Civil War Wednesday: Augusta Powder Works

Confederate Powder Works

Confederate Powder Works | Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsca-3504

Major George Washington Rains left Richmond, Virginia, during the early days of July 1861. North and South had not yet met on the fields of Manassas, but Confederate officials surely knew they would soon need ample supplies of gunpowder and other war matériel. Shortly after volunteering to don the gray, Rains received the assignment to find a suitable site to build a powder mill. The vision of Augusta native Henry Cumming, who in the 1840s formed the idea to create an industrial artery flowing through the city – a canal – benefited Rains, and the Confederate war effort 20 years later.

Augusta offered many incentives for Rains in his search for a proper location to erect the powder works. Besides the canal, Augusta also provided easy access to the railroad and the Savannah River, and the city’s distance from any imaginable battlefront early in the war solidified the spot as the ideal setting. Design of the shops needed to supply the various armies in the field with reliable powder began, and gathering building materials and machinery took much of Rains’s time. In September, just two months after leaving Richmond, the major oversaw construction getting underway for “…the largest and finest Gunpowder Factory to be found in any country.”[1]

Colonel G.W. Rains

Colonel G.W. Rains

Receiving promotion to the rank of colonel, Rains supervised the works through the end of the war. Various threats from Federal troops – namely Major General William T. Sherman’s armies during the November 1864 March to the Sea, and later in the 1865 Carolinas Campaign – kept the colonel and his staff ever at the ready to disassemble, and move the irreplaceable machinery. However, Sherman, unwilling in either campaign to slow his progress to attack Augusta, steered clear of the city, and the powder works.

Stacking of arms at Appomattox Court House, and later at the Bennett Farm in North Carolina, signaled the end of a need for powder. Rains pointed out from the time the mill first opened, until he silenced the machinery on April 18, 1865, the works produced “… 2, 750,000 pounds, or one thousand, three hundred and seventy-five tons of gunpowder.”[2]

Augusta Powder Works

Powder Works site today | Photo courtesy of the author

Signaling a status, which remains to the present, Rains recalled the “…great extent of the Powder Works and their immense capabilities, were the admiration of all visitors.”[3] The vast works, which consisted of multiple buildings on both sides of the canal, stretched for two miles. Progress, in the form of tearing down and rebuilding, took place several years after the war, when all vestiges of the powder works crumbled away to make room for building new textile mills.

Rains wanted the chimney to remain as a lasting shrine for Southern soldiers who gave their all. He got his wish, thus creating one of the first Confederate monuments in the country. Rains could take solace in knowing his tower beside the canal would serve as a reminder of the horrendous casualties during the American Civil War. The obelisk, with “…its battlemented tower and lofty shaft, large proportions and beautiful workmanship,” bearing “…evidence of the magnitude and style of their construction to future generations.”[4]

Today, the Canal Authority, in partnership with the National Park Service, manages the canal and obelisk site. Plans call for development of an interpretative plaza beneath the chimney, so visitors can enjoy the placid setting, while learning about the history of the region. Visit http://www.augustacanal.com for details in planning your next visit to historic Augusta, and check out the ‘Food, Fabric, and Firepower’ tour, a Civil War-themed journey leaving at 1:30 p.m. daily.


[1] George Washington Rains, “History of the Confederate Powder Works,” Newburgh Daily News Print, https://archive.org/details/powderworks00rainrich (accessed July 14, 2015).
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.

MikeMichael K. Shaffer is a Civil War historian, author, newspaper columnist and lecturer. He can be contacted at: www.civilwarhistorian.net.

Civil War Wednesday: Fort Pulaski

Fort Pulaski

Fort Pulaski, Library of Congress HABS GA, 26-SAV.V, 2-50

“From the position the enemy has taken in the Savannah River, it becomes necessary that you look to your defense in that direction.”[1] On February 17, 1862, General Robert E. Lee wrote these words to Colonel Charles Olmstead, the officer responsible for the garrison of 385 soldiers holding Fort Pulaski. For Lee, this occasion did not mark his first visit to Georgia, or to Fort Pulaski. As a young lieutenant in the late 1820s, Lee, after graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point, took his engineering training to Georgia’s coast.

During the aftermath of the War of 1812, the United States began building a series of coastal fortifications – The Third System. On Cockspur Island in the Savannah River, construction had started on a fortification named in honor of Casimir Pulaski, a native of Poland, who led cavalry troopers during the American Revolution.[2] While Lee influenced the early design of Fort Pulaski, advancements in artillery in the years leading up to the Civil War would prove the death knell of masonry fortifications.

Captain Quincy Gillmore

Captain Quincy Gillmore, Library of Congress LC-DIG-cwpb-06490

Seeking to seal the port of Savannah, and cut the number of blockade-runners making safe passage into the city, the Federals began preparations for taking Fort Pulaski in January 1862. Captain Quincy Gillmore received the task of landing troops and artillery on nearby Tybee Island, and positioning his artillery to launch a bombardment of the fort. Gillmore’s soldiers stepped onto the sandy shores on February 21, but several days passed as the men worked in the marshy areas, busily constructing roads and gun placements. Finally, with all preparations complete, the Federal guns opened fire on the morning of April 10. The artillery – many of the guns rifled – soon found their mark, and the shells started reducing the walls of the fort to rubble. Olmstead realized he held a position no longer tenable; the following day, he surrendered Fort Pulaski.[3]

Colonel Charles Olmstead

Colonel Charles Olmstead, Fort Pulaski National Monument—Georgia, gutenberg.org

Reporting on the mission’s success, Gillmore wrote to department commander, Major General David Hunter. “I have the honor to transmit herewith the terms of capitulation for the surrender to the United States of Fort Pulaski, Ga…the fort hoisted the white flag at a quarter before 2 o’clock this afternoon…a practicable breach in the walls was made in eighteen and a half hours’ firing by daylight.”[4] The fort would remain in Federal possession during the balance of the war, and later served as a prison, which held captured Confederates.

Today, the National Park Service manages the Fort Pulaski National Monument. Please visit http://www.nps.gov/fopu/index.htm for details in planning your next visit to historic Savannah, and Fort Pulaski!

 

[1] U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, reprint 1899 ed., Series I, vol. 6 (Harrisburg, PA: National Historical Society, 1971), 389. (Hereafter listed as O.R.)

[2] Casimir Pulaski, National Park Service, http://www.nps.gov/fopu/learn/historyculture/casimir-pulaski.htm (accessed May 28, 2015).

[3] J.E. Kaufmann and H.W. Kaufmann, Fortress America: The Forts That Defended America, 1600 to the Present (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo, 2004), 254–57.

[4] O.R., 139.

 

MikeMichael K. Shaffer is a Civil War historian, author, newspaper columnist, and lecturer. He can be contacted at: www.civilwarhistorian.net.

 

Civil War Wednesday: Wofford’s Surrender in Kingston

 

Brigadier General William T. Wofford, http://georgiainfo.galileo.usg.edu/

Brigadier General William T. Wofford, http://georgiainfo.galileo.usg.edu/

William Tatum Wofford, a native of Habersham County, Georgia, practiced law in his native state before service in the Mexican-American War. In 1861, after his election as colonel of the 18th Georgia Infantry, Wofford served with the Army of Northern Virginia, eventually rising to the rank of brigadier general. In the fall of 1864, failing health forced a return home for rest and recuperation. In January 1865, Governor Joe Brown tapped Wofford to take command of the Department of North Georgia.[1] Performing in this capacity, and reporting to General Robert E. Lee, Wofford would play an important role in one of the war’s final surrender ceremonies.

Writing from Danville, Virginia, on April 7, President Jefferson Davis suggested to Wofford, “…a few reliable men with combustible and explosive materials should be employed by you to interfere with Chattanooga and Knoxville Railroad as may thus be possible.”[2] Wofford chose not to comply, but continued to collect soldiers – including deserters – from throughout his department. Major General George Thomas, working from his headquarters in Nashville, learned of a planned attack on the railroad Davis intimated Wofford should target. On April 18, Thomas dispatched Major General James Steedman in Chattanooga with a clear threat for Wofford. If the rail should come under attack, Thomas stood ready to “…so despoil Georgia that fifty years hence it will be a wilderness.”[3] In this same communication, Thomas encouraged Wofford to surrender under the terms Lieutenant General U.S. Grant offered to Lee at Appomattox Court House. Wofford refused, noting, “…I am of the opinion that it is to the interest of the Government of the United States, as well as necessary for the protection of the citizens of upper Georgia, that my organization retain its present status.”[4]

Wofford, working to get food for the hungry citizens of northwest Georgia, asked Brigadier General Henry Judah to consider “…a cessation of hostilities for an indefinite period of time….” This April 20 appeal came one day before Wofford learned of the surrender terms between General Joseph E. Johnston and Major General William T. Sherman in North Carolina. Less than one week later, Judah told Wofford of the rebuke of Sherman’s terms. Facing a resumption of hostilities, Wofford sought a meeting with Judah to discuss the “…propriety and expediency of surrendering myself and the forces under my command.” Wofford suggested meeting in Resaca on May 8 to discuss matters in greater detail.[5] On May 2, six days earlier than Wofford had suggested, the two generals met, and agreed, in principle, on the same terms of surrender Grant extended to the Army of Northern Virginia.

Suggesting he needed time to collect his forces for an official surrender, Wofford believed he could organize for a May 12 ceremony in Kingston, and wrote to Judah providing an estimate of “…3,000 to 4,000” soldiers ready to stack arms.[6]

Reporting from Kingston, Judah indicated 6,000 Confederate troops surrendered.[7] Wofford, continuing to show great concern for his beloved region, asked for a Federal force to remain within the area to police against post-war tensions. The request received approval, and Wofford worked to preserve the peace, while helping to rebuild the war-ravaged sections of northwest Georgia.

Commemorate the last surrender on Saturday, May 9th in Kingston, Georgia.

[1] Ezra J. Warner, Generals in Gray: Lives of the Confederate Commanders (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1997), 343–44.

[2] U.S. Government, The War of the Rebellion Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, vol. 49,  pt.2 (Harrisburg, PA: National Historical Society, 1985), 1213.

[3] Ibid. 396-97.

[4] Ibid., 456.

[5] Ibid., 488.

[6] Ibid., 707.

[7] Ibid., 804.

MikeMichael K. Shaffer is a Civil War historian, author, newspaper columnist, and lecturer. He can be contacted at: www.civilwarhistorian.net.

Civil War Wednesday: Wilson’s Raid

Major General James H. Wilson, Library of Congress LC-DIG-cwpb-06208

Major General James H. Wilson, Library of Congress LC-DIG-cwpb-06208

Continuing to press on all military fronts, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant sanctioned a two-part operation in Alabama. Major General Edward Canby’s force targeted Mobile, while Major General James H. Wilson would lead what resulted in the largest cavalry raid during the war. Mounting 13,500 troopers, Wilson set out on March 22, 1865, for his primary target – Selma. Home to an arsenal and armory, and various warehouses storing matériel, Selma provided an irresistible target for the Northern troops bent on destroying the South’s resources for continuing the war.

Attempting to thwart Wilson’s advancing horsemen, Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest, with 5,000 cavalry troops, prepared to meet the superior numbers riding toward their position from three different directions. On March 31, Wilson’s troopers bested Forrest at Montevallo, and the victors destroyed the ironworks there before riding in the direction of Selma. Engaging Forrest and company near Selma on April 2, the Federals fought through Southern artillery to take the city. Forrest managed to escape, but Wilson’s riders captured 2,700 of his men.[1] The Federals continued their trek across Alabama, destroying anything of military value in their path. After several days in the saddle, the bluecoats arrived outside Girard (present-day Phenix City, Alabama), where the Confederates had constructed a series of earthworks protecting the bridge crossings into Columbus, Georgia.

Launching one of the war’s rare nighttime attacks, Wilson’s troopers struck during the cover of darkness. Desperate fighting followed; eventually, the Confederates fell back across the Chattahoochee River into Columbus, and the Federals took possession of the Franklin Street Bridge.[2] Major General Howell Cobb, in command of the defense of Columbus, traveled to Macon to rally forces for protecting the city. Wilson’s troopers burned thousands of cotton bales in Columbus, and destroyed the iron works and naval yard. Confederates set fire to the CSS Jackson, which still readied for combat during Wilson’s attack, and scuttled the CSS Chattahoochee.

Arriving outside Macon on April 20 – where news of General Robert E. Lee’s surrender had just come in – the Federals repulsed Southern troops holding an outer defense line. Soon, Cobb sent word to Wilson asking for a truce pending word from General Joseph E. Johnston and Major General William T. Sherman’s actions in North Carolina. Refusing to accept Cobb’s request, Wilson ordered his men to continue into Macon, where the officials surrendered the city.[3] As the Macon Telegraph and Messenger later reported during the tenth anniversary of the event, “General Cobb and other officers here now regarded the war as closed.” Indeed, Wilson’s Raid marked the last significant military action of the war on Georgia soil.

[1] National Park Service, Battle of Selma, http://www.nps.gov/abpp/battles/al007.htm (accessed March 30, 2015).

[2] Charles A. Misulia, Columbus, Georgia, 1865: The Last True Battle of the Civil War (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2010), 156.

[3] Ibid., 215.

MikeMichael K. Shaffer is a Civil War historian, author, newspaper columnist, and lecturer. He can be contacted at: www.civilwarhistorian.net.

Civil War Wednesday: Major General John B. Gordon

        Major General John B. Gordon, Library of Congress LC-DIG-cwpb-06013

Major General John B. Gordon, Library of Congress LC-DIG-cwpb-06013

Approaching ten months of siege along the Richmond to Petersburg front in Virginia, General Robert E. Lee continued to seek a way to break the Federal lines opposing his Army of Northern Virginia. As the final days of March loomed, he turned to Major General John B. Gordon, a native of Upson County, Georgia, to develop a plan of attack. Gordon, a veteran of the fighting in the eastern theater, spent several days reconnoitering the various segments of Lieutenant General U.S. Grant’s defenses. He decided upon an area east of Petersburg as the point closest to the Confederate trenches; one across from a Federal position, which did not have as many obstacles guarding the approach as elsewhere along the front.

Meeting with Lee, Gordon explained his plan for capturing Fort Stedman. Lee queried his subordinate on how he would first get through their own obstacles just outside the trenches, and then asked Gordon how he expected to gain entry into the fort. Gordon proceeded to detail his design for a small element of his force to cut through the Southern defense system, under cover of darkness. Once they gained an opening, a squad of 50 soldiers carrying axes instead of rifles, would rapidly advance on Fort Stedman, break the log barriers, and create a passageway for the soldiers charging behind them.[1] Lee gave his approval, and Gordon readied his troops for the assault. During the early-morning hours of March 25, 1865, the initial stages of the attack unfolded like clockwork as the Confederates launched their advance from Colquitt’s Salient. Once clear of their own lines, Gordon could hear his butternut lumberjacks breaking the barriers at Fort Stedman. Soon, Gordon and his soldiers had possession of the fort and three adjoining batteries.

Fort Stedman, Library of Congress LC-USZ62-68634

Fort Stedman, Library of Congress LC-USZ62-68634

Brightening skies and a problem with guides who supposedly knew the area well, but did not, caused the next stage of Gordon’s plan to come unraveled. Officers leading three different units, each charged with capturing the same number of fortifications behind Stedman, encountered difficulty locating the positions. The delay afforded the Federals time to bring up reinforcements and open fire on the stationary Confederate troops. Lee, watching from a nearby observation point, ordered Gordon to withdraw from Fort Stedman.

Marking Lee’s final offensive action along the Richmond-Petersburg front, the failure to break through the Federal line at Fort Stedman, and then attack Grant’s forces from the rear, signaled, as Gordon remarked, “…the expiring struggle of the Confederate giant, whose strength was nearly exhausted and whose limbs were heavily shackled by the most onerous conditions.”[2]

Returning to his native Georgia after the war, Gordon served two terms in the U.S. Senate, and as governor from 1886-1890. The veteran lived until the age of 72, passing on January 9, 1904 in Miami.[3] Gordon rests in Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery.

[1] John B. Gordon, Reminiscences of the Civil War (Alexandria, Va: Time-Life Books, 1981), 401–2.

[2] Ibid., 412.

[3] John H. Eicher and David J. Eicher, Civil War High Commands (Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 2001), 260.

MikeMichael K. Shaffer is a Civil War historian, author, newspaper columnist, and lecturer. He can be contacted at: www.civilwarhistorian.net.