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Questions on CSA arms production?

Discussion in 'Civil War History - General Discussion' started by Bruce Vail, Apr 20, 2017.

  1. Bruce Vail

    Bruce Vail First Sergeant

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    I've been re-reading Prof. Dew's book about the Tredegar Iron Works and some of the nuance is clearer to me now than it was when I first read the book back in December.

    On first read, I was left with the impression that Tredegar and the other arms manufacturers in the South did a good job, and the CSA armies did not fail for lack of needed guns and ammunition.

    But is that the general consensus of the experts and qualified observers at CWT?

    Similarly, most of what I have read about Gen. Gorgas here has been highly complimentary, but is there a critique of Gorgas that blames him for some of the failures of the CSA armies?

    I'd also welcome any suggestions for further reading on this subject.
     

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  3. leftyhunter

    leftyhunter Captain

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    Even late in the war British weapons including Enfields were smuggled via Wilmington Port. The consensus is the Confederates did a good job in manufacturing arms and munitions considering their low level of industrialization. Not to argue that they were self sufficient but neither was the Union.
    Leftyhunter
     
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  4. bdtex

    bdtex Brigadier General Moderator

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    Admittedly,I have not done much reading that specifically addresses that topic. The general reading I have done suggests that it was more of a transportation issue that only got worse for the Confederacy as the war progressed, as did the manpower issue. Good topic.
     
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  5. atlantis

    atlantis Sergeant

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    Were imported arms purchased by state gov't or by the confederate gov't?
     
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  6. Bruce Vail

    Bruce Vail First Sergeant

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    A good CWT thread from 2015 contains some interesting info about the imports of British Enfield rifles by the South -- according to the posters, Enfields were purchased by individual states in the very early stages of the war and purchased in large numbers by the CSA as the war got underway:

    https://civilwartalk.com/threads/first-shipment-of-confederate-enfields-through-the-blockade.109970/
     
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  7. atlantis

    atlantis Sergeant

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  8. leftyhunter

    leftyhunter Captain

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    The guys in the firearms forum can confim that the Confederates made good copies of the 1861Springfield musket but were unable to copy or reverse engineer the Spencer or Henry or even the ammo for both. The Tredgear Iron Works was a good facility and did export artillery to Imperial Russia just before the war but was simply to small to produce enough artillery to meet all of the Confederates needs during the Civil War.
    Leftyhunter
     
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  9. JOHN42768

    JOHN42768 First Sergeant Trivia Game Winner

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    Rim fire cartridges was an item that the South was unable to produce. So any captured Spencer or Henry were only as good as the ammo supply that was captured.
     
  10. kevikens

    kevikens Sergeant Major

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    One of the things I learned rather late in my study of the Civil War was just how ingenious and inventive the Southern people were in producing the materiel of war from their own resources. When one considers how little they had to start with, it is astounding that they did as much as they did in such a short time. I must confess, that as Northern born and bred, I made the mistake that many other native Northerners have made, both then and later. That is, that we failed to keep in mind that while we know how inventive and creative people Americans have been, we have sometimes made the mistake of not recognizing that Southerners were Americans too and could be just as ingenious as a Massachusetts mill worker or an Ohio wheelwright when they had to be. I think the war lasted so long, and the battles equally lethal was because both sides brought with them to the war something uniquely American, the willingness and ability to get the job done. Unfortunately when both sides are composed of Americans, that means a hard war.
     
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  11. kevikens

    kevikens Sergeant Major

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    I understand that in the case of the Spencer's if Northern troops thought they were about to be captured they would remove the loading tubes, twist and bend them and the Spencers could no longer be used as repeaters as Southern industry could not make the tubes.
     
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  12. captaindrew

    captaindrew Private

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    Was Tredegar and the Richmond armory one in the same or two separate facilities? The Richmond armory produced the CS Richmond rifles correct? They were made with the parts and pieces and machines captured from the Harper`s Ferry arsenal to produce the 1855 Springfield.
     
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  13. DaveBrt

    DaveBrt First Sergeant

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    My understanding is that the South did not loose a major battle because they ran out of ammunition. That is far from saying they had all they needed. There are several orders to commanders to prepare to march and issue the troops 10 or 20 rounds per man (the normal load was 40, or more). Many troops got no training in firing their weapon because of the scarcity of ammunition. The lack of lead, especially near the end of the war, was severe. Cartridge paper was often lacking and, along with the lead shortage, limited the number of rounds sent to the field.

    One obvious case of ammunition shortage was the only ordnance wagon train sent to support Lee during the Gettysburg adventure took ALL the available small arms ammunition from Richmond. The train did not even provide a complete resupply of Lee's army's expenditures.

    The shortage of arms at the start of the war limited greatly the number of Tennessee troops mustered into Confederate service. If the arms had been available, AS Johnston would have had an easier time manning his long frontier and might have done better at Donaldson.

    These are just quick thoughts. I hope someone will point us to a useful work on the subject.
     
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  14. Bruce Vail

    Bruce Vail First Sergeant

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    Tredegar and Richmond Armory were two separate and distinct facilities.

    Tredegar manufactured cannon, artillery shells, armor plate, and other items, but not rifles or bullets.

    Richmond Armory produced rifles using equipment originally seized from the Harpers Ferry armory.
     
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2017
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  15. Bruce Vail

    Bruce Vail First Sergeant

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    It was interesting to learn that though Tredegar had the needed equipment and skilled workers to produce cannon, the factory itself had actually ceased regular production by 1859. The loss of US government contracts had caused the factory managers to switch to other iron products to keep the works going. But Tredegar was able to quickly get cannon back into production once the war started.
     
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2017
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  16. atlantis

    atlantis Sergeant

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    Was cartridge paper imported?
     
  17. Bruce Vail

    Bruce Vail First Sergeant

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    Yes, I don't recall ever hearing of a case where a veteran officer or military analyst has attributed the loss of a particular battle to lack of guns or ammunition.

    As a general observation, it seems a shortage of fighting men was a far more serious problem than a shortage of fighting equipment.
     
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  18. atlantis

    atlantis Sergeant

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    Any Prussian needle guns used by CS forces?
     
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  19. Bruce Vail

    Bruce Vail First Sergeant

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    I have seen references here and there to Confederate troops using Austrian-made cannon. Would that be the same as the Prussian needle gun?
     
  20. Don Dixon

    Don Dixon Private

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    Both

    In the initial stages of the war, this was true of both sides. Neither side could arm its troops without major imports of arms from Europe.

    Extensively by the Confederates. Cartridge paper produced in the Confederacy was of extremely poor quality.

    "I have seen references here and there to Confederate troops using Austrian-made cannon. Would that be the same as the Prussian needle gun?"

    The Prussian needle gun was a breech loading, shoulder fired, rifle. None were imported by either the Federals or the Confederates for issue to troops. The Federals may have obtained some for foreign materiel intelligence exploitation.

    Regarding the Confederacy's inability to manufacture ammunition for captured Federal breechloaders: General Robert E. Lee observed to Captain Justus Scheibert, a Prussian Army observer with the Army of Northern Virginia, that he had armed a brigade with breechloaders as a trial. But, that “In an hour and a half the men had already exhausted their ammunition. Back they came from the front. We cannot manufacture so much [ammunition], nor transport it, unless we get results. I strive to cut [the use of ammunition] to the least. We need a weapon that demands time to load, so the man knows he must value the shot – not fire before he directs it to a consequence.” The problem of ammunition supply verses ammunition expenditure was a universal problem, one which militated against the adoption of breech loading and then repeating arms for infantry in the Federal Army, as well. (Scheibert (A Prussian Observes the American Civil War), p. 58)

    Regarding the Conferacy's own wastage of imported arms: After Major General J. E. B. Stuart complained regarding the “deficiency of good arms” in the cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia, General Robert E. Lee, responded that after the Battle of Brandy Station and before the beginning of the Gettysburg Campaign, 2,000 Austrian rifles had been sent to Culpepper Court House, Virginia, to arm Stuart’s troopers. The arms had either been returned or thrown away by the troops. The troopers had also refused to accept 600 Enfield and Mississippi rifles. The cavalry of the Army of Northern Virginia apparently regarded itself as knights arrant, for whom the only proper weapons were the revolver and the saber, with the use of infantry long arms being beneth them. This prejudice was not shared by the troops of Generals Nathan Bedford Forrest and John Bell Hood in the west. After the war, Hood said that “our cavalry were not cavalrymen proper, but were mounted riflemen, trained to dismount and hold in check or delay the advance of the enemy.” After their inauspicious start, the Federal cavalrymen learned the same lesson as Forrest and Hood. They ultimately became classic dragoons, trained to fight mounted with pistol and saber, as well as dismounted with the carbine, using the horse primarily as a battle taxi. Having learned that lesson, the Federal cavalry of the Army of Potomac consistently whipped Stuart’s cavalry for the remainder of the war. Things like this must have driven Gorgas absolutely nuts, given the problems of running arms into the Confederacy through the blockade. (O.R., Ser. I, Vol. 29, Part 2, p. 648; McWhiney and Jamieson, p. 134)

    Then, there was the utter incompetence of much of the Federal an Confederate ordnance staff. For example, the Confederate ordnance laboratories were required to send monthly samples of their production to Richmond for testing. Dean S. Thomas in Confederate Arsenals, Laboratories, and Ordnance Depots cites repeated letters from Brigadier General Gorgas chiding the ordnance facilities for loading small arms annumition with weights of black powder which differed from the Ordnance Department’s standard weight. But, the Confederate laboratories were loading cartridges with powder manufactured at Augusta, with powder manufactured at other Confederate facilities, and with powder imported through the blockade from various European sources. Whether we are discussing black powder made 150 years ago or modern smokeless powder made yesterday, the strength of powder will vary from manufacturing lot to lot. Competent ammunition manufacturers test each lot of powder, and will vary the weight of the load of powder used in cartridges made from that lot of powder based upon their tests to achieve the appropriate standard velocity for the cartridge being loaded. In his 27 August 1862 Rules to be observed in the Laboratories of C.S. Arsenals and Ordnance Depots, Lieutenant Colonel Mallet stated that “Eprouvettes will soon be furnished to the arsenals, when the force of each lot of powder can be determined and marked upon the barrels.” An eprouvette was a contemporary device which was used to test the strength of lots of black powder. So, it should have been expected that the amount of black powder put into cartridges would vary from lot to lot of black powder as the ammunition laboratories in Confederate arsenals and depots tested their lots of powder and loaded cartridges to achieve the appropriate standard velocity. If the laboratories were testing their powder with their eprouvettes the weights of powder charges in cartridges should have varied somewhat from the Ordnance Departement’s standard. Am I questioning Gorgas' competence as a professional ordnance officer? Yes. And he was the man in charge of Confederate ordnance. (Thomas (Confederate Arsenals, Laboratories, and Ordnance Depots) passim)

    Regards,
    Don Dixon
     
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2017
  21. Bruce Vail

    Bruce Vail First Sergeant

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    Many thanks, Don!

    Here is a hypothetical question for you: Would greater production and more efficient distribution of guns and ammo made any difference to the success or failure of the Confederate armies?
     

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