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The production of saltpetre — something for every man to do.

We beg leave to call the attention of our citizens to an important subject connected with the maintenance of our cause, and upon which absolutely depends our capability of self-defence. The blockade of the Lincoln Government, although incomplete, and in many respects merely nominal, interposes obstruction to commerce sufficent to prevent our reliance upon foreign nations for articles of prime necessity in the conduct of the war.--In fact, one of the compensatory advantages incident to the present exigency of our affairs, is the self-dependence which is imposes. Our people so long accustomed to procure by exchange for their own productions, whatever they might require, had become almost entirely helpless. Suddenly thrown upon their own resources, they seemed bewildered at first, but soon this paralysis passed away.--Their energy and enterprise sought channels for exercise, the multiplied wants of the crisis were supplied, and now we are fast approaching a condition of independence.

The Confederate Government has exhibited from the beginning an anxious desire to encourage and stimulate the efforts of the people in this direction, and for this purpose has offered rewards to industry greater than would be given under different circumstances. It has been especially liberal in the encouragement afforded to all enterprises set on foot for supplying munitions of war. We have among us all the elements necessary to furnish these in abundance if a sufficient amount of labor with comparatively small capital is turned in the proper direction. Thus, while affording profitable employment to large numbers of our citizens who would otherwise remain idle during a period of general business stagnation, the Government assists in developing the resources of the Confederacy, and teaches the important lesson of self-reliance.

It is well known that we have within ourselves all the materials necessary for the manufacture of powder, which is the very life blood of war, but some preliminary preparation is required before they can be converted into the proper form for use. Saltpetre, which constitutes three-fourths parts of the whole, is not found in sufficient quantities, already made, to meet the demands of the present enormous consumption, and our powder mills, therefore, are not employed to the full extent of their capacity. The sources from which it can be obtained, however, are inexhaustible, and only a little labor and capital are required to procure it in the amplest abundance.

The War Department, some time since, offered thirty-five cents per pound for all saltpetre delivered before the 1st of January, 1862, but in order to induce its manufacture by our own people at home, has proposed to give fifty cents per pound for all that is made within the Confederacy until January, 1863 and for all made from artificial beds 50 cents per pound until January, 1864. When it is remembered that saltpetre is sold in Bengal at-three cents per pound, and actually taken in payment of taxes by Prussia and Sweden at six cents per pound, and that we have equal facilities with them for its manufacture, the liberality of the Government and the lucrativeness of the business will be apparent.

We subjoin below two communications, which deserve general and earnest attention, both from the importance of the subject and the high character of their authors.

The first is a letter from Commander George Minor, C. S. N., and Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance and Hydrography in the Navy Department of the Confederate States, to Gov. Letcher, of Virginia, and by him communicated to the Legislature of the State in December last, as an accompanying document to his message; and the second, the reply of A. Snowden Piggot, M. D., a distinguished chemist, to certain inquiries propounded to him upon this subject.


Bureau of Ordn'ce and Hydrography, Richmond, November 5, 1861.
Sir:
The supply of nitre for the fabrication of gunpowder being limited to the nitrous earths found in the vaves of the Confederate States, of which the supply is uncertain, and, from a partial examination recently made, of a quantity not sufficient for the amount that will be required for a long war, I beg leave, very respectfully, to call the attention of your Excellency to the fact, and to suggest to you the propriety of establishing artificial nitre beds in every county in Virginia.

During the war which followed the French revolution, the supply of foreign nitre was cut off from the Continent by the English blockade; but, instead of depriving the French of this article of prime necessity for carrying on the war, means were at once adopted for making it in quantity and quality sufficient to meet the gigantic demands for an army of a million of men. This was done by artificial nitre beds. In France alone the yield was a thousand tons per annum. It was proportionate in Holland, Prussia, Sweeden, and Germany. The practice of extracting nitre from beds is still kept up in Europe, especially in Prussia and Sweeden, where it (nitre) is received in the payment of taxes at a stipulated price.

It is true that one or more cargoes of nitre may pass the inefficient Lincoln blockade, but as the supply thus obtained is uncertain, while that of "beds" is certain, I submit to your Excellency if there would not be more wisdom in making nitre ourselves, than in relying upon an uncertain outside supply!

If you deem my suggestions worthy of consideration, I will be pleased to furnish you with all the information on the subject that you may desire, that I can impart.

I have the honor to enclose you a copy of a letter I addressed to Dr. A. Snowden Piggot, a distinguished chemist, who is familiar with the subject, and his reply.

I am, very respectfully, your obd't sev't,
Geo. Minor, Commander C. S. N. His Excellency, John Letcher, Gen. of Va. Fifty cents per pound will be paid, for saltpetre, on delivery, at any of the principal towns in Alabama. Geo. Minor, Chief of Bureau.

Bureau of Grd. and Hdy., October 26, 1861.
Sir
--It is possible that the nitrous earth in the caves of the Southern States may not be sufficient to supply the amount of nitre required, and that we may have to resort to artificial nitre, beds.

You are requested to inform this bureau of the best method of preparing nitre beds; of their probable productions; of the time required for ripening; of their influence upon health — and any other information that you may deem essential.

I am, respectfully, your ob't serv't,
George Minor, Com'dr for Chief of Bureau. Dr. A. Snowden Piggot, Richmond, Va.
We copy below a letter from Dr. A. Snowden Piggot, on this important subject. This letter was dictated by one of inquiry from Captain George Minor, of the Confederate Navy. In the Captain's letter he alludes to the strait to which France was reduced for the want of nitre in the war which followed the revolution, by reason of the English blockade. The demand, for this article of prime necessity, for an army of a million of men, was supplied from artificial nitre beds. In France alone, the yield was a thousand tons per annum. It was proportionate in Holland, Prussia, Sweden, and Germany. Nitre is still extracted from beds in Prussia, Sweden, and other countries in Europe. Dr. P. replies to Dr. M. as follows:

Richmond, October 28, 1861.
Sir
--In reply to your letter of the 28th instant, I submit the following statements.

1. As to the best method of preparing nitre beds.

The processes for the formation of nitre,

artificially, are based upon the peculiar reactions of decomposing azotized matter in the presence of strong alkaline and earthy bases. Under these circumstances, the formation of nitric acid goes on regularly and uninterruptedly, under the influence of the atmospheric air. The chemical conditions of the formation of nitre, then, are three decomposing moist azotized substances, alkaline and earthy bases, and an abundant supply of atmospheric air.

These conditions are fulfilled in practice by the construction of heaps containing earths and putrefiable substances. A clay surface is selected, and a heap formed of loose porous earth, mixed with old mortar, air slacked lime, soft porus limestone, wood ashes, &c., and interstratified with vegetable matters, such as corn stalks, tobacco stalks, sun-flower stems, &c., and various sorts of animal refuse, such as putrid meat, blood from slaughter houses, leather clippings, street scrapings, excrements, &c. The heap thus formed is kept moist by such liquids as urine, meat washings, suds of soft soap, or any other putrefiable solution. Holes are made through it to admit the air and liquids to the centre of the mass, and it is frequently turned over. When a white efflorescence appears upon the surface it is scraped off, and so, as the ripening goes on, the heaps gredually diminish in size. The earth removed is subjected to a treatment by itself in new heaps for the purpose of concentrating the nitre prior to lixiviation. The most convenient size for these heaps is six feet high, six or seven wide, and fifteen long. It is estimated that twelve cubic fathoms of such earth will yield an annual product of a hundred weight. An estimate can be easily made from these data of the extent to which it is desirable to carry this process. It is customary to arrange a number of these heaps beside each other, leaving sufficient space between them for convenience of working. They must of course be protected from drenching rains and from floods, at the same time that they are fully exposed to the air.

An improvement upon this plan has been introduced in Prussia, by which the process is rendered continuous. The heaps are there constructed with perpendicular sides towards the wind, but on the opposite face, in a serves of steps. The watering all taking place upon the leeward side, and the drying on the windward side, not only causes a capillary flow in that direction, but also concentrates the nitre upon that face. The effloresced earth is scraped off from the last named surface, mixed with new decomposing matter, and added to the shelves or steps. In this manner, while the heap always retains its form, and constantly furnishes nitre, It is slowly but steadily changing its position.

2. As to the probable production of nitre.

Four heaps of the viz, mentioned, viz: six by seven by fifteen feet, would produce above a hundred weight of nitre.

3. As to the time required for ripening.

This varies from two to three years. Upon the Prussian plan, the lixiviation of nitre can be commenced sooner than this, because a sort of concentration, as already stated, takes place upon the windward wall, so that it is not necessary to wait for the conversion of the entire heap.

4. As to the influence upon health.

This will certainly not be greater than that of the ordinary heaps of barn-yard manure. Few large farms are without as much decomposing matter as would make a hundred weight of nitre.

Very respectfully, your ob't servant,
A. Snowden Piggot, M. D., Chemist. Comdr. George Minor, Chief of Bureau Crd. and Hydr'y.

Upon an examination of the above communications, it will be seen that the time required for the production of nitre (or saltpetre) from artificial beds is much greater than from the nitrous earths found in caves, although upon thorough investigation it has been ascertained that even from artificial beds in the more Southern latitudes of the Confederacy, the process requires a much shorter period than in Prussia or Sweden, or the Northern portions of our own country. It is estimated that within twelve months from the first formation of the beds, saltpetre, ready for use in the manufacture of powder, can be procured in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas; but to encourage the investment of labor and capital in this business, and to cover contingencies, the Government proposes to take, at fifty cents per pound, all saltpetre made in this way until the 1st of January, 1864.

The propriety of the difference in price fixed by the Government will be obvious upon a moment's reflection. If it was proposed to purchase at fifty cents per pound all saltpetre delivered prior to January, 1864, and the blockade should be raised withing that period, importers could procure it abroad at six or seven cents, and realize incalculable profits. If all saltpetre made within the Confederacy, from nitrous earths, commanded the same price for that period, as the process is much less expensive than the artificial one, and requires a much shorter time, enormous amounts would be made by that method, should the war terminate speedily, and the Government would be compelled to fulfil its contract, although having no need of the amount furnished, and thereby incurring a heavy and unnecessary expense; but, if for what is made from artificial beds, the period of purchase was less, there would be no inducement to embark in it, as the limitation must expire before the saltpetre could be prepared and furnished.

We have called attention to this matter in the earnest hope and belief that our people will eagerly embrace the liberal offers of the Government, and while subserving their own pecuniary interests, advance the highest interests of the Confederacy.

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