Southern Historical Society Papers/Volume 02/July/Resources of the Confederacy in February, 1865

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Southern Historical Society Papers: Volume 2 Number 1  (1876) 
by Robert Garlick Hill Kean and Josiah Gorgas
Resources of the Confederacy in February, 1865
Southern Historical Society Papers, July 1876

Resources of the Confederacy in February, 1865.

The following papers need no further explanation than that contained in Colonel Kean's letter. Their importance and value will be appreciated by all seekers after historic truth. We will continue their publication until all of them have been published, having regard to convenience in printing rather than to the order in which the papers are named in the list:

LETTER FROM COLONEL R. G. H. KEAN.

Lynchburg, November 15, 1873.

General Jubal A. Early, President Southern Historical Society:

My Dear Sir—I herewith deliver to your society, through you, the accompanying papers, which possess considerable historical interest, and ought, I think, to be in the possession of your society.

The history of them is as follows: When General J. C. Breckinridge took charge of the War Office as Secretary of War, succeeding Honorable James A. Seddon on the 7th February, 1865, his first steps, taken at the suggestion of Judge John A. Campbell, Assistant Secretary of War, was to address a circular letter to each of the Chiefs of Bureaus in the War Department, calling on them for information of the state of the service in their respective branches. Similar letters were addressed at the same time to Generals Lee and J. E. Johnston, asking for authentic reports of the status of their armies and the prospects before them.

Responses were made, which were kept together in a bundle in the War Office, of which as Chief of the Bureau of War I had charge, and these important and confidential papers General Breckinridge requested me to keep in my personal custody. At the evacuation of Richmond, on the 2d April, 1865, I placed this bundle in a particular position in one of the cases in which I packed all the papers of the War Office, so that I could easily place my hand upon them. On the 26th April, 1865, General Johnston having surrendered, and being about to return to Virginia again, at General Breckinridge's instance, I took the bundle of reports, above mentioned, out of the case in which I had carried it from Richmond to Charlotte, and (leaving all the other books and papers of the War Office stored in a warehouse in Charlotte, where they were found by the Federals and transferred to the "Bureau of Rebel Archives" in Washington), brought it on my person back to Virginia.

In May or June, 1865, not long after I reached Albemarle county, Virginia, an order was published by, I think, General Halleck, requiring all Confederate documents to be turned in, on pain of being severely dealt with. Before complying with this order (which I greatly regret now that I complied with at all), I copied with the assistance of some friends each report. I personally compared every one, whether transcribed by my own hand or that of another, in order to be able to attest the accuracy of the copy. Having completed the copies, I delivered the originals in person to the colonel commanding at Charlottesville, to be forwarded to headquarters at Richmond. I never knew whether this was done or not, but from the interesting character especially of the letters of Generals Lee and Johnston, I expected to see some mention of them, which I have never seen.

The copies I retained. In October, 1865, having occasion to visit Lexington, Virginia, and having heard that General Lee was engaged in preparing a Memoir of the Army of Northern Virginia, and supposing that the copies I had of his own and General Johnston's reply to the letter of the Secretary would be useful to him in that work, I took them with me to Lexington, and gave them to him.

The Reports of the Heads of Bureaus, viz: The Quartermaster-General, Commissary-General, Chief of Engineers, Chief of Ordnance, Surgeon-General, and Bureau of Foreign Supplies, I hand you with this letter. The foregoing account is given that the accuracy of the copies and the authenticity of the reports may be avouched, which I do explicitly.

Respectfully, your friend and servant,

R. G. H. KEAN.


[Copy.]

War Office, February 7, 1865.

Circular.

The Secretary of War desires that you will prepare at once, for his information, a succinct but clear statement of the means and resources you have on hand for carrying on the business of your bureau, and your ability for carrying it on, what impediments exist, and what is necessary for that purpose. Respectfully,

(Signed)
 

R. G. H. KEAN, 
Chief of Bureau of War.

Brigadier-General J. Gorgas, Chief of Ordnance.


REPORT OF GENERAL J. GORGAS, CHIEF OF ORDNANCE.

Bureau of Ordnance, Richmond, February 9th, 1865.

Hon. J. C. Breckinridge, Secretary of War:

Sir—In reply to your circular of 7th February (received yesterday) I have the honor to enclose copies of "Annual Report," marked No. 1, "Special Report of December 31, 1864," No. 2, and "Report of Operatives, Whites and Slaves, needed," No. 3.

No. 2 contains all the information as to the "ability" and "means and resources" of the Bureau.

As to "impediments," I know of none which I cannot overcome, except the persistent and continuous interference with our workmen on account of military operations. If this source of disorganization and weakness be not finally disposed of, there is no possibility of sustaining the operations of the Bureau.

The "Special Report" of December 31st, No. 2, shows that 800 men must be added to our force of mechanics at the armories; and Report No. 3 shows that about 3,691 men liable to military duty, and about 2,245 slaves, are required for the whole operations of the Bureau. These are minimum figures. If these men and slaves can be permanently attached to this Bureau, and an adequate force be attached in the same manner to the Nitre and Mining Bureau, I will answer for the supply of ordnance and ordnance stores to the army. It will, however, be necessary that the Commissary and Quartermaster Departments co-operate in so far as the feeding and clothing of this force is concerned. This is rendered necessary because these departments enjoy almost a monopoly of the resources for food and clothing in the country.

There is wanted, therefore, for home production—

1st. A force of workmen adequate to the production of a minimum supply of ordnance and ordnance stores for the army. This force is shown in paper No. 3.

2d. That this force should be permanently attached to the Bureau, and in no way liable to be interfered with by any one.

3d. That a minimum supply of food and clothing should be furnished by the Subsistence and Quartermaster Departments.

The "impediments" to the importation of such supplies as must still come from abroad, must be overcome, as they arise, by individual energy and resource.

Very respectfully,
  Your obedient servant,
(Signed)
 

J. Gorgas, Brigadier-General, 
Chief of Ordnance.

[Copy.]
ANNUAL REPORT NO.
1.

Ordnance Office, Richmond, Va., October 13, 1864.

Hon. J. A. Seddon, Secretary of War:

I have the honor to present the following general view of the operations of my department for the year ending September 30, and of its present condition and prospects. I refer briefly to the more important branches of supply:

Small Arms—The chief supply has been from importations, which, since the loss of the vessels belonging to this Bureau, have been very light, not to exceed say on this side of the Mississippi 30,000 during the year, included in this report. The number manufactured is about 20,000, instead of 50 to 60,000, as I anticipated. The reduced product is due to the interference of military operations, both of the enemy and our own. The captures have been about 45,000, and the losses about 30,000, leaving a gain of 15,000. The stock of arms in the arsenals is about the same as it was one year ago. If we place the diminution of our military force at 50,000 men (including reserves, local forces, militia, &c.), the aggregate of these figures [30,000 imported+20,000 made+15,000 captured+50,000 less troops=115,000] will represent the waste of arms during the year. About 20,000 are now on the way from Europe, and 50,000 more have been ordered purchased. A further purchase of at least 50,000 will be necessary for the coming year, unless the operations of the armories can be placed on a permanent footing by declaring all skilled mechanics engaged on them absolutely exempt from military duty, attaching them permanently to the Ordnance Department, and encouraging in every way the growth of this class of workmen. I cannot lay too much stress on the necessity for legislative action on this point, in order to give assurance to the workmen.

Powder—The mechanical means of the Bureau for the production of powder are ample for a war conducted on any scale, and are so arranged as to be almost beyond casualty. The supply depends alone on that of saltpetre and sulphur, and for the present on the former. While we must still depend on importation as our chief supply of nitre, it will be indispensable that the efforts of the Nitre and Mining Bureau be sustained, in order that the home production may be assured. A certain force of white and black labor ought to be permanently assigned to this duty of procuring nitre and sulphur and the other operations of the Nitre and Mining Bureau.

Lead—The expenditure of small-arm ammunition has been very heavy, and has exhausted all our efforts to accumulate a supply of this precious material. I feel more uneasiness on this point than on all others. The requisitions have, however, been fully met, through the energy of the Nitre and Mining Bureau and our own exertions in gleaning the battle-fields.

Artillery—The supply of field artillery has been adequate to the demand, and the quality very good. The quality of the rifled ammunition is susceptible of improvement. From deficiency in the supply of copper the manufacture of bronze field pieces is suspended, and an iron gun, tightly banded, substituted for the 12-pounder Napoleon, which gives entire satisfaction. Harness and equipments have not been deficient.

Cavalry—Good cavalry arms are much needed. Here again the removal of an armory (for military reasons) and the want of workmen have crippled the Bureau.

The seacoast defences have been supplied with a large number of 10 and 8-inch columbiads and some heavy rifled and banded guns. The want of transportation for iron and coal from Selma to Macon has paralyzed the operations of the foundry for heavy guns established at Macon.

I regret, too, that military operations about Richmond have prevented the carting of 12-inch guns, the preparations for which are now completed. A few guns of this calibre at Wilmington would have been of inestimable advantage in defence against monitors.

Mechanics, Miners, Artizans, &c.—While the army has been well supplied during the past year, there are causes operating which will render future results less satisfactory. The chief of these is the diminution of skilled workmen. Without statistics I can only assure you that the number and quality of workmen have greatly fallen off since the middle of the year 1863. While two years ago it was difficult to get machinery, we have now a surplus, and cannot get workmen to run it. This opens a most melancholy prospect, and indicates an evil that cannot be too soon corrected. While we are importing workmen by twos, they are leaving us by the hundred. I formerly reported to you that from Christmas, 1863, to May, 1864, fifty-five men left our (Government) workshop in Richmond. This may give a glimpse of the exodus.

Nor is it that this class of men is disaffected or unpatriotic that they leave the country. When called on they have fought, and fought well. Out of one battalion of say 200 workmen from the armory here, four were killed and died of their wounds, and some eight or ten wounded in a skirmish. But workmen will not fight and work both. This must be accepted as settled in their minds.

I trust the policy of the War Department may be modified towards these men, for the sake of results as to home production, and that legislative action will secure to these men exemption from military service while in the employ of the Government.

I have heretofore urged that this Bureau and the Nitre and Mining Bureau should have a definite number of mechanics, miners and other skilled labor assigned to them, and that the usual bimonthly returns be rendered by these Bureaux[1] for them thus placing such force exclusively under the control of the Chiefs of those Bureaux. Considering the vital nature of the operations confided to these two Bureaux, I again urge this proposition.

Respectfully, your obedient servant,  
(Signed)

J. Gorgas, Chief of Ordnance.

SPECIAL REPORT NO. 2.

C. S. A. War Department, 
Ordnance Bureau, 
Richmond, December 31, 1864.

Honorable James A. Seddon, Secretary of War:

Sir—In reply to your enquiry for "information as to the means of supplying munitions of "war," confining the answer to the munitions furnished by this Bureau to the Trans-Mississippi, I have the honor to state

1st. 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 calibre 58 3,882
Rifles of calibre 54 2,759
Smoothbore muskets 69 3,564
All other infantry arms 10,504
Carbines 2,546

This amount can be probably increased by ten or twelve thousand by a vigorous system of collecting the arms scattered about through the country.

Importations—We have hitherto had no difficulty in importing arms through the blockaded seaports. The total importations for the year have been—

Rifles 39,798
Pistols 1,716
Carbines 4,740

The want of funds necessary to purchase has greatly limited the importations of the expiring year. There are probably not more than ten or twelve thousand on the Islands awaiting shipment.

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

Rifles, calibre 58 12,778
Carbines 5,354
Pistols 2,353

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 Armory 25,000 rifles, with 450 workmen.
Fayetteville " 10,000 " " 250 "
Columbia, S. C. Armory 4,000 " " 125 "
Athens, Ga. Armory 10,000 " " 250 "
Tallassee, Ala. Armory 6,000 carbines, 150 "
55,000 1,225  

The proviso is the workmen, and these must be permanently attached to those establishments and excused from the performance of all military duty, 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 Order No. 82, 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.

Sabres can be produced in sufficient numbers and of pretty good quality by the detail of a very few workmen from the field.

2d. As to powder— The manufacturing capacity at the disposal of the Bureau is ample for all purposes, viz:

Augusta Mills 5,000 lbs, per day.
Selma Mills 500 "
Raleigh Mills 600 "
Richmond Mills (in a few weeks) 1,500 "
Total 7,600 "

There is besides a private mill at Charlotte, North Carolina, and an excellent mill belonging to the Navy Department at Columbia, South Carolina. The products could be nearly doubled by running the mills day and night.

The quantity of small arms ammunition in the hands of the troops in the field is about eighty to ninety rounds to the man. The most obstinate and protracted battles, such as Chancellorsville and Gettysburg exhibit an expenditure of about twenty-five rounds per man for the former battle and about thirty rounds per man for the latter. The quantity of small arms ammunition on hand at the several arsenals and depots shows an aggregate of 5,376,034 small arm cartridges on the 12th November.

There are 50,480 rounds of seige and seacoast projectiles and 133,962 rounds of field artillery ammunition on hand same date. No uneasiness is felt on this head, provided the supply of powder (dependent on saltpetre) is kept up. As to the means of keeping up the supply of saltpetre, and the date in reference to production and importation, I beg leave to refer you to the Nitre and Mining Bureau.

The chief detriment the operations of the Bureau has had has arisen from interference with its workmen for military purposes.

(Signed)
 

J. Gorgas, Brigadier-General, 
Chief of Ordnance.

No. 3.

C. S. A. War Department, 
Ordnance Bureau, 
Richmond, February 2d, 1865.

report of operations (white and slave) made.
(Copy.)

Honorable J. A. Seddon, Secretary of War:

Sir—In answer to the following extract of a resolution of the Senate of the 24th May,  *  *  *  "First: With information as to the number of white men between the ages of 18 and 45, and of the number of negroes who in addition to their own officers may be required for the necessary employment and the proper discharge of the functions of the department of   *   *   the Ordnance Bureau   *   *   ," I have the honor to submit that there were borne on the rolls of this department on the 1st October, 1864, 3,433 white men, between the ages of 18 and 45, including contractors and their employees. General Order No. 82 reduced this number to 2,691, turning over to the enrolling officers 742. Of this number thus turned over, full one-half were mechanics of the classes now needed to push our work. There must be returned say 400. This will leave the working force at the arsenals less by about 342 men than on the 1st of October, but will suffice. In addition, in order to raise the product of our armories in time to 55,000 arms per annum, 800 good mechanics must be added—say that three-fourths of them will be white men, between the ages of 18 and 45, and the total required thus will be—

Number in workshops December 31 2,691
Number of them taken by General Order to be returned 400
Number to be added for additional product of arms 600
3,961

This would give us a total of 258 more workmen than we had October 1, 1864, but would raise the product of arms from 20,000 to 55,000 (in time). The number of negroes on the rolls of the department during the past year is 830; add to them, say 1,000 in the employ of contractors, of which there are no returns in the office, making 1,830 negroes. An addition of fifty per cent, should be made to that part of the force employed at the arsenals, &c., in order that as much as possible may be done with labor of this description, making 1,245 as the number needed at these establishments. This estimate is reduced to the smallest figures with which the operations of the Bureau can be successfully carried on.

recapitulation.
White men, between the ages of 18 and 45 (excepting officers), 3,691
Slaves 2,245
Very respectfully,
(Signed)

J. Gorgas, Brigadier-General, 
Chief of Ordnance.

  1. (Wikisource editor comment) Original, French plural.