The Rented Cannon Factory: Macon Arsenal

When the Civil War started, the Confederacy included only two vendors with a history of ordnance production for government contracts – J.R. Anderson & Company (Tredegar) and J.L. Archer (Bellona).  To fight a war in an increasingly industrialized world, the Confederacy needed more foundries to produce military equipment.  Early in the war, the Confederate government called for the private sector to fill the void.  Foundries in New Orleans, Memphis, Vicksburg, and Nashville responded to the call.  But by the end of 1862, those locations were captured or threatened by Federal advances.

Slowly the Confederates turned to government run facilities.  One of those Arsenal was established at Macon, Georgia.  As with similar facilities at Columbus, Georgia, the Confederates acquired a private foundry to establish Macon Arsenal.  In this case, the Confederate Army rented the Findlay Iron Works from brothers James N. and Christopher D. Findlay.  One of several receipts bears out this was a rental, not a purchase – “For rent of Findlay Iron Works used as Macon Arsenal….”:

The army also rented other facilities from the Findlay’s, some of which were used in the nearby Confederate States Central Laboratory.

Robert Findlay, father of James and Christopher, established the iron works in the decade before the Civil War, as part of his rather substantial business interests in the area.  Historian Robert L. Davis, who chronicled the rise and fall of Findlay Iron Works in Cotton, Fire and Dreams, noted the foundry was at one time advertized as the largest in the South outside of Richmond.  Robert died in 1859, leaving the operations of the works to James and Christopher, who were in their late twenties by the start of the war.

The Confederate Ordnance Department assigned Captain Richard M. Cuyler to command Macon Arsenal in the spring of 1862.  Cuyler, a former navy officer, originally served as a private in a volunteer artillery company before receiving a Confederate commission.  Cuyler’s files offer a wealth of details concerning labor requisitions, forage and fuel requests, equipment issue, and general topics.  Great stuff for those of us interested in how the nuts and bolts of the war machine operated, but not for those who are more concerned with the cannon blasts and bayonet charges.  On occasion, sounds of the battlefield echo into the dialog however:

November 19, 1863 (I figure that’s a 3 instead of a 5 there).  I can imagine a few days later, after the debacle on Missionary Ridge, Colonel Hypolite Oladowski desired a battery or two of Napoleons, and saw these were not redirected to Decatur, Alabama.

In the summer of 1862, Cuyler  made arrangements to produce 6-pdr guns and 12-pdr howitzers (both bronze and iron).  He also sought plans for 3-inch rifles.  The foundry may have produced samples of these weapons, but none are documented or survive today.  By the fall of 1862, Macon Arsenal shifted plans towards the production of 12-pdr Napoleons along with 10- and 20-pdr Parrott rifles.

By 1864, Macon Arsenal shipped weapons, ordnance stores, and other supplies directly to the Army of Tennessee defending Atlanta.  When General Sherman began is March to the Sea, his right wing feinted towards Macon, but left the city untouched.  But the facilities fell to General Wilson’s raiders in April 1865.

While Finday’s works might rival Tredegar in size, the production output did not.  Although records are incomplete, the foundry likely produced less than 90 guns for the Confederacy.  Fourteen Napoleon guns and two 20-pdr Parrotts from Macon Arsenal survive today at Gettysburg, including this piece.

Oak Hill 1 Nov 671
Macon Napoleon #43 on Oak Hill at Gettysburg

I’ll examine those Napoleons in detail next.

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

5 thoughts on “The Rented Cannon Factory: Macon Arsenal

  1. could you describe where the information on the findlay factory is located?
    thanking you in advance, jt

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