Tag Archives: Josiah Gorgas

“We have hitherto had no difficulty in importing arms through the blockaded sea-parts”: Estmating the good of blocakde-runners

Yesterday I put emphasis on Secretary of War James Seddon’s words stressing the importance of the blockade-runners in October 1864 – “It is impossible to calculate the good that has resulted to the armies of the Confederacy from the successful blockade-running vessels.”  Well, let me offer some measure of that value deemed “impossible to calculate.”  In December 1864, Brigadier-General Josiah Gorgas provided a report to Seddon detailing the material status of the commodities of war – guns, powder, iron, nitre, and certain other raw materials.  As for small arms, Gorgas wrote:

Sir: In reply to your inquiry for information as to the means of supplying munitions of war, “confining the answer to the munitions” furnished by this Bureau to the cis-Mississippi, I have the honor to state, first, as to arms: There are enough arms on hand of a mixed character–that is, arms most of which are not as good as those now in the hands of troops in the field–to arm and equip some additional force. The returns of November, 1864, showed on hand at the various arsenals and depots:

  • Rifles of caliber .58 – 3,882
  • Rifles of caliber .54 – 2,759
  • Smooth-bore muskets .69 – 3,564
  • Smooth-bore muskets .75 – 636
  • All other infantry arms – 10,504
  • Carbines – 2,596

This amount can be probably increased by 10,000 or 12,000 by a vigorous system of collecting the arms scattered about through the country.

So that was what was in the depots – at most 36,000 small arms, give or take.  That is only counting what was sitting in the depots or otherwise unissued weapons.  Gorgas cited returns current at the start of December to indicate nearly 200,000 Confederates present for duty with the armies.  Presumably most of those were armed.  So do the math for a ball park total of small arms.

Where was the Confederacy obtaining weapons at this late stage of the war?  Gorgas continued:

We have hitherto had no difficulty in importing arms through the blockaded sea-parts. The total importations for the year have been:

  • Rifles – 39,798
  • Pistols – 1,716

The want of funds necessary to purchase has greatly limited the importations of the expiring year. There are probably not more than 10,000 or 12,000 on the islands awaiting shipment.

As for domestic production:

The number of arms manufactured and made up of parts derived from capture and other sources for the year ending November 30, 1864, were:

  • Rifles, caliber .58 – 12,778
  • Carbines – 5,354
  • Pistols – 2,353

So for the year of 1864, three of every four new rifle acquired by the Confederacy came through the blockade.  The figures on pistols and carbines were to the advantage of domestic sources. But still the disparity in rifles indicated that if any new weapon arrived in a Confederate soldier’s hands, it was likely to be of foreign (European) origin.

About the manufacture of weapons, Gorgas indicated the Confederacy had the capacity to do more:

There is machinery enough under the control of this Bureau to manufacture 55,000 rifles and carbines per annum, provided a sufficient mechanical force be employed as follows:

  • Richmond – 25,000 rifles, 450 workmen
  • Fayetteville – 10,000 rifles, 250 workmen
  • Columbia, S.C. – 4,000 rifles, 125 workmen
  • Athens, Ga. – 10,000 rifles, 250 workmen
  • Tallassee, Ala. – 6,000 rifles, 150 workmen
  • Total – 55,000 rifles, 1,225 workmen.

The proviso is the workmen, and these must be permanently attached to those establishments and excused from the performance of all military duties, except perhaps local guard duty. The number actually employed is about 425, about 300 less than were employed, say twelve months since. Defection from service in the local forces and losses on the battle-field have thus greatly reduced our force of workmen.

By General Orders, No. 89, over 700 men were placed in the ranks; of these perhaps one-half were competent mechanics, many of them valuable for the service of the armories. The product could not at once be raised to the maximum figures above indicated, but could, with the 800 additional workmen, be so raised, allowing for the time it would take to teach and organize them.

For our cavalry arms we have chiefly to rely on importations, although pistols are being made at several points with success. Want of workmen alone prevents additional results. Sabers can be produced in sufficient numbers, and of pretty good quality, by the detail of a very few workmen from the field.

Follow the numbers here. The Confederacy had 200,000 men present for duty (and another 200,000 not present for various reasons).  On hand were around 236,000 small arms, give or take.  Gorgas does not indicate the number of weapons issued, to replace those lost or damaged.  And maybe that isn’t the important issue towards sustaining the army.  The Confederacy could produce 55,000 rifles, but had instead produced only 12,778.  The balance of what was needed came in the form of 39,798 imported rifles.  Total “new” weapons in 1864 was 52,576.  Just shy of the maximum potential domestic output, as cited by Gorgas.  And that would allow the Confederacy to replace one of every four weapons in use, give or take.

So, does this champion Confederate domestic manufacturing? Or show it as deficient?   Neither.  Gorgas’ explanation points to another conclusion – the blockade-runners allowed the Confederacy to take men out of the factories for service in the ranks. Gorgas counts 800 workers, but I would submit that was just the surface figure.   Maybe two regiments… maybe more.

And that is only taking into account small arms production.  Would not be hard to carry that figure forward in regard to other war-critical industries and say supplies arriving through the blockade freed up a body of manpower equal to a brigade.

Oh, but one more point – blockade running also carried with it an intangible worth more than guns or gold.  So long as ships could transit to Charleston, even with hazard, the Confederacy still “existed” and had contact with the outside world.  But ports like Charleston – were supplies could land on Confederate soil – were becoming scarce by the fall of 1864.  Within a few months, the number would be zero.

(Citation from OR, Series IV, Volume 3, Serial 129, pages 986-7.)

“With twenty more 10-inch and rifle guns… Charleston could resist any fleet….”: Jones requests more guns

The day after complaining to General Braxton Bragg that he had more guns than crews to man them, Major-General Samuel Jones inquired about getting some more guns for Charleston.  By way of his Adjutant, Captain Henry Wemyss Feilden, Jones sent this inquiry to Colonel Josiah Gorgas at the Confederate Ordnance Bureau:

It is extremely probable that the fleet now attacking Mobile under Admiral Farragut may, during the fall, be brought to operate against the fortifications and city of Charleston combined with the fleet now here under the command of Admiral Dahlgren. I am led to this supposition from two reasons: If the enemy fails in his present operations against Mobile, Farragut’s fleet would be uselessly employed in the harbor of that place, now that the Tennessee and others of our vessels are destroyed, three or four monitors and a few light-draught gun-boats will effectually blockade the city of Mobile. If, on the other hand, Mobile falls, Farragut’s fleet would be set at liberty for operations on the eastern coast, and there can be little doubt that Charleston would be the first place assailed. My conviction is that an iron-clad fleet, as numerous as these combined ones would be, could under resolute commander pass between our batteries on Sullivan’s Island and Fort Sumter with more or less loss. If the interior harbor of Charleston was properly armed with guns of heavy caliber I should have no fear of the ultimate result; as it is, our interior defenses are very inadequately armed. In consequence of the enemy’s daily increase of fire on our outworks, I have had from time to time to remove guns from the inner to the outer defenses, and their places have not been refilled. I do sincerely hope you will use every exertion to supply me with more heavy guns. With twenty more 10-inch and rifle guns I believe Charleston could resist any fleet that the Federal Government might send against it; in our present position, I feel deeply apprehensive as to the result of a grand naval attack.

If there is any doubt as to the shock felt throughout the Confederacy after Rear-Admiral David G. Farragut ran into Mobile Bay, here is ample evidence.  More than just a morale boost to the northern population, “damn the torpedoes” indicated the Federals could force their way into any harbor of the Confederacy if desired.  And, as seen at Mobile, once they were in the bay, the only chance to resist the the ironclads was inner harbor defenses (slim though that might be).

During his tenure, General P.G.T. Beauregard constructed an inner ring of defenses for Charleston harbor with just this in mind.  Granted, those defenses were weakened in order to bolster areas directly threatened outside Charleston.  But more to the point, Beauregard had never gotten the number of guns he felt were needed in the first place. Now Jones asked for just 20 more of those big columbiads or rifles.

Consider that Tredegar cast only nineteen 10-inch Columbiads and twenty-one Brookes (rifled and smoothbore) between January 1864 and the end of the war.  On the other hand, Brigadier-General George Ramsay at the Federal Ordnance Department complained that 174 guns – 8-, 10-, and 15-inch Rodmans – delivered in the first half of 1864 was insufficient!

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, page 615.)

Beauregard to Gorgas: “I prefer that we should try the experiment on our enemy…”

Throughout 1863, General P.G.T. Beauregard authorized programs to convert both 8-inch and 10-inch columbiads into rifled guns for the defense of Charleston.  These modifications did not receive the full blessing of those in Richmond.  In fact, Colonel Josiah Gorgas, Confederate Chief of Ordnance, voiced concerns in a letter to Beauregard in November 1863.

Beauregard wisely waited until January 9, 1864 to respond, explaining he delayed “until I could carefully reconsider my preconceived views and subject them to the test of actual experiment.”  He went on to say while the 10-inch rifles had not been tested in action, the 8-inch rifles had been fired in anger… a lot.

Your letter alludes chiefly to the 10-inch gun, but as your objections and conclusions must apply equally to the 8-inch as to the 10-inch, I must acquaint you that an 8-inch gun, rifled and double banded, in position at Fort Moultrie, has been fired through some four or five different engagements, in all over 100 times, with shell weighing over 100 pounds and bolts 140 pounds, with most satisfactory results, giving a greater range with the same charges and less elevation than the smooth-bore, with shell and shot of less than half the weight. The gun is uninjured, and there is no apparent reason why it should not last a long time.

He went on to say General Roswell Ripley considered the gun his best on Sullivan’s Island and “and in action has an immediate effect upon the enemy’s iron-clads, which always try to avoid it.”

Fort Moultrie 3 May 2010 490

Beauregard continued:

This having proved a success, three others of the same kind have been prepared and placed in position in the harbor batteries, but owing to the limited supply of projectiles a thorough test has not been applied. The charges used have been 8 pounds and 10 pounds of coarse-grained powder, and the range shows these to have been sufficient to give full velocity to the projectiles for distances of 1,000 yards.

The reported experience demonstrated that higher powder charges did not offer any significant gain in range or velocity.  And Beauregard added, perhaps to make a point about the Ordnance Department’s products, that a Brooke rifle at Fort Sumter, fired with fifteen pounds of powder at an elevation of 18º had suffered a cracked vent.  The surviving Brooke 7-inch rifle at Fort Sumter was thereafter fired with reduced charges, of 10 pounds, with better results.  Beauregard quoted a report from Ripley claiming the gun had, with a 23º elevation, achieved a range of four miles to strike in the Federal camps on Folly Island (that being in the days before Fort Sumter was bombarded by the Federals).  In Beauregard’s view, this field experience trumped the instructions sent out by those in Richmond.

Fort Moultrie 3 May 2010 568

In regard to his modified rifles, Beauregard built a case for their acceptance:

If the rifling and banding of the 8-inch and 10-inch columbiads is to be abandoned I consider it fortunate for Charleston that I have four of the former in position instead of the like number of smoothbore 8-inch guns, which abundant experience here has demonstrated to be almost ineffective against iron-clads….

As long, therefore, as we can get equal or greater ranges with the same elevations and charges with the rifled as with the smooth-bore guns and throw projectiles of more than double the weight with increased accuracy, it would seem advisable to continue the alteration of these guns of the same patterns and dates.

The principle of the Blakely gun has not been tried as yet with these columbiads, because they do very well when fired according to the ordinary method; but by the application of the principle I should hardly deem it jumping at a conclusion. Would it not be better than remaining in statu quo?

I cannot believe that it would have been advisable to wait for the elucidation of the matter by the United States Ordnance Bureau, from their trials with 10-inch guns at West Point, for we may depend upon it that if successful the first we shall know of the fact will be the transfer to Morris Island and continuance of their experiments on ourselves by heavy batteries of this description of ordnance…

And, then he went for the kill:

I prefer that we should try the experiment on our enemy rather than let him test it on us. Fas est ab hoste doceri is a good axiom in war, but not exactly in the way you propose.

Fas est ab hoste doceri  – that is “it is right to learn even from an enemy.”  And Beauregard was tired of “learning” about the effectiveness of the Federal heavy guns as he watched them bombard Battery Wagner, Fort Sumter, and Charleston itself.

And he could not help but offer one more jab saying  “The guns selected for this purpose were captured at Forts Moultrie and Sumter in April, 1861, of the very best iron, and superior to those now manufactured by the Ordnance Department of the Confederate States.”  And remember, it was Beauregard who had recommended Gorgas for the position heading the Ordnance Department, back in the spring of 1861!

Beauregard closed his argument saying, “I do not say that these rifled and banded 8 and 10 inch guns are the best that can be made of their calibers, but, in my belief, they are the best we can get in the present condition of our manufacturing resources.”

Fort Sumter 4 Aug 11 1601

And those rifled guns Beauregard mentioned would serve at the front of Charleston’s defenses for the remainder of the war.  In terms of investment of money and resources, one could carry Beauregard’s argument to say those were the best weapons in the city’s defense.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, pages 513-516.)