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The Ordnance of the Confederacy

J. W. Mallet, Lieutenant-Colonel, Confederate States Army, and Superintendent of the Ordnance Laboratories of the Confederate States
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, Augusta, 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. [157]

Confederate Artillery.

The French 12-pounder bronze field-guns in the top photograph were made by Le Place Freres in Paris. They weighed 1,200 pounds and fired a projectile weighing 25 1/4 pounds with a charge of 2 1/2 pounds of powder. The Southern output was large, of the bronze 12-pounders known as Napoleons. During 1863 and 1864, no less than 110 of these were manufactured at the Augusta arsenal under the direction of General George W. Rains of the Confederate ordnance service. In the lower photograph is an old cast-iron Columbiad, strengthened at the Tredegar Iron Works at Richmond, by the addition of iron bands, after the manner of the Brooke heavy artillery invented by John M. Brooke, formerly of the United States navy, the designer of the ironclad Virginia--better known as the Merrimac. The gun in the middle of the second photograph is a light Brooke rifle — a 3-inch gun. Its length was about seventy inches, the diameter of the barrel at the muzzle was eleven inches, and the piece weighed nearly 900 pounds. The weight of the projectile was ten pounds with a powder charge of one pound. The maximum effective range of these guns was 3,500 yards, and the time of flight fifteen seconds, with an elevation of fifteen degrees.

Imported from France

“Rifles” invented by John M. Brooke, C. S. N.

An old Columbiad iron bands added: Confederate cannon — imported, manufactured, adopted and invented


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 continent. He remained on this duty throughout the war, and did invaluable service to the Confederate cause.

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 [159]

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.

[160] from abroad. 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, Nassau, and at Havana. A number of swift steamers were bought, and, after the blockade was established, these did valiant service in blockade running. Wilmington and Charleston 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 [161]

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.

Major Julius A. De Lagnel: an ordnance officer of high resourcefulness Julius A. de Lagnel was made captain of the Artillery Corps on March 16, 1861, and major of the Twentieth Battalion of Virginia Artillery, July 3, 1862. He was appointed brigadier-general of the provisional Army of the Confederate States, April 15, 1862, but declined the appointment. During most of his service he was in the ordnance bureau at Richmond, Virginia, ably seconding Colonel Gorgas.

[162] 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. [163]

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.

Richmond 1865: Brigadier-General Gabriel J. Rains Gabriel J. Rains of North Carolina was a colonel in the infantry corps March 16, 1861, and was appointed brigadier-general September 23d of that year. He was in charge of the bureau of conscription till December, 1862, and was made chief of the torpedo service June 17, 1864.


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 and Fayetteville, 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, also. 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; Augusta, Savannah, and Macon, Georgia; Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee; Mount Vernon [165]

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.

[166] 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; Atlanta and Columbus, Georgia; Selma, Alabama, and Jackson, Mississippi. Of these, Atlanta and Selma 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 and Fayetteville, caps and friction-primers at Richmond and Atlanta, 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 [167]

Confederate Artillery.

In the collection of captured Confederate artillery on the wharves of Richmond awaiting shipment North in April, 1865, might be found practically every type of gun made and used by the civilized nations of the world, besides some patterns entirely obsolete. The first sources of Confederate artillery were the captured navyyards and arsenals. Purchasing agents were sent to Europe and some guns were imported from abroad. This was eventually checked by the Federal blockade. One of the principal places of manufacture was the Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond. Large quantities of ordnance were also obtained from all battlegrounds of the war where the Confederates held the field for a time following the battle. Due to these various sources of supplies the ordnance material was varied and incongruous. The wagon in the foreground is a tool-wagon, but observe the light wheels. Just over the top of this wagon is visible a caisson, complete, with the fifth, or spare wheel, on the back. In the chests of the caisson are stored projectiles and powder which cannot be carried in the limber of the gun. Below several brass mountain-howitzers appear. Mountain artillery must be light enough to be carried on the backs of pack animals if necessary. The howitzer used for this purpose was a short, light 12-pounder, weighing 220 pounds. When a carriage was used, it was mounted on a low, two-wheeled one. The projectiles were shell and caseshot, and the charge was half a pound of powder.

Confederate guns-practically every type used in the civilized world in 1865

Confederate brass howitzers

[168] 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 from Canada 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 [169]

Carrying siege-guns.

This giant sling-cart was built by the Confederates for the purpose of handling the two 12-inch guns that were cast at the Tredegar Iron Works, in Richmond, just before the evacuation. These guns weighed nearly fifty thousand pounds each. The size of the cart can be estimated by comparing it with the man visible through its spokes in the upper photograph. The wheels are more than eleven feet high. The cart required twelve mules and one hundred and fifty men with drag ropes to move it, when carrying only an 8-inch rifle or a heavy Columbiad over bad roads. The big guns were slung underneath the cart by ropes so as to clear the ground by a few inches. It was captured by the Federals, and used in the removal of the ordnance from Drewry's and Chaffin's bluffs.

A giant Confederate sling-cart to carry siege-guns

A giant Confederate sling-cart to carry siege-guns

[170] 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.

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