Miles Greenwood and the Eagle Iron Works… the Ohio War Machine!

As I tallied the particulars for the Ohio batteries last week, the number of James rifles reported on hand reminded me of an “Ohio story” if you will and how many of those batteries were equipped for war.  I’ve mentioned Miles Greenwood and the Eagle Foundry on occasion.  Time to formally introduce this important manufacturer of cannon… and other things!

Miles Greenwood is much the stereotypical 19th century American success story.   Ohio History Central (and the Farm Collector website) offer basic biographies of Greenwood.   Allow me to skip some of those details and focus on those pertaining to armaments manufacture.  Greenwood established the Eagle Iron Works (sometimes cited as a “foundry”) in 1832.  Cincinnati was a bustling riverport on the Ohio with connections (via canal) to Lake Erie at this time, and was a lucrative place for such manufacturing. Greenwood captured that market, producing, among other things, hardware, farm implements, river-boat equipment, and even fire-fighting apparatus.  Greenwood’s Eagle Iron Works stood along the Miami Canal, off what is today Central Parkway, in downtown Cincinnati. (Far as I know, the Ohio Mechanics Institute building is the only vestige of Greenwood’s once powerful industrial empire.  Please drop a note if you know of others!)


But mass production of military grade weapons require specialty techniques.  Bronze cannon casting, for instance, necessitated careful monitoring and demanding inspections before simply “letting fly”.  So how much experienced did the Eagle Iron Works have at cannon production?

Well the vendor is connected to a couple of cannon cast for Texians in 1836.  These were purchased by sympathetic citizens of Cincinnati and sent to Texas under false shipping documents.  Named the “Twin Sisters” in lore, these cannon are not well described in first hand accounts.  Where these bronze or iron?  Where these 4-pdr or 6-pdr guns?  And were they actually produced by Greenwood, or simply sold by Greenwood?  (As readers know, I get particular about such… particulars…)  At any rate, the guns saw action at San Jacinto in April 1836.  That we can connect Greenwood to cannon is significant, as at least we know the firm was involved with armaments.  As it stands there is scant indication Greenwood’s corporation, before the Civil War, had the ability to produce large quantities of cannon or small arms.

But when the calendar turned to 1861, Greenwood’s factory suddenly became a major supplier of arms.  In April 1861, the state of Ohio needed rifled muskets to arm their volunteers.  The solution reached was for Greenwood to convert Model 1842 smoothbore muskets to rifles.  And that was done at a prodigious rate!  By December 1861, some 8,400 were converted.  Throughout the war, Greenwood continued to modify old weapons, to include conversions of flintlocks to percussion.  (See George D. Moller’s American Military Shoulder Firearms, Volume III for more background on the Greenwood rifles… or better still, join me in calling for Phil Spaugy to walk us through all those details… to include the special sights provided!)

Since this is “To the Sound of the Guns” and we talk artillery, my interest with Greenwood is on the cannon.  In the past I’ve mentioned the firm’s 6-pdr field gunsJames rifles, 12-pdr howitzers, and 12-pdr Napoleons.  Reviewing Ordnance Department records, Greenwood delivered forty-six 6-pdr field guns, fifty-one James Rifles, fourteen 12-pdr field howitzers, and fifty Napoleons.  So just 161 guns from the Eagle Iron Works?  Not hardly.

Keep in mind the procurement system of 1861 was not as today’s.  In addition to Federal orders from the Ordnance Department, state authorities placed orders for artillery pieces.  Ohio, of course, was among those placing orders.  Likely, some of the James rifles listed with the Ohio batteries in January 1863 were Greenwood products.

In addition to new castings, Ohio also attempted the same “trick” applied to those old muskets – conversion of 6-pdr smoothbores to rifles.  From from the Annual Report of the Ohio Quartermaster-General, for 1861 (page 587):

Of the thirty-three smooth bore six-pounders under the control of the [State] Quartermaster-General at the beginning of the rebellion, twenty-seven have been rebushed, rebored, and rifled, at a cost of thirteen hundred and fifty dollars.  These guns are all now in service, and in all respects are fully equal to the best rifled six-pounders in the field.

Of course, “equal to the best rifled six-pounders in the field” was a relative assessment. A good portion, if not all, of this work was completed by Greenwood.

And Ohio was not the only state calling on Greenwood.  On May 7, 1861, the Cincinnati Daily Enquirer reported:

Miles Greenwood & Co. yesterday received an order from Governor Morton, of Indiana, to manufacture twenty large pieces of brass cannon forthwith.

In addition, Greenwood attempted to make wrought iron guns… though with not so good results.  On July 9 the same paper seconded a report:

The Indianapolis Sentinel insists that Governor Morton has sent back to Miles Greenwood, Esq, of this city, Captain Wilder’s wrought iron guns, for the reason they were unfit for use.


This seems to reference to the 26th Indiana Artillery.  We know, at least by January 1863, that battery had 3-inch Ordnance Rifles.

Lower echelons of government were also wanting for artillery.  On August 29, 1861, the Cincinnati Commercial Tribune reported the city’s Military Committee approved the mayor to contact Greenwood “for two batteries of artillery, consisting of six pieces each, together with equipments….” The cost was not to exceed $7,930 per battery.  Later reports indicated disbursement of the approved funds.  So the city received at least some cannon from Greenwood, type and caliber not specified.

And even private citizens had interest in Greenwood’s guns. On April 19, 1861, when the war was still just a great storm fast approaching, the Commercial Tribune ran a news item:

We understand Miles Greenwood was waited upon yesterday afternoon, by a company of patriotic ladies from the Sixth Ward, to ascertain from him whether the Government had given him any encouragement for the manufacture of cannon for the defense of our country.  If not, they had concluded to take the responsibility, and would order a number of 42-pounder rifle cannon, to be ready at the earliest possible moment. They are intended for fortifying the hills about our city.  This is patriotism for you.

There is no indication Greenwood produced any 42-pdr rifled cannon in response.  But without doubt, the presence of the foundry set many civilian minds at ease.

With the ramp-up for war, Greenwood expanded.  By October 12 of the year, the Commercial Tribune indicated, “At the foundry of Miles Greenwood about four hundred men are now employed in the manufacture, rifling and improvement of field pieces, lances and muskets for the army.” And this was just the start.  As the war progressed, Greenwood expanded to include turrets for river ironclads and even Gatling guns!

There in Cincinnati at south the edge of Over-the-Rhine, Greenwood’s Eagle Iron Works became a converted arms industry providing weapons for Ohio and neighboring states. There are parallels to mobilization of industry for World War I and World War II in the 20th century.  The facilities for making plowshares were re-tasked for making swords.  And once the war was over, just as would occur in 1919 and 1945, the factory returned to plowshares.