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Progress of manufacture.

Colonel Rains, in the course of the Summer of 1861, established a refinery of saltpetre at or near Nashville, and to this point chiefly were sent the nitre, obtained from the State of Georgia, and that derived from caves in East and Middle Tennessee. He supplied the two powder mills in that State with nitre, properly refined, and good powder was thus produced. A small portion of the Georgia nitre was sent to two small mills in South Carolina,—at Pendleton and Walhalla—and a powder produced, inferior at first, but afterwards improved. The State of North Carolina established a mill near Raleigh, under contract with certain parties to whom the State was to furnish the nitre, of which a great part was derived from caves in Georgia. A stamping mill was also put up near New Orleans, and powder produced before the fall of the city. Small quantities of powder were also received through the blockade from Wilmington to Galveston, some of it of very inferior quality. The great quantity of artillery placed in position from the Potomac to the Rio Grande, required [73] a vast supply of powder (there was no immediate want of projectiles) to furnish even the scant allowance of fifty rounds to each gun. I think we may safely estimate that on the 1st of January, 1862, there were 1,500 sea coast guns of various calibres in position, from Evansport on the Potomac to Fort Brown on the Rio Grande. If we average their calibre at thirty-two pounders, and the charge at five pounds, it will at forty rounds per gun, give us 600,000 pounds of powder for these. The field-artillery—say 300 guns—with 200 rounds to the piece, would require, say 125,000 pounds, and the small arm cartridges, 10,000,000, would consume 125,000 pounds more—making in all 850,000 pounds. If we deduct 250,000 pounds, supposed to be on hand, in various shapes, at the beginning of the war, we have an increment of 600,000 pounds. Of this, perhaps 200,000 pounds had been made at the Tennessee and other mills, leaving 400,000 to have been supplied through the blockade, and before the commencement of actual hostilities.

The site of the Government Powder-Mills was fixed at Augusta, Georgia, on the report of Colonel Rains, and progress was made on the work in this year. There were two large buildings, in the Norman (castellated) style of architecture; one contained the refinery and store-rooms—the other being the mills, twelve in number. They were arranged in the best way on the canal which supplied waterpower to Augusta. This canal served as the means of transport for the material from point to point of its manufacture, though the mills were driven by steam. All the machinery, including the very heavy rollers, was made in the Confederate States. The various qualities of powder purchased, captured and produced were sources of irregularity in the ranges of our artillery and small arms—unavoidably so of course. We were only too glad to take any sort of powder; and we bought some brought into Florida the best range of which scarcely exceeded one hundred and sixty yards with the eprouvette.

Contracts were made abroad for the delivery of nitre through the blockade, and for producing it at home from caves. The amount of the latter delivered by contracts was considerable—chiefly in Tennessee.

The consumption of lead was in part met by the Virginia lead mines (Wytheville), the yield from which was from 100,000 to 150,--000 pounds per month. A laboratory for the smelting of other ores, from the Silver Hill mines, North Carolina, and Jonesboro, East Tennessee, was put up at Petersburg, under the direction of Dr. Piggott, of Baltimore. It was very well constructed; was capable of smelting a good many thousand pounds per day, and was in operation before [74] midsummer of 1862. Mines were opened on account of Government in East Tennessee, near the State line of Virginia. They were never valuable, and were soon abandoned. Lead was collected in considerable quantities throughout the country by the laborious exertions of agents employed for this purpose. The battle-field of Bull Run was fully gleaned, and much lead collected.

By the close of 1861 the following arsenals and depots were at work, having been supplied with some machinery and facilities, and were producing the various munitions and equipments required: Augusta, Ga.; Charleston, S. C.; Fayetteville, N. C.; Richmond, Va.; Savannah, Ga.; Nashville, Tenn.; Memphis, Tenn.; Mount Vernon, Ala.; Baton Rouge, La.; Montgomery, Ala.; Little Rock, Ark.; and San Antonio, Texas—altogether eight arsenals and four depots. It would, of course, have been better, had it been practicable, to have condensed our work and to have had fewer places of manufacture; but the country was deficient in the transportation which would have been required to place the raw material at a few arsenals. In this way only could we avail ourselves of local resources, both of labor and material. Thus by the close of 1861 a good deal had been done in the way of organization to produce the material of war needed by an army, as far as our means permitted. But our troops were still very poorly armed and equipped. The old smooth-bore musket was still the principal weapon of the infantry; the artillery had the six-pounder gun and twelve-pounder howitzer chiefly; and the cavalry were armed with anything they could get—sabres, horse-pistols, revolvers, Sharp's carbines, musketoons, short Enfield rifles, Hale's carbines (a wretched apology), muskets cut off, etc., etc. Equipments were in many cases made of stout domestic, stitched in triple folds and covered with paint or rubber, varnished.

But poor as were our arms, we had not enough of these to equip the troops which were pressing to the front in July and August, 1861. In the winter of 1861-1861, while McClellan was preparing his great army near Alexandria, we resorted to the making of pikes for the infantry and lances for the cavalry; many thousands of the former were made at the various arsenals, but were little used. No access of enthusiasm could induce our people to rush to the field armed with pikes. I remember a formidable weapon, which was invented at this time, in the shape of a stout wooden sheath containing a two-edged straight sword some two feet long. The sheath or truncheon could be levelled, and the sword, liberated from the compression of a strong spring by touching a trigger, leaped out with sufficient force to transfix an opponent. [75]

About December, 1861, arms began to come in through the purchases of Major Huse, and we had a good many Enfield rifles in the hands of our troops at Shiloh, which were received in time for use there through the blockade. Major Huse had found the market pretty well cleaned of arms by the late war in Europe, but he had succeeded in making contracts with private manufacturers, of which these arms were the result.

I will not attempt to trace the development of our work in its order, as I at first intended, but will note simply what I can recollect, paying some attention to the succession of events.

The winter of 1861-1861 was the darkest period of my department. Powder was called for on every hand—Bragg, at Pensacola, for his big ten-inch Columbiads: Lovell, at New Orleans, for his extended defences, and especially for his inadequate artillery at Forts Jackson and St. Phillips; Polk, at Columbus, Kentucky; Johnston, for his numerous batteries on the Potomac; Magruder, at Yorktown. All these were deemed most important points. Then came Wilmington, Georgetown, Port Royal, and Fernandina. Not a few of these places sent representatives to press their claims—Mr. Yulee from Fernandina, and Colonel Gonzales from Charleston. Heavy guns, too, were called for in all directions—the largest guns for the smallest places.

The abandonment of the line of the Potomac, and of the upper Mississippi from Columbus to Memphis; the evacuation of the works below Pensacola, and of Yorktown, somewhat relieved us from the pressure for heavy artillery; and after the powder-mills at Augusta went into operation in the fall of 1862, we had little trouble in supplying ammunition.

To obtain the iron needed for cannon and projectiles, it became necessary to stimulate its production in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama. To this end, contracts were made with iron-masters in these States on liberal terms, and advances of money made to them, to be refunded in products. These contracts were difficult to arrange, as so much had to be done for the contractor. He must have details from the army and the privilege of transport of provisions and other supplies over the railroads. And then the question of the currency was a continually recurring problem. Mr. Benjamin, who succeeded Mr. Walker in the War Department, gave me great assistance in the matter of making contracts, and seemed quite at home in arranging these details. His power of work was amazing to me; and he appeared as fresh at 12 o'clock at night, after a hard day's work, as he had been at 9 o'clock in the morning. [76]

About May, 1862, finding that the production of nitre and of iron must be systematically pursued, and to this end thoroughly organized, I sought for the right person to place in charge of this vital duty. My choice fell on Colonel I. M. St. John (afterwards Commissary-General of Subsistence), and was eminently fortunate. He had the gift of organization, and I placed him in charge of the whole subject of producing nitre from caves and from other sources, and of the formation of nitre beds, which had already been begun in Richmond. Unde'r his supervision beds were instituted at Columbia S. C., Charleston, Savannah, Augusta, Mobile, Selma, and various other points. We never extracted nitre from these beds, except for trial; but they were carefully attended to, enriched and extended, and were becoming quite valuable. At the close of 1864 we had, according to General St. John, 2,800,000 cubic feet of earth collected and in various stages of nitrification, of which a large proportion was prepared to yield one and a half pounds of nitre per foot of earth, including all the nitre-beds from Richmond to Florida.

Through Colonel St. John, the whole nitre-bearing area of country was laid off into districts; each district in charge of an officer, who made his monthly reports to the office at Richmond. These officers procured details of workmen, generally from those subject to military duty in the mountain regions where disaffection existed, and carried on extended works in their several districts. In this way we brought up the nitre production, in the course of a year, to something like half our total consumption of nitre. It was a rude, wild sort of service; and the officers in charge of these districts, especially in East Tennessee, North Carolina, and North Alabama, had to show much firmness in their dealings with the turbulent people among whom, and by whose aid, they worked. It is a curious fact that the district on which we could rely for the most constant yield of nitre, having its headquarters at Greensboroa, N. C., had no nitre-caves in it. The nitre was produced by the lixiviation of nitrous earth dug from under old houses, barns, &c.

The nitre production thus organized, there was added to the Nitre Bureau the duty of supervising the production of iron, lead, copper, and, in fine, all the minerals which needed development, including the making of sulphuric and nitric acids; which latter we had to manufacture to insure a supply of fulmirate of mercury for our percussion caps. To give an idea of the extent of the duty thus performed: Colonel Morton, Chief of the Nitre and Mining Bureau, after the transfer of General St. John, writes: ‘We were aiding and managing some twenty to thirty furnaces, with an annual yield of 50,000 tons [77] or more of pig metal. We had erected lead and copper smelting furnaces [at Petersburg, before referred to] with a capacity sufficient for all our wants, and had succeeded in smelting zinc of good quality at the same place.’ The Chemical Works were placed at Charlotte, N. C., where a pretty large leaden chamber for sulphuric acid was put up. Our chief supply of chemicals continued to come, however, from abroad, through the blockade, and these works, as well as our nitraries, were as much preparation against the day when the blockade might seal all foreign supply, as for present use. These constituted our reserves, for final conflict.

We had not omitted to have a pretty thorough, though general exploration of the mountain regions from Virginia to Alabama, with the hope of finding new deposits of lead. One of the earliest of these searches was made by Dr. Maupin, of the University of Virginia. No favorable results came from it. I remember an anecdote he told touching one of his researches. An old settler showed the Doctor a small lump of lead which he had extracted from ore like some he had in his possession. There was the lead and here was the ore, but it was not an ore of lead. The Doctor cross-examined: ‘Did he smelt it himself!’ ‘Yes.’ ‘What in?’ ‘An iron ladle,’ such as is used for running lead balls. ‘Was there nothing in the ladle but this sort of ore?’ ‘No, nothing.’ ‘Nothing at all? No addition—no flux?’ ‘No, nothing but a little handful of common shot, thrown in to make it melt more easy!’

Much of the nitre region was close to the lines of the enemy, and here and there along its great extent became debatable ground. Not seldom the whole working force had to be suddenly withdrawn on the approach of the enemy, the ‘plant’ hurried off, to be again returned and work resumed when the enemy had retired. Much of the work, too, lay in ‘Union’ districts, where our cause was unpopular and where obstacles of all kinds had to be encountered and overcome. It was no holiday duty, this nitre digging, although the service was a good deal decried by such as knew nothing of its nature.

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