Discussion Any Union attempts to diminish the Confederacy's munitions production?

Joseph A. Rose

Corporal
Joined
Jan 5, 2010
Do people here know of any discussions or decisions by President Lincoln, Secretaries Cameron or Stanton, or the various Union generals-in-chief (Scott, McClellan, Halleck, and Grant) concerning attempts to target or otherwise diminish the Confederacy's munitions production? Although it's been said that the Confederates never lost a battle for want of gunpowder, it might have been a decisive factor in ending the war sooner, if certain things happened. Early in the war, the Union helped supply the enemy with munitions stored in the federal arsenals and at the Norfolk Navy Yard (and through "Commissary" Banks' generosity in the Valley).
 

tony_gunter

Private
Joined
Feb 19, 2011
Location
Mississippi
Do people here know of any discussions or decisions by President Lincoln, Secretaries Cameron or Stanton, or the various Union generals-in-chief (Scott, McClellan, Halleck, and Grant) concerning attempts to target or otherwise diminish the Confederacy's munitions production? Although it's been said that the Confederates never lost a battle for want of gunpowder, it might have been a decisive factor in ending the war sooner, if certain things happened. Early in the war, the Union helped supply the enemy with munitions stored in the federal arsenals and at the Norfolk Navy Yard (and through "Commissary" Banks' generosity in the Valley).
What percentage of munitions were manufactured vs imported?

it would seem the primary concern was to limit cotton transfers for imported arms.
 

tony_gunter

Private
Joined
Feb 19, 2011
Location
Mississippi
Do people here know of any discussions or decisions by President Lincoln, Secretaries Cameron or Stanton, or the various Union generals-in-chief (Scott, McClellan, Halleck, and Grant) concerning attempts to target or otherwise diminish the Confederacy's munitions production? Although it's been said that the Confederates never lost a battle for want of gunpowder, it might have been a decisive factor in ending the war sooner, if certain things happened. Early in the war, the Union helped supply the enemy with munitions stored in the federal arsenals and at the Norfolk Navy Yard (and through "Commissary" Banks' generosity in the Valley).
Or are you specifically referring to gunpowder? I doubt anything much could have been done about the Confederate gunpowder supply. Augusta was the production facility, but there was nothing special about Augusta that couldn't have been recreated elsewhere.

All of the materials for producing gunpowder were readily available in the south:

1) Saltpeter: could most easily be produced from guano caves, but literally any manure would do. The fall of Vicksburg eliminated access to the best guano caves in Texas, but a couple thousand men were allocated to work low quality guano mines in the Appalachians to make up for the loss.
2) Charcoal: wood, the south had plenty.
3) Sulfur: the fall of Vicksburg and Port Hudson severed the best supply in southwestern Louisiana, but the Confederacy replaced the supply by smelting pyrites.
 

tony_gunter

Private
Joined
Feb 19, 2011
Location
Mississippi
Looks like the best bets would have been to target lead and iron production (Southwest Missouri, Shenandoah Valley, and North Carolina).
The fall of Memphis all but severed the largest lead mines from the Confederacy, but production was replaced by lead from Virginia and North Carolina.
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
As far as the Army of Northern Virginia was concerned, the Augusta Arsenal was vital. Not only was the powder produced there of the highest quality, the arsenal was managed in a first class method. It was one of the few world class industrial assets in the CSA. 2.7 million pounds of first class powder was produced at Augusta.

Shipping boxes were designed to fit the interior of a boxcar. There was no wasted space. The empty boxes were returned in the same efficient space saving way.

Without the production from Augusta, Lee’s army would have been in desperate straights. The Union command had no idea that Augusta was so vital. Sherman had planned the March to the Sea with feint toward Augusta as a distraction. If he had a glimmer of a notion how dependent Lee was on Augusta powder there wouldn’t have been one stone left upon another.

Just to show how close we are to the CW, if the Augusta powder works had been blown up by Sherman, it is doubtful my wife’s childhood home would not have survived.
 

tony_gunter

Private
Joined
Feb 19, 2011
Location
Mississippi
As far as the Army of Northern Virginia was concerned, the Augusta Arsenal was vital. Not only was the powder produced there of the highest quality, the arsenal was managed in a first class method. It was one of the few world class industrial assets in the CSA. 2.7 million pounds of first class powder was produced at Augusta.

Shipping boxes were designed to fit the interior of a boxcar. There was no wasted space. The empty boxes were returned in the same efficient space saving way.

Without the production from Augusta, Lee’s army would have been in desperate straights. The Union command had no idea that Augusta was so vital. Sherman had planned the March to the Sea with feint toward Augusta as a distraction. If he had a glimmer of a notion how dependent Lee was on Augusta powder there wouldn’t have been one stone left upon another.

Just to show how close we are to the CW, if the Augusta powder works had been blown up by Sherman, it is doubtful my wife’s childhood home would not have survived.
But was there anything in Augusta that couldn’t be recreated elsewhere? Assuming they would evacuate the personnel ahead of an army.
 

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
We don't know how the factory that made fuses for the Confederate artillery was damaged by fire. And it think there was a raid on a copper mill in e. Tennessee, though the raid probably only did temporary damage.
The Confederacy generally had enough munitions for the battles it did fight. We don't know when the refrained from battle to conserve limited supplies. We also don't know how much Lee changed his tactics to avoid prolonged artillery contests.
Chattanooga would be a possible instance of the Confederates deciding that long range artillery bombardment was not accomplishing enough to justify the expenditure of precious munitions.
 

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
The overall US effort starting in August of 1864 was to reduce the entire Confederacy to state of starvation. The 5 Atlantic states and Alabama were going to have their transportation systems pushed back to the first part of the 19th century.
 

Don Dixon

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 24, 2008
Location
Fairfax, VA, USA
Regarding the vaunted Augusta powder plant, the Lost Cause myth would have one believe the Augusta powder mill was the major source of Confederate gunpowder. Certainly COL Rains’ estimate that his mill produced 2,750,000 pounds of gunpowder, and the estimate of the authors of Never For Want of Powder that Augusta produced 3,168,450.7 pounds of powder, is indicative of a major manufacturing achievement.

Nitre (saltpeter) was the critical component in gunpowder manufacture, constituting 75 percent of the gunpowder mix. The Confederacy was literally moving heaven and earth to obtain it, to the point that bags containing imported saltpeter were washed after they were emptied to obtain the last little bit of it. Rains wrote that during the entire war the Confederacy had mined approximately 300,000 pounds of nitre and run approximately 2,700,000 pounds through the blockade. That would have permitted them to have manufactured only about 4 million pounds of powder at all Confederate production facilities.

Between 1 January 1861 and 30 June 1864 the Federal Army procured 18,569,101 pounds of gunpowder, however, averaging 5.3 million pounds per year. At that rate, the Federal Army would have procured an additional four million pounds by the end of the war. Thus, the Augusta works could have produced during its entire production cycle an amount of powder comparable to only 14.8 to 17 percent of the powder procured by the Federal Army from January 1861 to June 1864. It is difficult to believe that the Confederate Army could have effectively fought the war with such a disparity in powder manufacture and the obvious conclusion is that most of the Confederacy’s gunpowder - hundreds of tons - was run through the blockade.

The question was not limiting the Confederacy's munitions production, but instituting an effective blockade.

Regards,
Don Dixon
 

tony_gunter

Private
Joined
Feb 19, 2011
Location
Mississippi
The Union command had no idea that Augusta was so vital. Sherman had planned the March to the Sea with feint toward Augusta as a distraction. If he had a glimmer of a notion how dependent Lee was on Augusta powder there wouldn’t have been one stone left upon another.
Did the Union command not know about Augusta? Or not know how dependent Lee's army was upon it?
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Did the Union command not know about Augusta? Or not know how dependent Lee's army was upon it?
Everybody knew that the Augusta Armory existed. What was not understood was the impact that denying the CSA 2.7 million pounds of the highest quality black powder would have had.

Sherman used a brilliant, revolutionary map to plan his route to the sea. 1860 census data for GA was printed on the county. That data was used to plan a route that would do the most damage to Lee’s logistics. Had similar data for powder production been available Augusta would have been squarely in Sherman’s sights.

There weren’t all that many industrial centers in the South. 1864-1865 CSA Arsenals of all kinds were systematically targeted. Wilson’s 1865 campaign is an example.
 

Joseph A. Rose

Corporal
Joined
Jan 5, 2010
What percentage of munitions were manufactured vs imported?

it would seem the primary concern was to limit cotton transfers for imported arms.
In that respect, the Union blockade and capture of Confederate ports was a direct blow against enemy munitions. The US Navy did its part, so a Union army effort to supplement that could have paid huge results.
 

tony_gunter

Private
Joined
Feb 19, 2011
Location
Mississippi
In that respect, the Union blockade and capture of Confederate ports was a direct blow against enemy munitions. The US Navy did its part, so a Union army effort to supplement that could have paid huge results.
What did you have in mind specifically though?

The key logistical targets appear to be Richmond (industrial), the Shenandoah Valley (iron and lead), North Carolina (lead), Memphis (lead from Missouri), Vicksburg (salt, sulfur, beef, saltpeter), Selma (industrial), Atlanta (industrial), Augusta (gunpowder), Yazoo City (ironclad production). Additionally, with conscription in place population was a critical resource worthy of attention: New Orleans, LA (168,675), Charleston, SC (40,522), Richmond, VA (37,910), Mobile, AL (29,258), Memphis, TN (22,623), Savannah, GA (22,292), Petersburg, VA (18,266), Nashville, TN (16,988), Alexandria, VA (12,652), Augusta, GA (12,493), Columbus, GA (9,621).

Which of these targets should have been prioritized over the others and on what timeline? If we eliminate the ones that *were* prioritized early on, we are left with Vicksburg / Yazoo City, Selma, Atlanta, Augusta, Charleston, and Mobile.

One critical resource that hasn't been mentioned is the production capacity of the slave population. The Vicksburg Campaign severed key supplies of food, saltpeter, sulfur, sugar, and salt ... those were quickly replaced. But the recently enacted Emancipation Proclamation brought hundreds of thousands of enslaved people within a day's march of the federal lines. Not only was it a major blow to Confederate production, it added nearly the equivalent of the Army of the Tennessee in armed combatants to the federal effort, freeing the Army of the Tennessee to join Sherman against Georgia.

Lincoln didn't appear to take the capture of Vicksburg all that seriously until just before appointing Porter as commander of the brown water navy. Perhaps if he had come to the conclusion that "Vicksburg is the key" a year earlier, it would have hastened the Confederate demise?
 

Joshism

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Apr 30, 2012
Location
Jupiter, FL
Sherman used a brilliant, revolutionary map to plan his route to the sea. 1860 census data for GA was printed on the county. That data was used to plan a route that would do the most damage to Lee’s logistics. Had similar data for powder production been available Augusta would have been squarely in Sherman’s sights.

I'm not so sure about this. Sherman's March to the Sea had a very tight schedule. Attacking Augusta, even if only lightly defended, would not have been practical without serious alterations to the plan, which among other things included feigning at Augusta and Macon.

It's a problem Sherman probably would have tried to solve, and might have been able to, but it would have required a lot more than simply altering the route of march for one corps of his army.
 

Don Dixon

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 24, 2008
Location
Fairfax, VA, USA
What was not understood was the impact that denying the CSA 2.7 million pounds of the highest quality black powder would have had.

That the powder produced at the Augusta mill was a quality product is another part of the Lost Cause myth based upon self-serving statements after the war by COL Rains and ex-Confederate ordnance leadership. It wasn't. Even the worshipful authors of Never For Want of Powder concluded that Rains “seems to have taken some liberties with the truth…”

In that respect, the Union blockade and capture of Confederate ports was a direct blow against enemy munitions. The US Navy did its part, so a Union army effort to supplement that could have paid huge results.

Unfortunately the Federal Navy did not do its part. The Navy’s blockade of the Confederacy was the first modern blockade in that it was conducted largely with steam powered warships which the Federal Navy had to build, purchase, or capture. Due to the need to obtain suitable ships and train crews the blockade began slowly. In 1861 losses of blockade runners were negligiable. In 1862 one in seven runners was lost. In 1863 about one in four was lost. In 1864 losses increased to one in three. And by 1865 losses increased to one to one. There were holes in the blockade, however. The data on captured runners generally covers only steam ships and ignores the myriad of small sailing ships going into secondary or tertiary Southern ports. Even in 1864-5 the blockade was porous. Cape Fear pilot Thomas Mann Thompson first ran the blockade on 24 February 1864. From then until the fall of Fort Fisher on 15 January 1865 he successfully ran the blockade 34 times on nine different steamers. There was an average for the war of six successful trips for each steamship captured. Thus, there was no "effective" blockade under international law until the later half of 1864. The lack of resources applied to the blockade and to closing the remaining significant Southern ports is perplexing.

Regards,
Don Dixon
 

DaveBrt

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Mar 6, 2010
Location
Charlotte, NC
The data on captured runners generally covers only steam ships and ignores the myriad of small sailing ships going into secondary or tertiary Southern ports.
The lack of resources applied to the blockade and to closing the remaining significant Southern ports is perplexing.


Do you have any concrete information on this myriad of small sailing ships going into secondary or tertiary Southern ports? My research in the Texas CS papers shows very few sailing ships going out. Each had to have permission to leave, so we know when each asked for permission. I cannot see how any other state would have been more able to send sailing ships than Texas.

I have also looked at the contents of several of the Texas sailing ships and the quantities they brought in were too small to even meet the needs of the coastal Texas area. They could not have had any impact on the main war zones, even if the Mississippi was not closed.
 

DaveBrt

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Mar 6, 2010
Location
Charlotte, NC
I'm not so sure about this. Sherman's March to the Sea had a very tight schedule. Attacking Augusta, even if only lightly defended, would not have been practical without serious alterations to the plan, which among other things included feigning at Augusta and Macon.

It's a problem Sherman probably would have tried to solve, and might have been able to, but it would have required a lot more than simply altering the route of march for one corps of his army.
As I remember it, Sherman created his own schedule and could have adjusted the arrival date on the coast, if he had wanted to pick up Augusta on the way to Savannah. I don't think he realized the impact that the loss of Augusta power would have had --- on the other hand, how much impact would it have had if he had captured Augusta in November 1864 and then proceeded to Savannah?

The real hurt was the morale hit that the loss of Atlanta had been, followed by Sherman's easy march to Savannah. Even the true believers saw the impossibility of winning at that point. Everything after that was just mopping up.
 

DaveBrt

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Mar 6, 2010
Location
Charlotte, NC
But was there anything in Augusta that couldn’t be recreated elsewhere? Assuming they would evacuate the personnel ahead of an army.
Yes, after Atlanta's loss the manufacturing capacity of the South could not hope to recreate the rollers and cylinders at Augusta. These had been bought in Europe in the first place because the South did not have the capacity to make them in 1861. By 1864, there was NO way they could have been replaced by the South.
 
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