Supply and Demand;

A Brief History of the Confederate Laboratory, Arsenal, and Armory at Columbus, Georgia

By: Matthew Young

In the minds of many Americans, the Confederate soldier is pictured as barefoot, hungry, and always having to scrounge for weapons and ammunition. There are indeed many accounts of the barefoot soldier, and multiple accurate accounts of soldiers going months without proper rations. However, there is overwhelming evidence to suggest that the soldier should never have been without ammunition or artillery rounds, as the papers in the National Archives relating to the Confederate Arsenal, Armory, and Laboratories in Columbus, Georgia during the Civil War will clearly show.

The Confederate Arsenal and Armory in Columbus, Georgia was one of many "laboratories" established by the Confederacy throughout the south to manufacture ammunition, artillery shells, weapons, and other devices needed to wage war. It was located "near the Macon division of the Central Railroad and Tenth Avenue where the Columbus Railroad crosses the Southern Railroad at Hay’s tan-yard at the foot of Wynn’s Hill."1 Major Frederick Clinton Humphreys commanded the Arsenal and Armory in Columbus from the time of its construction in the summer of 1862 until it’s burning at the hands of Federal troops in April of 1865. Humphreys was an ironic choice to command a Confederate Arsenal in the heart of the deep south. For it had been Captain F.C. Humphreys, of the U.S. Army who commanded the United States Arsenal in Charleston, South Carolina that was seized by South Carolina state troops in late December of 1860 after South Carolina left the Union.2

In a letter to Colonel Josiah Gorgas, Chief of Ordnance for the Confederate Army, dated May 31st, 1862, Humphreys writes, "that you (Gorgas) anticipated establishing an Armory here, using the machinery…now at Montgomery." He further writes that, "the mill and machinery etc as it is will be required for the manufacturing of artillery carriages, implements, boxes etc., a laboratory I am compelled to erect, which can be done at a small cost. The city (Columbus) has a magazine in the immediate vicinity which I hope I can get use of."3 Humphreys goes on to explain that his stores have not yet arrived from Baton Rouge. At the time of the letter, Baton Rouge was still in Confederate hands, but would be captured on August 5th of 1862 by Union forces. He complains to Gorgas that his lead and iron has been sent up the Red River (probably to help outfit the CSS Arkansas)4, his ammunition has been sent to Corinth, and the gunpowder sent to Grenada.5

However, Humphreys was also interested in manufacturing more then just weapons for the Confederacy. "Knapsacks and haversacks I can make here provided I can get the material for the knapsacks, the cotton duck. This I can only do by an arrangement with the Quartermaster Dept., they having secured all the mill can make for months to come. Can you arrange that; I can get some 10,000 yards? The enameled cloth I can get here, of a superior quality. I have procured two sewing machines, but can get no needles." 6

As soon as June 10th, Humphreys begins correspondence with other arsenals in the South attempting to gather supplies. In a letter to the commander of the Atlanta Ordnance Officer, Humphreys asks for an receives some 10,000 musket caps from Atlanta.7

In a letter from Captain J.W. Mallet, Superintendent of Ordnance Labs to Josiah Gorgas dated July 1st, Mallet writes that he has visited the labs in Atlanta, Savannah, Macon, and Columbus. "At Columbus a single large building has been put up, in which work will be commenced in a week or two – as yet there is nothing doing. I have strongly urged Captain Humphreys the propriety of putting up one or two small out buildings as rooms for dangerous work – filling cartridges, driving fuses etc., he had intended to do everything in a single building. Capt. Humphreys wants a good Laboratorian- could not Thompson or Ludwig (at present employed by the Nay Department in Charlotte N.C.) be obtained? Both I believe are good men. Capt Humphreys knows Thompson and would be very glad to get him – there is a small house with a good well etc. upon the piece of ground attached to the Laboratory which would be an inducement for him to come. The great want here, as of elsewhere, is lead of which there are about 200 lbs. on hand, and none is to be had." Mallet further states that there is a "want (and rapidly increasing want) of led at all these Southern Arsenals (that) demands very prompt attention." 8

On the evening of July 2, Humphrey’s production of many items would be halted completely due to a large fire. He wrote Gorgas the next day stating that no more knapsacks could be made unless he could get cloth from the Eagle Manufacturing company which was currently negotiating with someone in the Confederate government at Richmond to supply some 10,000 yards of material. He further states that he has "used the utmost economy" in making knapsacks. Humphreys describes how he only uses the enameled cloth on the outside of the knapsacks while the insides are standard cotton duck.9

This shortage of cloth did not seem to hamper the production of certain items such as haversacks. For on July 14th, Humphreys writes to Captain Wright in Atlanta saying that he can send him 8,000 to 10,000 haversacks.10

On August 19th, the long awaited stores from Baton Rouge finally arrived for Humphreys via Mobile. It included almost 10,000 pounds of musket and rifle powder shipped in 73 barrels and 92 kegs.11

The demand for supplies grew even greater as the summer and fall campaign raged in the Western Theater. On September 8, 1862, Major Humphreys sent 30,000 Enfield cartridges, 43,000 .69 musket rounds, and 39,000 .58 caliber musket rounds to General Sterling Price in Tupelo, Mississippi.12

The Confederate Arsenal and Armory in Columbus was not the only industrial outfit to manufacture supplies for the south. Humphreys, in a letter to Colonel Burton, commanding the Arsenal in Macon, on September 15th writes, "I am informed that you have some machinery that you do not require. If so, any that you can spare?" Humphreys further writes that he needs the machinery to enable the Haiman brother of Columbus to carry out important work, namely the manufacturing of swords and bayonets.13

It was apparent that the good work that Humphreys was doing in Columbus was not going unnoticed. In a letter to the Secretary of War, George W. Randolph, Colonel Josiah Gorgas requests that Humphreys be given a commission as a Major of Artillery. Gorgas states that, "Humphreys is a most capable and laborious officer and deserves this promotion." 14 By November, Gorgas’ request had been approved and Humphreys was officially promoted to Major.

By October and November, Humphreys was sending equipment in large amounts to the Confederate depot in Knoxville Tennessee. Among the things that were shipped to Major S.H. Reynolds in Knoxville were, 12 coils of rope weighing over 1000 pounds, 175 belts and (sword) knots, 500 pounds of rifle powder, over 14,000 haversacks, almost 2,000 tin canteens and straps, 1245 knapsacks, 1000 cavalry sabers, 810 cedar canteens, 700 cartridge boxes, 700 cap pouches, 700 bayonet scabbards, 700 waist belts, and 500 saddle blankets. 15 In addition to this shipment to Tennessee, Humphreys also sent some 100,000 rounds of .69 caliber musket rounds and 20,800 rounds of .69 caliber buckshot to Mobile on October 25th. 16

"In November 1862, after five months in operation, the Columbus Arsenal had achieved a greater rate of production then the arsenals at Charleston, Macon and Selma…Gorgas reported that, at that time, the Columbus Arsenal consumed 10,000 pounds of lead monthly to maintain a daily production rate of 10,000 rounds of small-arms ammunition and 75 to 100 rounds of artillery shells." 17

In addition to goods, Humphreys must also have had access to a printing press. An invoice dated March 16, 1863 shows that he sent 20 copies of the Ordnance Manual to 1st Lieutenant of Artillery Jonathan Fraser, Ordnance officer at the Charleston South Carolina arsenal. 18 That same month, Humphreys sent a shipment of arms and ammunition to a small Confederate post in Quincy, Florida. Six packing boxes filled with .54 and .58 caliber rounds were send on March 26th, followed by, "100 Bright Muskets, converted to percussion and 100 bayonets" on the 30th. 19 The next day, Humphreys shipped out 40 .54 caliber carbines, 40 .58 caliber carbines, 20 .58 musket rifles with saber bayonets, and 20 saber bayonet scabbards. 20

In May of 1863, Humphreys conducted an inventory of stores on hand in the Laboratory.21 It includes the following;

This inventory, one of three on record, shows the steady increase in not only the amount of raw materials on hand, but the increase in the amount of manufactured goods able to be shipped out. However, there were still shortages of some raw materials. Humphreys writes to Colonel Gorgas on July 8th asking him to send him a supply of copper for they "have been borrowing from the Navy Department at this point and require a quantity for my foundry." Humphreys writes further that he, "just completed a battery of beautiful guns and only await the carriages." 22 A letter written 10 days later to the arsenal commander in Chattanooga states that the howitzers should be done in four days, most likely ready to be shipped to the front upon completion.23

Apparently copper was not the only thing Humphreys was using from the Navy Department.. In a letter dated July 3, 1863 (the day of Pickett’s charge), Humphreys writes to Gorgas requesting a storm and garrison flag be sent from Richmond to fly over the arsenal. "I have just obtained a staff from the Navy Department here. Will you be kind enough to attend to our request (for the flags) at your earliest convienence."24 However, a month later no flags had been sent from Richmond, so Humphreys dispatched another letter to Gorgas on August 3rd. "I wrote you some time since requesting that you cause send me a set of flags for the Arsenal which was referred to the Clothing Bureau and that department was unable to furnish them. I have since then been informed that the Ordnance Department has a supply of Bunting for the purpose. If such is the case, I would respectfully request that a storm & Garrison flag be sent me for this Post." 25

In late July and early August of 1863, shipments from the arsenal continued. Only July 30th, almost 400 rounds of 32 pdr. shot was shipped to Charleston along with 32 8-inch shells.26 On August 13th Humphreys sent another shipment to the garrison at Quincy, Florida. This one included 126 cavalry saddles, 300 knapsacks, 244 tin canteens, 1000 canteen straps, 300 haversacks, and 98 6 pdr. rounds.27 The next day, Humphreys sent 215 pounds of cartridge thread to the Selma arsenal. 28

In October, many of the local factories began to organize their workers into "local defense" companies in an effort to exempt their workman from conscription into the Confederate Army. In a letter dated October 28, Major Humphreys writes to the Adjutant General of the Army, General Samuel Cooper stating that, "the ordnance employees here have organized themselves into companies for local service. In some of the companies, there are men over whom I have no control- men employed in the Quartermaster Department and elsewhere. These later, though the voluntarily joined the companies…will not drill as the rest do…is there any way by which I can legally force them." 29 Cooper’s answer, if any was given, could not be found.

In February of 1864, Humphreys began to hear of complaints about the Austrian rifle bayonet scabbards made in Columbus. He wrote a letter on February 1st to Colonel Wright of the Atlanta arsenal stating that, "I have the honor to inform you that no bayonet scabbards made at this place were intended for Austrian rifle bayonets. I am expecting a sample of the scabbard however from Colonel Gorgas and hope soon to have some of them for service." 30

On February 3rd, Humphreys sent Gorgas a letter regarding supplying the guns manufactured in Columbus to the Army of Tennessee. "I received instructions from you some time ago to send some batteries of Napoleons to the Army of Tennessee. I have no carriages, caissons, or timber to make them of. Shall I send the guns as they are?" 31

On March 12, Humphreys sent a telegram to Colonel Wright of the Atlanta arsenal stating that he could provide a large number of .57 and .56 caliber cartridges. Six days later, Humphreys sent another telegram requesting, "Ten thousand Sharps rifle cartridges and ten thousand Maynard rifle cartridges, and ten thousand small caliber cartridges." be sent to Columbus as soon as possible. 32

On March 31st, Humphreys writes to Colonel Burton, superintendent of the arsenal in Macon stating that, "I am instructed by the Ordnance Department to forward to you 1 Bronze 6-pdr gun (old), but at present I am unable to do so as every one that I had on hand has been melted up. As soon as any more are turned into me, I will forward one to you as instructed." 33

The next day, another inventory of the stores on hand at the laboratory was done. 34 This one was much more extensive and included the following-

In addition to the inventory, this listing also included a total of what was fabricated at the laboratory in March of 1864. That included-

Furthermore, Humphreys makes an estimate of what he will need in April to continue work at the arsenal. This estimate includes the following-

As the campaigning season began in Georgia, there was an urgent telegraph request from Major Humphreys to Colonel Wright in Atlanta on April 28th to send 200,000 musket caps to Columbus. Wright sent some 100,000 the next day. 35 "Gorgas cited the bronze foundry and pistol factory as especially valuable and considered the Columbus establishment one of the eight major arsenals in the south in April of 1864."36

In two letters dated June 12th and June 13th, the commander of the Confederate States Arsenal in Columbus writes to Colonel Wright in Atlanta stating that, "there are no Sharps Carbine cartridges Cal. 52 here." 37 The letter on June 13th, also to Colonel Wright in Atlanta discussion a possible substitute for copper in pistols. In addition, the letter states that a shipment of horseshoes and horseshoe nails from Columbus will be arriving in Griffin, Georgia via the Macon and Atlantic Railroad. 38

By June, the Federal drive to capture Atlanta was in full swing and the Confederate Army of Tennessee required a large amount of rifle ammunition to continue fighting. On June 22, only five days before the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, the commander of the Columbus Arsenal dispatched a telegram to Colonel Wright of the Atlanta Arsenal stating, "I can send at once one hundred and ninety thousand rounds of caliber fifty-eight and make weekly about fifty-six thousand rounds." 39

Not long after, a letter was received in Columbus from Colonel Wright asking if the size of the arsenal in Columbus could be increased for the purpose of manufacturing small arms in addition to ammunition. The reply was that, "I have given orders to double the laboratory fabrications and after this, I will be able to send weekly from 100,000 to 120,000 rounds of ammunition." Further more, the letter continues stating that, "I shipped you last week 320,000 rounds" to assist in the defense of the state.40

In the book, Columbus Georgia and the Confederacy, Diffee Standard wrote that, "The overburdened rail facilities of the city, however, often caused a delay in the distribution of cartridges and caps to the armies in the field" He further states that a major deterrent was a shortage of food for the workers at the arsenal.41

The July/August inventory of the Arsenal was conducted on July 31st and August 1st and showed that the following was manufactured in Columbus during the month of July-42

In addition, the following is what was "on hand" in the laboratory-

As in the April inventory, Humphreys listed what he would need. Some of the items he needed include-

By the time this inventory was taken, Sherman was at the gates of the city of Atlanta. Colonel Wright decided to move his entire operation to Columbus and set up his machinery as supplement to the already existing arsenal, although Wright went to Macon and assumed command of the Arsenal there. "For the last eight months of the war, the Columbus arsenal was one of the major armament works of the Confederacy." 43

Humphreys dispatched a letter to Colonel Wright on August 10th asking him if he can spare two sets of moulds for fifty-eight caliber balls ad one set each for the Army and Navy pistol balls. Humphreys states that, "If I can get them, I will be able to very nearly double the fabrication of small arms ammunition at this arsenal." 44 Two days later, Humphreys sent another letter to Wright stating that the arsenal here has never manufactured rifled field artillery rounds, but that he would attempt it. Humphreys further wrote that he would, "be unable to increase the fabrication of small arms cartridges cal .58 unless I can be supplied with additional moulds." 45

Shortages of lead continued to hamper the production in Columbus. Major Humphreys wrote to Colonel George Rains of the Niter and Mining Bureau on August 11th asking him to send "30,000 lbs. lead- I use about 10,000 pounds weekly, and have now on hand, about two weeks supply."46

On August 14th, Humphreys sent another letter to Colonel Wright relaying the information in a letter he had received from Colonel Gorgas on the 8th. Gorgas suggested to Humphreys that attempting to send the finished Napoleon cannons to Columbia, South Carolina would be difficult due to lack of carriages for them. Instead, Humphreys suggests that the finished guns be sent to General Hood’s army, even though he thinks that carriages for the guns could be acquired easier in Columbia. He states that "I will send at least six of them to Columbia at once." 47

The last letter in the collection is dated March 15th, 1865 and is addressed to Captain R. Sambert in Macon. The letter is very difficult to read due to the poor writing and the dark background on which it is written. However, several things are legible including a portion about not being able to travel any further then Augusta for fear of capture. Also he asks Sambert to acquire something and send it for him and his family. Almost every letter Humphreys signed in this collection was signed as "Your obedient servant", but this one is signed, "Your friend." 48

A month after this letter was written, a Federal cavalry force commanded by Major General James H. Wilson was approaching Columbus, the last major industrial center in the Confederacy. A battle for the city was fought on April 16th, and on April 17th, the occupying Union forces proceeded to burn everything that could be used by the Confederate government. Brevet Brigadier General E. F. Winslow, commanding the post of Columbus after its capture wrote that he destroyed, "three large warehouses (near the Macon Railroad Depot), a large number of caissons and limbers, the C.S. Arsenal consisting of machine ship, foundries with two 30-horsepower engines, 2 furnaces, a large amount of machinery and war material, blacksmith shop with 16 forges, two powder magazines with 13,000 pounds of powder, 4,000 loaded shells, 81,000 rounds for small arms, and large quantities of rockets, fuses, etc." In addition to the destruction of the arsenal, armory, and laboratory, Winslow also destroyed at least 68 pieces of artillery, not including the rifled artillery pieces on the CSS Jackson. 49

And so ended the life of the Confederate Arsenal, Armory, and Laboratory at Columbus, Georgia. The production at the arsenal is remarkable, considering the constant lack of raw materials, skilled workers, and limited transportation system. The papers in the National Archives relating to the Confederate Arsenal, Armory, and Laboratories clearly show that the Confederate soldier in the Western theater should never have been short of ammunition for his rifle or for his field artillery. If Humphrey’s figures of 100,000 rounds a week or more can be believed, then it can be safely estimated that some 10,000,000 to 15,000,000 rounds were made in Columbus between the middle of 1863 and April of 1865 when the facilities were destroyed by Wilson’s raiders.

End Notes

  1. Nancy Telfair, A History of Columbus, Georgia 1828-1928 (Columbus: The Historical Publishing Company, 1929), 118-119.
  2. Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Volume I, Chapter I
  3. Frederick C. Humphreys to Colonel Josiah Gorgas, May 31st, 1862, National Archives Microfilm
  4. CSS Arkansas encyclopedia page, http://www.reference.com/browse/wiki/CSS_Arkansas ; accessed on July 5, 2006; Internet
  5. Frederick C. Humphreys to Colonel Josiah Gorgas, May 31st, 1862, National Archives Microfilm
  6. Ibid
  7. Frederick C. Humphreys to Captain Wright, Atlanta Arsenal Commander, June 10th, 1862, National Archives Microfilm
  8. Capt. J. W. Mallett to Col. J. Gorgas, July 1, 1862, "Letters Sent- Supt. Of Labs.," Chapter IV, Vol. 28, (NARA, RG 109).
  9. Frederick C. Humphreys to Colonel Josiah Gorgas, July 3rd, 1862, National Archives Microfilm
  10. Frederick C. Humphreys to Captain Wright, Atlanta Arsenal Commander, July 14th, 1862, National Archives Microfilm
  11. Invoice, Columbus Arsenal, Frederick C. Humphreys commanding, August 19th, 1862, National Archives Microfilm
  12. Invoice, Columbus Arsenal, Frederick C. Humphreys commanding, September 8th, 1862, National Archives Microfilm
  13. Frederick C. Humphreys to Colonel Burton, Macon Arsenal Commander, September 15th, 1862, National Archives Microfilm
  14. Colonel Josiah Gorgas to George W. Randolph, Secretary of War, September 17th, 1862, National Archives Microfilm
  15. Invoice, Columbus Arsenal, Frederick C. Humphreys commanding, November 26th, 1862, National Archives Microfilm
  16. Invoice, Columbus Arsenal, Frederick C. Humphreys commanding, October 25th, 1862, National Archives Microfilm
  17. Diffee Standard, Columbus Georgia in the Confederacy, (New York, The William-Frederick Press, 1954), 41.
  18. Invoice, Columbus Arsenal, Frederick C. Humphreys commanding, March 16th, 1863, National Archives Microfilm
  19. Invoice, Columbus Arsenal, Frederick C. Humphreys commanding, March 30th, 1863, National Archives Microfilm
  20. Invoice, Columbus Arsenal, Frederick C. Humphreys commanding, March 31st, 1863, National Archives Microfilm
  21. Statement of Laboratory Stores on hand at Columbus Ga. Arsenal, May 31st, 1863, National Archives Microfilm.
  22. Frederick C. Humphreys to Colonel Josiah Gorgas, July 8th, 1863, National Archives Microfilm
  23. Frederick C. Humphreys to Colonel Oludowski, Chief of Ordnance, Army of Tennessee, July 18th, 1863, National Archives Microfilm
  24. Frederick C. Humphreys to Colonel Josiah Gorgas, July 3rd, 1863, National Archives Microfilm
  25. Frederick C. Humphreys to Colonel Josiah Gorgas, August 3rd, 1863, National Archives Microfilm
  26. Invoice, Columbus Arsenal, Frederick C. Humphreys commanding, July 30th, 1863, National Archives Microfilm
  27. Invoice, Columbus Arsenal, Frederick C. Humphreys commanding, August 13th, 1863, National Archives Microfilm
  28. Invoice, Columbus Arsenal, Frederick C. Humphreys commanding, August 14th, 1863, National Archives Microfilm
  29. Frederick C. Humphreys to General Samuel Cooper, October 28th, 1863, National Archives Microfilm
  30. Frederick C. Humphreys to Colonel Wright, commanding Atlanta Arsenal, February 1st, 1864, National Archives Microfilm
  31. Frederick C. Humphreys to Colonel Josiah Gorgas, February 3rd, 1863, National Archives Microfilm
  32. Telegram to Colonel Wright, commander, Atlanta Arsenal from Major F. C. Humphreys, commanding Columbus Arsenal, March 12th, 1864
  33. Frederick C. Humphreys to Colonel Burton, Macon Arsenal Commander, March 31st, 1864, National Archives Microfilm
  34. Statement of Laboratory Stores on hand at Columbus Ga. Arsenal, April 1st, 1864, National Archives Microfilm.
  35. Telegram to Colonel Wright, commander, Atlanta Arsenal from Major F. C. Humphreys, commanding Columbus Arsenal, April 28th, 1864
  36. Diffee Standard, Columbus Georgia in the Confederacy, (New York, The William-Frederick Press, 1954), 42.
  37. Frederick C. Humphreys to Colonel Wright, commanding Atlanta Arsenal, June 12th, 1864, National Archives Microfilm
  38. Frederick C. Humphreys to Colonel Wright, commanding Atlanta Arsenal, June 13th, 1864, National Archives Microfilm
  39. Telegram to Colonel Wright, commander, Atlanta Arsenal from Major F. C. Humphreys, commanding Columbus Arsenal, June 22nd, 1864
  40. Letter to Colonel Wright, commanding Atlanta Arsenal, June 28th, 1864, National Archives Microfilm
  41. Diffee Standard, Columbus Georgia in the Confederacy, (New York, The William-Frederick Press, 1954), 42.
  42. Statement of Laboratory Stores on hand at Columbus Ga. Arsenal, July 31st, and August 1st, 1864, National Archives Microfilm.
  43. Diffee Standard, Columbus Georgia in the Confederacy, (New York, The William-Frederick Press, 1954), 42.
  44. Frederick C. Humphreys to Colonel Wright, commanding Macon Arsenal, August 10th, 1864, National Archives Microfilm
  45. Frederick C. Humphreys to Colonel Wright, commanding Macon Arsenal, August 12th, 1864, National Archives Microfilm
  46. Ibid
  47. Frederick C. Humphreys to Colonel Wright, commanding Macon Arsenal, August 14th, 1864, National Archives Microfilm
  48. Frederick C. Humphreys to Captain R. Sambert, Macon Arsenal, March 15th, 1865, National Archives Microfilm
  49. Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Volume XLIX, Part I, p. 486-487.