The Ordnance of the Confederacy
O. E. Hunt, Captain, United States Army
Early Confederate ordnance — what remained in 1863 of the famous floating battery that aided the South Carolinians to drive Anderson and his men out of Sumter in 1861|
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
, 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
He remained on this duty throughout the war, and did invaluable service to the Confederate
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
Guns just seized by Confederates--1861
The photograph of the cannoneers in their hickory shirts, and the long line of cannon, was taken by J. D. Edwards of New Orleans.
This is one of the Confederate sand-bag batteries bearing on Fort Pickens.
The Northern administration not only failed to take steps at the outset of the war to protect the great navy-yard at Norfolk, but it also surrendered that at Pensacola.
The former could have been retained had the incoming administration acted more promptly.
With the loss of these two great establishments to the Union went some thousands of cannon which aided immensely to arm the Southern batteries.
This was one more source from which the Confederacy secured her guns.
All of the big guns in the coastwise forts were old-time Columbiads placed there in 1856.|
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
, and at Havana
A number of swift steamers were bought, and, after the blockade was established, these did valiant service in blockade running.
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
Brigadier-General Josiah Gorgas: chief of the Confederate ordnance department
Colonel (later Brigadier-General) Josiah Gorgas served as chief of ordnance of the Confederate States Army throughout the war. He it was who sent Colonel (later Brigadier--General) George W. Rains to Augusta to build the great powder-plant.
Facing an apparently insuperable difficulty, in the matter of ammunition, Rains resorted to first principles by collecting 200,000 pounds of lead in Charleston from window-weights, and as much more from lead pipes in Mobile, thus furnishing the South essential means of prolonging the war. |
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.
A Confederate gun that ran the blockade
Beside the home-made guns, which were all muzzle-loaders, a number of guns of various makes, Whitworth, Armstrong, James, Blakely, and Hotchkiss, were brought in through the blockade.
The gun in this photograph is a modified 12-pounder breech-loading Whitworth.
The breech was open when the picture was taken.
The breech mechanism was adopted from the British Armstrong type and from the French system.
In the Armstrong breech-loading gun the breech-block has the full screw that is seen here.
The item taken from the French system was the manner of swinging the block back after the screw had become disengaged.
The large ring through which the breechblock passes is hinged to the right side of the breech of the gun. Two Whitworths were sent to the Army of Northern Virginia. One of them was used in an attempt to knock over General Benjamin F. Butler's famous signal-tower.
They had a great reputation for range and accuracy of fire, but beyond the shelling of distant columns and trains proved a disappointment.
The length and weight of the gun were above the average, making it difficult to transport, and the care and length of time consumed in loading and handling impaired its efficiency for quick work.
The cross-section of this gun was a hexagon with rounded comers.
The twist was very rapid, and the projectiles were made long.
The diameter of the bore was 2.75 inches, its length 104 inches, its weight 1,092 pounds, and it fired a 12-pound projectile with a usual load of 1.75 pounds of powder. |
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
, 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
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
, and Macon, Georgia
and Memphis, Tennessee
; Mount Vernon
Confederates and their small arms in 1861
This remarkable photograph of the encampment of the Perote Guards of New Orleans was found in the Major Chase home in Pensacola, Florida, in 1862, after the city was evacuated by the Confederates.
The comparison is striking between the careless garb of the men and the business-like small arms stacked and carried by the sentry.
“Bright muskets” and “tattered uniforms” went together.
Soldiers could be found all through the camps busily polishing their muskets and their bayonets with wood ashes well moistened. |
The bowie knife — considered by the Northern press of 1861 an important weapon
An article “concerning firearms” published in Harper's Weekly of August 2, 1861; states that “the bowie knife is usually from ten to fifteen inches in length, with a blade about two inches wide.
It is said to owe its invention to an accident which occurred to Colonel Bowie during a battle with the Mexicans; he broke his sword some fifteen inches from the hilt, and afterward used the weapon thus broken as a knife in hand-to-hand fights.
This is a most formidable weapon, and is commonly in use in the West and Southwest.”
As much space is devoted to the description of the bowie knife as is given to siege artillery.
An illustration in the same journal for August 31, 1861, shows “Mississippians practising with the bowie knife.”
The Mississippians are engaged in throwing the knives.
The heavy blades are seen hurtling through the air and burying their points in a tree.
Grasping his bowie knife in the above photograph stands E. Spottswood Bishop, who started out as a private, was promoted to captain in the Twenty-fifth Virginia Cavalry, wounded five times, and elected colonel of his regiment by its officers.
On the right is David J. Candill, who was transferred from the Twenty-fifth to the Tenth Kentucky Cavalry, and was promoted to lieutenant-colonel of his regiment.
He was severely wounded in active service in his native State. |
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
and Columbus, Georgia
; Selma, Alabama
, and Jackson, Mississippi
Of these, Atlanta
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
, caps and friction-primers at Richmond
, 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-brandystills 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
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 papiermache.
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 siegeguns, 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. Allen
; chief ordnance officer, Second Corps, Army of Northern Virginia.