Chief of ordnance for the Confederacy

Influenced by his wife's Southern background and his own affection for Southern culture, Gorgas resigned from the Federal Army in March 1861 in order to join the Confederate Army. Once he arrived in the South, rebel leaders immediately made use of his knowledge of weaponry. They promoted him to major and made him the army's chief of ordnance. This meant that Gorgas was in charge of acquiring, storing, and distributing all the rifles, artillery, and ammunition that the Confederate Army would need during the war.

As Gorgas investigated the South's existing ordnance supplies during the spring of 1861, he quickly realized that the job of supplying weapons and bullets to Confederate soldiers was going to be extremely difficult. After all, most of America's ordnance-making factories were located in the North. In addition, most existing supplies of weapons could not be used, either because they lay deep in Northern territo

Stacks of ammunition at Fort Sumter. Josiah Gorgas was in charge of supplying Confederate soldiers with the weapons and ammunition they needed for the war. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

ry or because they had been confiscated (seized) by Confederate state governments that refused to share them. Finally, he knew that he had only a limited amount of money that he could spend on arms and ammunition. But rather than despair about the obstacles that he faced, Gorgas used his experience and energy to address each problem.

By the fall of 1861, when he was promoted to lieutenant general, Gorgas had taken several steps to ensure that the Confederate Army would have all the arms and ammunition that it needed. For example, he purchased large amounts of ordnance from foreign nations before the Union Navy could complete its blockade of the Southern coastline. He also began the process of converting mills and factories to the production of gunpowder, rifles, and other weaponry. Finally, Gorgas persuaded the Confederate Congress to provide greater financial and legislative assistance to his arms-building efforts. "When Josiah Gorgas accepted appointment as chief of ordnance in April 1861 he faced an apparently . . .

hopeless task," wrote James M. McPherson in Battle Cry of Freedom. "But Gorgas proved to be a genius at organization and improvisation [coming up with new ways of doing things]. He almost literally turned plowshares into swords."

As the war progressed, Confederate armies suffered from shortages of blankets, food, and other provisions (supplies) with increasing frequency. But the Confederate Ordnance Bureau maintained regular shipments of arms and ammunition to rebel armies across the South, thanks to the tireless efforts of Gorgas and trusted lieutenants like George W. Rains. Gorgas used all sorts of schemes to meet the military's ammunition and weaponry needs. For example, he launched an extensive blockade-running operation that provided the Confederate Army with nearly two-thirds of its small arms (blockade runners were small ships that evaded the Union naval blockade of Confederate harbors in order to bring needed supplies to the South). He also expanded production of gunpowder, rifle barrels, and other weaponry by using private homes as small factories. When the South began to experience shortages of raw materials used in the production of ordnance, Gorgas even became an expert at finding substitute materials that could be used.

By 1864, however, shortages of manpower and raw materials were affecting the Ordnance Bureau's abilities to produce and distribute arms and ammunition. Gorgas worked hard to meet the rebel army's needs, but shortages of labor and materials became even worse as Union forces captured large areas of Confederate territory. By the time the Civil War ended in the spring of 1865, Gorgas had sacrificed his health and much of his fortune in his doomed efforts to meet the Confederate Army's ordnance needs.

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