“We have hitherto had no difficulty in importing arms through the blockaded sea-parts”: Estmating the good of blocakde-runners

Yesterday I put emphasis on Secretary of War James Seddon’s words stressing the importance of the blockade-runners in October 1864 – “It is impossible to calculate the good that has resulted to the armies of the Confederacy from the successful blockade-running vessels.”  Well, let me offer some measure of that value deemed “impossible to calculate.”  In December 1864, Brigadier-General Josiah Gorgas provided a report to Seddon detailing the material status of the commodities of war – guns, powder, iron, nitre, and certain other raw materials.  As for small arms, Gorgas wrote:

Sir: In reply to your inquiry for information as to the means of supplying munitions of war, “confining the answer to the munitions” furnished by this Bureau to the cis-Mississippi, I have the honor to state, first, as to arms: There are enough arms on hand of a mixed character–that is, arms most of which are not as good as those now in the hands of troops in the field–to arm and equip some additional force. The returns of November, 1864, showed on hand at the various arsenals and depots:

  • Rifles of caliber .58 – 3,882
  • Rifles of caliber .54 – 2,759
  • Smooth-bore muskets .69 – 3,564
  • Smooth-bore muskets .75 – 636
  • All other infantry arms – 10,504
  • Carbines – 2,596

This amount can be probably increased by 10,000 or 12,000 by a vigorous system of collecting the arms scattered about through the country.

So that was what was in the depots – at most 36,000 small arms, give or take.  That is only counting what was sitting in the depots or otherwise unissued weapons.  Gorgas cited returns current at the start of December to indicate nearly 200,000 Confederates present for duty with the armies.  Presumably most of those were armed.  So do the math for a ball park total of small arms.

Where was the Confederacy obtaining weapons at this late stage of the war?  Gorgas continued:

We have hitherto had no difficulty in importing arms through the blockaded sea-parts. The total importations for the year have been:

  • Rifles – 39,798
  • Pistols – 1,716

The want of funds necessary to purchase has greatly limited the importations of the expiring year. There are probably not more than 10,000 or 12,000 on the islands awaiting shipment.

As for domestic production:

The number of arms manufactured and made up of parts derived from capture and other sources for the year ending November 30, 1864, were:

  • Rifles, caliber .58 – 12,778
  • Carbines – 5,354
  • Pistols – 2,353

So for the year of 1864, three of every four new rifle acquired by the Confederacy came through the blockade.  The figures on pistols and carbines were to the advantage of domestic sources. But still the disparity in rifles indicated that if any new weapon arrived in a Confederate soldier’s hands, it was likely to be of foreign (European) origin.

About the manufacture of weapons, Gorgas indicated the Confederacy had the capacity to do more:

There is machinery enough under the control of this Bureau to manufacture 55,000 rifles and carbines per annum, provided a sufficient mechanical force be employed as follows:

  • Richmond – 25,000 rifles, 450 workmen
  • Fayetteville – 10,000 rifles, 250 workmen
  • Columbia, S.C. – 4,000 rifles, 125 workmen
  • Athens, Ga. – 10,000 rifles, 250 workmen
  • Tallassee, Ala. – 6,000 rifles, 150 workmen
  • Total – 55,000 rifles, 1,225 workmen.

The proviso is the workmen, and these must be permanently attached to those establishments and excused from the performance of all military duties, except perhaps local guard duty. The number actually employed is about 425, about 300 less than were employed, say twelve months since. Defection from service in the local forces and losses on the battle-field have thus greatly reduced our force of workmen.

By General Orders, No. 89, over 700 men were placed in the ranks; of these perhaps one-half were competent mechanics, many of them valuable for the service of the armories. The product could not at once be raised to the maximum figures above indicated, but could, with the 800 additional workmen, be so raised, allowing for the time it would take to teach and organize them.

For our cavalry arms we have chiefly to rely on importations, although pistols are being made at several points with success. Want of workmen alone prevents additional results. Sabers can be produced in sufficient numbers, and of pretty good quality, by the detail of a very few workmen from the field.

Follow the numbers here. The Confederacy had 200,000 men present for duty (and another 200,000 not present for various reasons).  On hand were around 236,000 small arms, give or take.  Gorgas does not indicate the number of weapons issued, to replace those lost or damaged.  And maybe that isn’t the important issue towards sustaining the army.  The Confederacy could produce 55,000 rifles, but had instead produced only 12,778.  The balance of what was needed came in the form of 39,798 imported rifles.  Total “new” weapons in 1864 was 52,576.  Just shy of the maximum potential domestic output, as cited by Gorgas.  And that would allow the Confederacy to replace one of every four weapons in use, give or take.

So, does this champion Confederate domestic manufacturing? Or show it as deficient?   Neither.  Gorgas’ explanation points to another conclusion – the blockade-runners allowed the Confederacy to take men out of the factories for service in the ranks. Gorgas counts 800 workers, but I would submit that was just the surface figure.   Maybe two regiments… maybe more.

And that is only taking into account small arms production.  Would not be hard to carry that figure forward in regard to other war-critical industries and say supplies arriving through the blockade freed up a body of manpower equal to a brigade.

Oh, but one more point – blockade running also carried with it an intangible worth more than guns or gold.  So long as ships could transit to Charleston, even with hazard, the Confederacy still “existed” and had contact with the outside world.  But ports like Charleston – were supplies could land on Confederate soil – were becoming scarce by the fall of 1864.  Within a few months, the number would be zero.

(Citation from OR, Series IV, Volume 3, Serial 129, pages 986-7.)


“It is impossible to calcuate the good… from the successful blockade-running vessels”: Instructions to Hardee

Lieutenant-General William Hardee arrived in Charleston during the first half of October to assume command of the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.  His arrival meant a demotion for Major-General Samuel Jones.  But Jones did not go far, as he assumed command of the District of South Carolina from a new headquarters across the bay at Mount Pleasant.

For Hardee, the new post was a change of pace from his previous field commands, presenting unfamiliar subjects for his attention.  Among the first pieces of correspondence to cross Hardee’s new desk was a letter from Secretary of War James Seddon addressing one of those subjects –   blockade-running.   The secretary took the time to impress the importance of the runners, as a way of introducing some new policies from Richmond:

General: As the port of Charleston, through which a good deal of blockade-running has lately been done, is within the limits of the department to which you have been assigned, I inclose for your information a copy of the act of Congress imposing regulations upon the foreign commerce of the Confederate States, and annexed thereto a copy of the regulations established by the President under the said act.

The regulations put in place in February 1864 aimed to closely regulate the cotton trade and also ensure the war effort had the highest priority for cargo space.  No cotton left port without government approval.  Any vessel owned by a citizen of the Confederacy gave the government half its cargo space for transits (in or out) of the blockade.  And the government placed restrictions on non-essential items imported for civilian use.   By introducing these practices, even late in the war, the Confederacy gained considerable materials just at a time when Federal advances hit hardest upon domestic industries.

Having mentioned the regulations, Seddon introduced the agent in charge of administering the blockade-running activities and pressed the importance of optimizing the operations:

The administration of the regulations is in the hands of the collector of the port, jointly with Mr. J. D. Aiken, agent of the Department, and you will please afford them every facility in your power in the discharge of their functions. If they, or either of them, should at any time invoke your assistance to detain a vessel that may not in their or his estimation have complied with the requirements of these regulations, you will please give promptly such assistance. Nor will you ever detain a vessel except upon their request, unless, in your judgment, there be good military reasons therefor. Of this you alone must of course be the judge. It is impossible to calculate the good that has resulted to the armies of the Confederacy from the successful blockade-running vessels. The importations of blankets, shoes, arms, and supplies of every description, have been of the utmost service, and it is difficult to say how we should have done without the material aid thus rendered. The restriction of details and exemptions to a minimum must necessarily reduce the aggregate of domestic manufactured products; especially will the reduction be felt in the ordnance and quartermaster’s department of the army, and this new state of things must be met, if possible, by increased importations through the blockade. You will see how important, therefore, it is to encourage in every way under the law this trade of blockade-running.

Seddon continued with a suggestion for Hardee aimed to counteract the expected blow to fall at Wilmington:

It is sufficient, I feel assured, to thus call your earnest attention to the matter to secure your entire co-operation with me in supplying, as largely as possible, from abroad the wants of our armies. Charleston is at present the only port in your department through which any blockade-running is being done, but I have had my attention directed to Savannah, through Wassaw Inlet, and I would be glad to have you investigate the subject, as adverse reports were made by your predecessors; but the Messrs. Lamar, of Savannah, reiterate the practicability of that entrance, and it is so important in view of a possible early attack on Wilmington to open some other channel of communication with the islands adjacent to our Atlantic coast, that I would be glad to have you report on the soundness of the suggestion of the Messrs. Lamar. To a very limited extent, the ports of the Florida coast have been used.

Of course, we know that within a couple of months Savannah would not be a Confederate port.  Charleston, though not far behind, would remain an active port for the blockade-runners for a few months longer.  The objective set for the blockading fleet was slowly realized – not so much by the gunboats at the harbor entrance, but rather by the advance of Federal troops.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 638-9.)

Seddon to Lee: “… the importance of depleating the population of Richmond…”

As the capitals of warring parties and major cities in a very active theater of operations, Richmond, Virginia and Washington, D.C. were at the same time rear areas and front lines.  The populations of both cities swelled. Some due to increased labor demands, but more so as refugees of war sought shelter.  Military camps and hospitals added to the number of people present.  In the case of Richmond, add to that the extensive prisoner holding facilities.   For the Confederate government, the large concentration of people in Richmond – military, civilian, prisoner, and refugee – presented a problem.  The logistics of simply keeping Richmond supplied rivaled that of a field army.

On April 12, 1864, General Robert E. Lee wrote Secretary of War James Seddon and related concerns about the population in Richmond.  Specifically, Lee expressed concerned about how Richmond might be evacuated, should such contingency arise:

No arrangements that our foresight can suggest or our means accomplish should be neglected, and while every exertion should, and I doubt not will, be made to insure our success, we should not be unprepared for unfavorable results, and neglect precautions that may lighten any calamity that may befall us.

Lee called out the number of prisoners, Federal deserters, and paroled Confederates then in Richmond, which he saw as groups to immediately remove from the Confederate capital.  Seddon responded to Lee on April 14, 1864:

General: I have the honor to acknowledge your letter of the 12th instant, just received, and to thank you very sincerely for the valuable suggestions it contained. They fortify me by the might of your authority in the convictions of policy entertained and the line of action I had adopted, to some extent, in pursuance of them. The most earnest efforts are being made to command the full resources for transportation of the railroad lines, and I have not hesitated to stop passenger trains whenever by so doing Government freight could be increased or expedited. The officer in charge of railroad transportation has been sent out, and is now absent on a mission, with all the power the Department could confer, to secure the fullest concert of action and the employment of all the means that could be commanded for transportation. The Piedmont Railroad is being pressed to early completion, but, unfortunately, the recent floods oppose embarrassing impediments, which may delay it two weeks longer than I confidently anticipated. I still hope it may be completed in the early part of next month.

I am thoroughly convinced of the importance of depleting the population of Richmond, and have, on more occasions than one before the reception of your letter, urged on the President the exercise of his influence and authority to accomplish the removal of the population, so far as they could be spared from the necessary work of the city. Such steps have not as yet been taken, for the difficulties and embarrassments attending it must be acknowledged to be of a very grave character. It is next to impossible to make, by the action of the Government, adequate provision for the shelter and support of the numbers which would then be thrown homeless and indigent upon the country, and even those who had means of self-support would find it very difficult to obtain accommodation and supplies. Refugees have begun to be regarded with less of sympathy than of apprehension, for they are looked upon as diminishing the means and increasing the privations of the communities to which they may flee. Still, I fear necessity requires that, to a considerable extent, the removal of the useless population from the city should be attempted, for without such measure I do not see the possibility of accumulating the requisite reserve of supplies to enable us to meet partial reverse and bear brief interruption of communication.

The prisoners of the enemy and our own paroled men are nearly all removed, and the rest will speedily follow. The hospitals and work-shops will be cleared of all who can be spared, and such machinery and stores as are not of immediate necessity I have directed to be prepared and gradually removed. It will be difficult to induce either the people of the city or our officers to make the requisite exertions and sacrifices which a prudent precaution demands, for they repose such confidence in the valor of our troops and the generalship of their commanders as to be incredulous of approaching danger. Still, I hope your counsels and the influence of the Department will not be wholly without avail in inducing the “efforts, self-sacrifice, and labor, until the crisis has been safely passed,” which a prudent forecast of all contingencies demands.

Experience of the past and a just reliance on our means of defense, employed with the skill and energy which have heretofore guided us, may well entitle us to expect, under the blessing of Heaven, deliverance from the worst efforts of our malignant foes: but we should not be the less prepared to be grateful and happy in triumph for having realized our danger and arranged to meet and repair the consequences of a reverse.

Very truly, yours,
James A. Seddon,
Secretary of War.

Sedden’s response indicated that some Confederate authorities had recognized the issue and were acting.  Relocating prisoners further south did provide some relief.  But to some degree, relocating the wartime population of Richmond was akin to bailing the ocean.

There is an irony here, somewhat.  As Seddon observed, the population of Richmond became increasingly dependent upon the government as the war entered its fourth year.  Yet the Confederacy was ill-equipped, by virtue of its philosophy of government, to respond to that dependency.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 33, Serial 60, pages 1277 and 1279-80.)

150 years ago: Arm citizens for defense of Charleston?

By mid-May 1863 two brigades, those of Brigadier-General S.R. Gist and Brigadier-General W.H.T. Walker, had left the Atlantic coast to reinforce Confederate forces in Mississippi.  The departure of these two brigades, pending transfer of more troops, and reallocation of heavy guns left many in South Carolina and Georgia feeling nervous.  Were their needs being overlooked, again?

Congressman William Porcher Miles, along with others to include Charleston Mayor Charles Macbeth, pressured Richmond to reverse the shift of troops and resources.  On May 13, 1863, Secretary of War James Seddon responded to these demands:

Gentlemen: Your telegrams remonstrating against the orders of the Department withdrawing troops from Charleston for the defense of Vicksburg and the Mississippi have been received with much concern and have caused anxious inquiry and reflection. You cannot doubt that the utmost solicitude is felt for the adequate defense and protection of your city, both for its intrinsic importance and the political significance that attaches to it, and that without the gravest consideration neither the apprehensions of its citizens would be awakened nor any portion of its gallant defenders be withdrawn. We are not however, unfortunately, so supplied with forces that we can retain them at all points we would wish to preserve without the sense of insecurity, but are obliged to employ them where great and pressing danger imperatively demands their presence and succor.

Now, while we can understand and appreciate the anxieties felt by yourselves and your fellow-citizens, yet we cannot think they rest on such foundations as ought to deter from the use of the force in your department on a field of more imminent danger and not less importance.

The prestige of your late brilliant victory will itself avail much to deter the enemy. Besides, we have satisfactory assurance that, a large portion of the enemy’s forces has been withdrawn from the vicinity of Charleston–first to North Carolina, and, since the late battle of Chancellorsville, to re-enforce Hooker. The near approach, too, of your sickly season and the present sultry weather give added confidence of no serious danger of attack on Charleston.
The enemy cannot have more than 10,000 or 15,000 troops at the at-most near you. Now, on inspection of the last returns (near the close of April) from your military department, it appears that after all deductions from the number of effectives then returned for the troops sent back to North Carolina and ordered to Mississippi, there will be left for the defense of Charleston and Savannah more than 15,000 troops of all arms; of these I have directed 5,000 should be tried infantry. Surely, with this force you can be in no serious danger, considering the superiority of spirit and valor in your soldiers and the advantages of intrenchments, from a force probably not equal, certainly not superior, of the Yankee enemy.

This being the real condition, I beg you to reflect on the vital importance of the Mississippi to our cause, to South Carolina, and to Charleston itself. Scarce any point in the Confederacy can be deemed more essential, for the “cause of each is the cause of all,” and the sundering of the Confederacy would be felt as almost a mortal blow to the most remote parts. Surely, if even some risk were incurred the end would justify it. You do not know, and I could be scarcely justified in stating, the causes that preclude succor from General Lee’s army and other points to General Pemberton, but you may rely upon it that only on the fullest consideration and under the gravest necessity is the draft made on Charleston and persisted in, despite the earnest remonstrance of gentlemen so highly esteemed as yourselves.

I can only add, in conclusion, that I would advise the organization, at least by mustering and arming, of all citizens among you capable of bearing arms. A force very effective behind intrenchments might thus be added to your military defenders.

In the middle of 1863, Seddon sounded a lot like General Albert S. Johnston had in the winter of 1862.  Maybe not the same assessment, but similar conclusions.  Seddon, and by extension the top leadership in Richmond, felt the Mississippi had priority of effort.  Charleston, after all, was under much less pressure.  A recent victory had set the Federals back on their heels.  He felt for sure the Yankees had shifted troops north to bolster the Army of the Potomac after defeat at Chancellorsville.  His estimate of the Federal strength was not far off, as returns dated May 10 indicated only 16,259 men in the Department of the South (although that was just a temporary “dip” in numbers).  And, as he put it, the “sickly season and the present sultry weather” would dissuade the Federals from major operations.

Sure, we know well with a century and a half of hindsight that Virginia and Mississippi were the important sectors at that stage of the war. No disputes there, save those South Carolinians.  But it is that last paragraph that stands out to me – “...I would advise the organization, at least by mustering and arming, of all citizens among you capable of bearing arms.”  That sounds close to Johnston’s call for the “greatest effort.”

General P.G.T. Beauregard’s Department would have to defend Florida, South Carolina, and Georgia with the meager resources on hand.  And at the same time expect to forward more troops as required to shore up lines elsewhere.  What was not expected is Federal troops opposing Beauregard rose to 24,737 troops by early June.  And the Federals were indeed planning offensive operations in spite of the summer weather.

More importantly, consider Seddon’s response here in context of other happenings at the close of May and early June in Mississippi and Virginia.

150 Years Ago: Trouble getting the trains to run on time in Mississippi

On this day (February 14) in 1863, Walter Goodman, the president of the Mississippi Central Railroad Company was certainly not exchanging Valentines to Brigadier General John S. Bowen. Goodman voiced his grievances in a letter to Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton in Vicksburg. Goodman’s letter was a response to criticism made by Bowen of the railroad’s operation in January. Bowen felt the railroad was at fault for delays transporting troops between Grenada and Jackson, Mississippi. Now Goodman felt compelled to respond.

Before the war, the Mississippi Central connected the “Jacksons” – that is Jackson, Tennessee and Jackson, Mississippi. While the railroad’s southern terminus was at Canton, Mississippi, a connector linked with rail lines going south the Jackson (Mississippi) and thence to both Mobile and Vicksburg. In the winter of 1863, this short rail line offered the Confederates defending Mississippi the means to shift forces to meet threats expected from several directions.

Mississippi Central in Yellow

Goodman made a firm stance against Bowen’s charges:

In reply to the letter and charges made by Brigadier-General Bowen, I have to remark that this road is not chargeable with any delays occurring after the arrival of trains at Canton, the southern terminus of our road. So far as this road is concerned, I pronounce the charges made in the letter of General Bowen as untrue, except in a few cases of accidental detention occasioned by trains running off the track, accidents that do and will occur on the best managed roads. I ask, and think I have a right to claim, the most rigid examination into the truth or falsity of the charges made.

During the movement of troops from Grenada, some three, perhaps four, trains were delayed at different times by up, and in one case a down, train running off the track. The longest detention was six hours, others for a shorter period of time. In one or two cases trains were delayed from one to three hours for want of fuel, our wood at our principal station, Vaiden, having been consumed by troops stationed there, although we had used every means at our command to protect it for the use of our engines.

Bowen’s complaints referenced the use of flat-cars, which were not preferred during the movement. Goodman indicated he had informed Major E.A. Banks, quartermaster at Grenada…

…that out of 500 cars belonging to the road not more than 50 or 60 were on the road in running order; that most of the residue had been taken from our road by military authority and in use on the New Orleans and Jackson, the Southern, and Mobile and Ohio roads, for the purpose of transporting sugar and others freights for military or private speculation; that many of the cars had been absent for six months, notwithstanding my frequent application to the officers of the roads and military authorities to have them returned, and I could not supply the number of cars he required unless ours were returned or cars belonging to other roads were ordered on to ours.

Although Banks worked to return the required cars, none arrived.

Goodman went on to describe some of the confusion and delays loading troops at Grenada:

Nearly all the trains were detained at Grenada from six to thirty-six hours for loading, and I am quite sure the troops must have suffered quite as much by their detention at Grenada, exposed to snow, sleet, and rain, as they did during the transit. As to overloading and crowding, the trains, when ready to receive their freights, were placed at the command of the quartermaster who superintended the movement of troops, and, if overloaded, it was done by military authority, and often in opposition to our protestations. Many of the box-cars, perhaps most of them, were used for the transportation of horses belonging to commanders, and the men were placed on platform cars, and this by direction of those claiming the right of directing how the cars should be loaded, and not by direction of railroad officials.

Not content to simply call out the Army’s poor loading process, Goodman attempted to absolve the railroad any fault for the poor condition of engines and rolling stock.

If the cars are or were in bad condition, it is no fault of the railroad officials; it has been occasioned often by malicious destruction by troops in transit, without interference of their commanders, and the wanton destruction of material prepared for their repairs for fuel, simply because it happened to be well seasoned. As to worthlessness of engines, I have only to remark the charge made by General Bowen may be true, but this I know, that no road in the Confederate States ever had better equipments than the Central had one year ago, and, if his charge is true, it is because the Government has become the purchaser of all the materials that are required to repair engines, and refuse to permit railroads to obtain them when they may be found, and for the additional reason that Government officials are permitted to enter our workshops and entice away our mechanics by offering them increased wages.

Goodman went on to address allegations of unnecessary delays. He knew of one or two cases where trains were delayed half a day, or more, by military authorities due to bad weather. Otherwise the trains ran from Grenada to Canton within nine to eleven hours.

Closing his defense, Goodman wrote:

I think I can convince any man possessing practical business information that the charges made in the communication of General Bowen are in the main untrue, and that all are based on slight foundation. I feel quite confident that “these railroad officials” referred to are quite as competent to manage the affairs intrusted to them as the military officials are to manage theirs, and that they have at all times and on all occasions exhibited as much zeal, made as great sacrifices for the public good, and are actuated by as patriotic motives in the discharge of their respective duties as any general or other military officer. That they will continue to do so, I do not doubt, until those military officers who make such groundless charges have been brought to “their senses,” if a thing so devoutly desired can be effected.

Two days later Goodman forwarded a copy of the letter to Secretary of War James Seddon, adding “…that there is just enough of truth in the charges made by General Bowen to give the semblance of truth to the whole, yet in almost all particulars they are untrue.” This was not the first time Goodman had reached out to Seddon with respect to his railroad. Weeks earlier, he’d related the issues facing the railroad in correspondence to the secretary. And the state of the railroad would only get worse as the war progressed.

What stands out here, at least to me, is the competition between several war-critical activities for the same resources – be that wood fuel, rolling stock, rail iron, or repair parts. The end result was trains could not run on time and thus impeded movement across the theater. If the trains can not deliver the troops on time, then throw away the military maxim about interior lines.

(Goodman’s letters appear in OR, Series I, Volume 24, Part III, Serial 38, pages 627-8.)