150 Years Ago: Beauregard asks “Where are my requisitions for heavy guns?”

We often encounter times when, in the course of any endeavor, a shortage of resources impedes progress.  If part of a large organization, rounds of coordination occur.  Often the conversation centers on establishing some simple facts – What was requested? When was it requested?  Were is it now?

In military operations such resource inquiries occur almost constantly, making many a staff meeting exciting to say the least.  One such inquiry occurred on this day (March 15) in 1863.  The artifact is a report from Colonel Ambrosio J. Gonzales, Chief of Artillery and Ordnance, to General P.G.T. Beauregard:

I have the honor to state, in answer to your note of the 13th, received yesterday evening, that there is no record in the ordnance or artillery offices relative to the applications of General Pemberton for heavy guns for this department.

What application he may have made in writing directly to Richmond I know not. I am positive about one thing, to wit, that he went to Richmond to apply personally for such heavy guns and obtained the promise of ten 10-inch columbiads, and several 8-inch which were to have been cast in Rome, Ga.; the latter not being procurable some 10inch were promised in their stead. I inclose copies of such communications as are on my books in relation to this matter.

I once telegraphed the Secretary of War during General Pemberton’s administration for 10-inch mortars, and after your taking command a letter from Colonel Rhett, inquiring how many guns were wanted by you for the defense of the department (heavy guns), having been referred to me by you, I applied for fifty-one 10-inch columbiads for the defense of the inner harbor, as a necessity, after the failure of the obstruction at the gorge, which application was approved and forwarded by you, and of which a copy was, I believe, kept at the adjutant-general’s office.

For some time, Beauregard inquired to Richmond about obtaining heavy guns.  Despite assurances and some deliveries, Beauregard never felt enough was in place.  Now with a growing fleet of ironclads at Port Royal threatening to roll into Charleston with guns blazing, Beauregard was wondering “where are the guns we ordered?”

Keep in mind the production cycle of heavy guns.  The time between casting and delivery for a Tredegar columbiad was several months.  Beauregard took command of the department in August 1862.  He was told at that time weapons were on the way to improve the coastal defenses.  Yet by March 1863 his command had received only nineteen heavy caliber cannons, against fifty-one needed.  A lot of forts but not a lot of guns.  So “Bory” asked his ordnance officer to help establish the facts – how many guns did Major-General John C. Pemberton order before leaving in August?  Gonzales’ answer was not what Beauregard wanted to hear.

The only guns promised to Pemberton were due from Rome, Georgia.  And those promises fell apart when the Noble Brothers started hurling insults at ordnance officers.  However, keep in mind that the Noble Brothers had no experience with such large weapons in the fall of 1862, not to mention short capacity. So the promise was rotten from the start.

So the answer to “when was it requested?” rolled forward on the calendar to “December.” Tredegar could not turn out fifty-one columbiads that fast.

Beauregard’s request for information coincided with a special board he had convened to determine what should be done to better protect Charleston.  Brigadier-Generals Roswell Ripley, S.R. Gist, and James Trapier. Make no bones about it, Beauregard had hoped a long list of requisitions and requests would stiffen the output from the board.  That in hand, he might really lay into those in Richmond (Oh, not like he had an axe to grind or anything, right?).

Now the question changed to “what can we do with the resources on hand?”

(Colonel Gonzales’ report appears in OR, Series I, Volume 14, Serial 20, page 828.)