Cannons for the Private Market: John Clark

Many surviving Civil War cannons that I encounter have some markings or symbols by which a pedigree is established.  Rarer, but often enough to make such research worthwhile, documentation exists to match the cannon to a production order.  In some cases, particularly with some Tredegar invoices, one might trace an individual cannon from the casting date, through delivery, to payment. Likewise for most Federal orders one can trace the contracts, inspections, and credits.

But those are cannons for government orders.  The trail for cannons produced on militia or state orders offers a less defined path.  Particularly in the early war period, orders by southern citizens opting to equip batteries out of pocket, there’s a story with limited documentation, lots of circumstantial evidence, and unmarked cannons.  Take for instance this note found in the Confederate Citizens File:

Dated about a month before the Battle of Shiloh, someone at John Clark & Co. wrote to General P.G.T. Beauregard touting the company’s ability to produce cannons for the Confederate cause.

Referring to your proclamation in regard to the want of cannon, we beg leave to advise you that we are prepared to turn out six guns per week complete, provided we have the material.  We want copper, block tin, or bells.  We have already furnished over one hundred guns to various corps and respectfully refer you to the Washington Artillery, Watson & New Orleans Guard Batteries as specimens of our workmanship.

In the modern contracting world, we’d call this an unsolicited proposal.  John Clark’s estimated rate of production, six guns per week, sounds unrealistic.  Tredegar, an established gun-maker, could sustain such rates.  But in John Clark’s defense, the firm did have the right equipment and space to perform such work.  As the letter indicates, with respect to experienced gunfounders the test might be the quality of work then in the field.

The figure of 100 guns, supplied at that point, is also worth examination.  Assuming six gun batteries, that would indicate over sixteen batteries equipped with Clark cannon.  The note mentions three (I would assume the “Washington Battery” refers only to the fifth battery which served in the west).  Beyond those, I could speculate about two or three more batteries.  But clearly the majority of John Clark’s customers were not only private, but also not associated with actual field formations.

In order to sustain that production rate of six guns per week, John Clark & Company needed metal.  Recall, as I mentioned in the discussion of the Leeds & Company guns, when the Federals occupied New Orleans they noted large numbers of bells earmarked for gun production.   So perhaps John Clark’s letter to the general was aimed at securing an allotment of those bells.

Regardless, John Clark’s estimate of six guns a week fell far short.  The problem was not securing sufficient metal, facilities or labor, but the occupation of New Orleans in April 1862.  Again, I am left contemplating the quantity of guns delivered by the various gunmakers in New Orleans, setting aside for the moment quality of the products.  If John Clark’s letter is accurate and the firm produced 100 guns in just over a year, how much would the Confederacy have benefited had the “Big Easy” remained in their hands for another campaign season?