for further assistance, to which I agreed, and from that time to the end of the war I was a special agent of the Confederate States Ordnance Department. Subsequently, to give me the status of a Confederate officer, Mr. Mallory, Secretary of the Confederate States Navy, commissioned me “Acting master Confederate States Navy.”

In connection with the article of potassium I will mention an incident which will show its importance, and how uncertain was its supply, and the difficulties which constantly beset the Confederate States. I had gotten a large supply of potassium as far as Fredericksburg at the time the Government was removing the sick and wounded from the hospitals at that place. Orders had been issued to refuse transportation to all other passengers and freight. I could not get transportation, and vainly endeavored to show the railroad officials the importance of my goods. I wired to Richmond, and immediately came the order to forward me and my goods at once, which was done, and the potassium delivered to the Confederate States' arsenal. General Gorgas then informed me that his cap factory had been closed four days for the want of potassium.

Gutta percha was another article which was also badly needed. A cable was needed from Charleston to Fort Sumter, and the gutta percha was required for insulating it. Several attempts had been made to bring it from England, but every cargo which contained it had been captured. General Gorgas requested me to get some. I attempted it upon three different occasions, but in each case I lost by capture all my goods, with the gutta percha, the last time within twenty miles of Richmond, near White House, on the York River railroad. That lot of goods also contained 3,000 pounds of block tin. I was surprised by some 1,500 Federal cavalry who had been sent out to capture me. I lost all my goods, and my partner Brown was captured, but I made my escape, and as this was the narrowest escape I ever had I may relate it in a future “Odd tale.” It was a very thrilling incident, which I will never forget; indeed, an escape from 1,500 cavalry was an incident not to be forgotten.

I concluded that there must be some fatality in connection with gutta percha, and “then and there” drew the line upon it.

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