A battle over bands: The Childs-Ripley Incident at Chareston Arsenal

As it is improper to mention a lesser known incident of the war and not provide sufficient details, allow me to follow up yesterday’s post with more information about the Childs-Ripley incident at Charleston Arsenal in late November 1862.  So a bit of background on the principles to start.

The son Thomas Childs, a distinguished War of 1812 officer, Major Frederick L. Childs graduated West Point in 1855.  He briefly served at Fort Monroe, Florida, West Point, and Fort Moultrie before posting to the Texas frontier.  In March 1861, Childs resigned and offered his services to the Confederacy.

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Captain Childs, C.S.A, commanded Castle Pinckney in April 1861, playing a minor role in the bombardment of Fort Sumter.  Later that spring he served at posts around Wilmington in his native state of North Carolina.  But in July Childs returned to Charleston in command of the arsenal, detailed to the Ordnance Department.  In this capacity, Childs came into frequent contact with Brigadier General Roswell S. Ripley, who commanded troops in the Charleston area.

Roswell S. Ripley

Ripley – sporting a post-war mustache

Not a southerner by birth, Ripley graduated seventh in the West Point class of 1843, a good bit ahead of fellow Ohioan Ulysses S. Grant.  He received two brevet promotions for service in the Mexican War.  After brief assignments in Florida during the Seminole Wars, Ripley reported to Fort Moultrie.  There he courted the wealthy widow Alicia Middleton.  Shortly after marriage, Ripley left the army and entered the private sector, no doubt with his wife’s estate providing a significant step up.  Ripley remained active in military affairs, joining the state militia.  That capacity placed him at the fore of operations at the start of the war.  He played a significant role in operations against Fort Sumter and the establishment of the defenses of Charleston afterwards.  But in the spring of 1862, Ripley’s notion of a forward defense of the city conflicted with his superiors (at first General Robert E. Lee, then later General John C. Pemberton).  Granted a transfer, Ripley took command of a brigade in General D.H. Hill’s division in Northern Virginia.  After serving through the summer campaigns, Ripley was wounded leading his brigade at Antietam.  On recovery, authorities requested his services again at Charleston – which again placed him in contact with Childs.  In mid-October Ripley assumed command of the First Military District at Charleston.

The direct trail to the contention between Childs and Ripley began with Special Orders No. 229 issued by General P.G.T. Beauregard’s headquarters (Department of South Carolina and Georgia) on November 21, 1862, which read in part:

III.  The commanding general of First Military District has authority to direct and order the rifling and banding of such guns as require it within his command to the extent of the capacity for doing the work effectually, and may make requisitions directly upon the Charleston Arsenal or other proper source through his district ordnance officer for the necessary material for the work.

As mentioned in the previous post, Beauregard sensed peril at Charleston, particularly a growing threat from the Federal fleet. From his perspective, Beauregard complained of extensive delays modifying old smoothbore ordnance into at least partially acceptable rifled guns. Working through Childs, the turn around time was four weeks.  Ripley, perhaps bypassing much red tape, claimed the process could be done in half the time.

But the nature of this order put Beauregard’s command at odds with the Confederate Ordnance Department. Childs’ authority at the arsenal covered the requisition, or modification, of ordnance.  Yet Order No. 229 gave Ripley authority in that regard.  While Ripley negotiated directly with Eason & Brothers, Childs sought to bring another Charleston firm, that of Cameron & Company, to bear on the problem.  Towards that end, Childs had earmarked a set of 42-pdr bands for a contract with Cameron, and asked for Ripley to send one of those weapons there.  Ripley, on the other had, had at least one 42-pdr gun at Eason awaiting bands.

This came to a head on November 26, 1862.  Ripley arrived at the arsenal with armed guards and demanded Childs release the bands for immediate use at Eason’s shop.  Childs refused on the grounds the iron was obtained from Atlanta, under the Ordnance Department’s authority, not the local command’s.  In a three page report (first page seen below), Childs noted, “… the bands have been waiting for the guns and it was every intention to give them either to Eason or Cameron…” but Ripley had not turned the appropriate guns over to the arsenal for the work.  Ripley, on the other hand, claimed he’d already sent the guns where the work was to be done which would save time in the process.  Childs, somewhat resentfully added, “There can be no proper reason for the Easons not working as well for me as for General Ripley…”

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Ripley had Childs arrested, citing the failure to fill valid requisitions with the supply on hand.  And of course the bands went over to Eason.

For what it was worth, Beauregard fully recognized the conflicting issues, noting, “… the chiefs of ordnance of this department and district, relying too much on the supplies of the arsenal, of which they are not fully informed, often make requisitions at too short notice, thereby causing unnecessary delays and confusion.”  His offered solution was a relocation of the arsenal to “a place in the northwestern part of this State” selected by Major Childs.  The Ordnance Department’s response, if any, was not recorded.  Childs remained under arrest, but was allowed to continue his work at the arsenal, confined to Charleston, awaiting a court-marshal.

The contention for iron feeding into the defense of Charleston continued in spite of the arrest.  By late December Colonel Ambrosio J. Gonzales, Beauregard’s chief of artillery, pressed the Ordnance Department for more munitions, particularly projectiles for the 32-pdr and 42-pdr rifled guns.   Gonzales complained he had less than 50 rounds per gun at Forts Sumter and Moultrie.  In response forwarded on January 6, 1863, Colonel Josiah Gorgas cautioned, “It would be well to consider the question of a supply of rifle projectiles before going too far with the rifling and banding of 32-pdrs.  The want of proper iron for casting these shells is very serious.”

That last sentence sums up so many problems facing the Confederate war effort – a want of iron.  Gonzales, Ripley, and Beauregard needed supplies in Charleston.  And likewise J.R. Anderson called for supplies in Richmond.  (And let’s not forget what the Confederacy lost just a year prior.)   Gorgas’ went on to suggest, “Send me a full statement of all you want and cannot get at Charleston, limiting your requisition to, say, 150 rounds per gun.”

As for Childs, by February the Ordnance department reassigned him to other posts.  After temporary duty at Augusta Arsenal, Childs went on to command the Fayetteville Arsenal in North Carolina.

(Sources:  Frederick Childs’ Confederate service record; OR, Series I, Volume 14, Serial 20, pages 685, 689-692, and 746.)

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2 responses to “A battle over bands: The Childs-Ripley Incident at Chareston Arsenal

  1. Pingback: 150 years ago: Rifled guns defending Charleston | To the Sound of the Guns

  2. Pingback: Analysis of Confederate gunnery: “The firing must be low, deliberate, carefully aimed, and within short range.” | To the Sound of the Guns

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