Joins the Ordnance Board

In 1858, Gorgas was appointed to help build military facilities in Charleston Harbor. Two years later, Secretary of War John B. Floyd (1806-1863) assigned Gorgas to serve on the prestigious Ordnance Board—a committee charged with monitoring the quality and quantity of the army's rifles, cannons, and other weaponry—as a favor for his longtime friend, John Gayle. Gorgas and his wife promptly relocated to Washington, D.C., where the offices of the Ordnance Board were located.

Gorgas may have received his position on the Ordnance Board because of his father-in-law's influence, but he quickly showed that he was a good selection. Using his expertise in the field of ordnance, he became a leading reviewer of Federal military inventories and a recognized authority on weapons and ammunition. In the spring of 1861, however, the onset of the American Civil War abruptly ended Gorgas's involvement on the Board.

The Civil War came about because of bitter divisions between America's Northern and Southern regions. The main issue dividing the two regions was slavery. Many Northerners believed that slavery was wrong. They wanted to outlaw it throughout America, or at least prevent it from spreading beyond the Southern states where it was already allowed. But slavery played an important role in the South's economy and culture, and white Southerners felt threatened by Northern efforts to contain slavery. They believed that each state should decide for itself whether to allow the practice. In early 1861, relations between the two sections had deteriorated to the point that America's Southern states announced their decision to secede from (leave) the United States and form a country that allowed slavery, called the Confederate States of America. The North responded by declaring its intention to keep the Union together by force if necessary. As both regions began forming armies for the coming war, thousands of soldiers had to decide whether to fight on the side of the Union or the Confederacy.

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