Architects Escorting Cannon: Albert West’s 1861 Trip to Charleston

Another storyline from the Citizens Files that captures my fancy.

Some time back while looking over the records for the Charleston, South Carolina firm of J.M. Eason & Brothers, I notice a handwritten “see West, Albert L.” note, presumably from the archivist.  So I had to follow that trail.  That search brought me to this letter dated August 10, 1861 addressed to Mr. Albert L. West:

In the letter, Josiah Gorgas, Chief of Ordnance, directs West to Portsmouth Navy Yard and receive a cannon from Commodore French Forrest.  Gorgas instructed West to then ship the cannon to “Charleston, S.C. by way of the Wilmington and Florence thence to Charleston.”  In Charleston, West would deliver the cannon to Eason & Company, collecting a receipt and return to Richmond.  Gorgas gave additional instructions to “Observe and if you can expedite any Ordnance Stores you may see in the way….”

The receipt from Eason & Brothers was filed with Gorgas’ letter.

West delivered four 32-pdrs to Eason & Brothers on August 20.  By order of Gorgas, the firm would rifle the guns.

The documentation does not specify the make or model number of the guns.  Presumably, being on hand at Portsmouth, these were “navy” models.  If so, the end product would resemble this 32-pdr banded and rifled gun at the Washington Navy Yard:

WNY 10 Apr 10 310
32-pdr Banded and Rifled Navy Gun

This particular gun armed the CSS Teaser, captured on the James River on July 4, 1862.  But other than being banded and rifled by someone in the Confederacy, there is nothing to link this gun to Eason & Brothers and by extension Albert West.  Wartime photos of the gun exist, before rust and corrosion removed marks on the bands.  But the photos do not reveal any manufacturers marks, only a few numbers.  Eason’s files have no records for 1861, leaving the paper trail a dead end.

At the end of his trip, West charged the Confederate government $55 “for service as travelling (sic) agent from Richmond to Portsmouth and from Portsmouth to Charleston supervising the transportation of guns.  Eleven days at $5.”  He filed the invoice on August 24th.

So who was Albert West and why did the Confederate Ordnance Department seek out his services?  West was an architect working in Richmond before the war.  There is little indication West had the qualifications to work on ordnance.  But at the start of the war, he offered his services to the Ordnance Department.  Later in the war, West worked at the Confederate Powderworks in Augusta, Georgia and at the Confederate Laboratories in Macon, Georgia.  After the war, West continued his architectural work including several Methodist churches.

While it would be nice to know the particulars of the four 32-pdrs, if for nothing else to complete the story with a physical footnote.  But failing that, the paper trail provides at least one point to consider.  In those early war months, the Confederate government felt the need to task agents to ensure cannons being transported around the country were received in good order – even paid the agents $5 a day.