Confederate Powder Works
COL. (GENERAL) GEO. W. RAINS,
LATE OF THE CONFEDERATE ARMY.
M ADDRESS DELIVERED BY INVITATION BEFORE THE CONFEDERATE
SURVIVORS ASSOCIATION, AT ITS FOURTH ANNUAL MEETING,
ON MEMORIAL DAY, APRIL 26TH, 1882.
THE NEWBURGH DAILY NEWS PRINT,
NEWBURGH, N. Y .
Fellow Confederate Survivors :
In accepting your invitation to address you on the general history
of the Confederate Powder Works, I do so with some hesitation, on
account of my close personal connection with a subject which ab
sorbed my thought, time and energies.
In the history of a war we find, generally, but little reference
to the manufactories engaged in the preparation of material ; they
had been previously established, and were in active operation before
its commencement, their products being immediately available for
active operations. An instance can scarcely be found in modern
warfare where previous preparations had not been made, and where
the necessary manufacturing work s did not already exist.
The late war was entered upon unexpectedly. Throughout the
Southern country it was supposed that the North would not serious
ly oppose a secession of the States from the Federal compact, hence
no previous provision had been made for such contingency, and no
material of war gathered.
Manufactories existed on a very limited scale, and none for war
purposes, hence their speedy erection was of extreme importance,
and had to be accomplished under the most unfavorable conditions.
The entire supply of gunpowder in the Confederacy at the be
ginning of the conflict, was scarcely sufficient for one month of ac
tive operations, and not a pound was being made througout its lim
its. To enter upon a great war without a supply of this essential
material, and without effective means of procuring it from abroad,
or of manufacturing it at home, was appalling.
Xo one was so well aware of this condition of things as the Presi
dent of the Confederate States, who, being an educated soldier, was
fully alive to the requirements of war, and at once took active
measures for the creation of war material. Among these, was the
erection of a great gunpowder manufactory.
It is the custom of the different nations, in addition to the private
factories of gunpowder, to have erected at different points national
works to supply the demand for war. The very limited resources
of the Confederacy not admitting of division, had to be accumulated
at one point. Mr. Davis was necessarily acquainted with most of the
officers of the old army, as he was graduated at West Point, served
with great distinction in the war with Mexico, and had been Secre
tary of War under the Federal Government; he was thus enabled
to select his agents for the different services required. Thus that
very competent officer, General Gorgas, was placed at the head of
the Ordinance Department; I had the honor of being appointed to
take charge of the manufactory of gunpowder, a carte blanche being
given. The necessary works were to be erected as nearly central as
practical; to be permanent structures, and of sufficient magnitude
to supply the armies in the field and the artillery of the forts and
On the loth July, 1861, I left Richmond to enter upon this duty.
Making a rapid tour through the South to find a suitable site,
Augusta was selected, for several reasons : for its central position ;
for its canal transportation and water-power; for its railroad facili
ties; and for its security from attack since the loss of the works
would have been followed by disastrous consequences.
.The small amount, comparatively, of gunpowder captured with
the Navy Yard at Norfolk, with that on hand from other sources,
had been distributed to the army gathering on the Potomac, to Rich
mond, Yorktown, Pensacola, Mobile, New Orleans, and other places ;
scarcely any being left for the force assembling under the com
mand of General Albert Sidney Johnson, in Kentucky. The Feder
al forces, having the requisite advantages for equipment and trans
portation, were assembling in large bodies, and the utmost energy
was required to prevent the loss of a battle by failure in ammuni
tion. General Johnson s command was the most urgent in its wants,
hence required the first attention.
The State of Tennessee, through the energy of Governor Har
ris, and its Military Committee consisting of General Harding and
Colonel Bailey, had at the earliest moment taken measures to supply
his army by making contracts for saltpetre, to be supplied from the
limestone caves, and with the Sycamore Powder Mill, not far from
Nashville, which was to be enlarged and put into immediate opera
tion. These contracts were turned over to the Confederate Govern
ment on my arrival in that city, and every assistance possible given
by the State authorities. Mr. S. D. Morgan, a private citizen of
Nashville, but a gentleman of great energy and influence, rendered
essential service to the officers of the Confederacy. The Sycamore
Stamping Mill was soon put into operation, but its limited arrange
ments, particularly for preparing the saltpetre, caused the product
to be small. Notwithstanding the rapid construction of new stamp
ers, and other parts, it was only in the latter part of September that
five hundred pounds of powder daily were produced.
It was soon perceived that to increase the supply, a special refinery
for saltpetre would have to be erected ; works accordingly were pro
jected, commenced, and mainly completed, at Nashville, by the
9th October, on which day 1,500 Ibs. were refined, and this amount
was gradually increased to 3,000 Ibs. daily. Experts were not to be
found, and for some days every part of the operations were carried
on under my personal instruction.
Gunpowder contains three-fourths of its weight of saltpetre, and
to have its proper and enduring strength, this constituent must be
refined to almost chemical purity. Thus the obtaining of this ma
terial and its preparation, became matters of the highest considera
The Governor of Georgia, at the suggestion of Lieutenant Boggs,
late of the Ordinance Department of the old army, had purchased a
small cargo of saltpetre and sulphur in Philadelphia, which fortu
nately arrived safely at Savannah just before that port was blockad
ed. This store of material, although comparatively small, was of ex
traordinary value, as from it mainly the gunpowder for General A.
S. Johnson s army was supplied, as well as the Batteries at Fort Pil
low, Island Number 10, and Memphis, on the Mississippi river.
The earth of the limestone caves of Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia,
Arkansas, and other States, was rich in nitrate of lime, and this
salt was convertible into saltpetre by lixiviation and saturating with
the lye of wood ashes. Some of these caves were personally visited,
and great efforts made to have them worked to full capacity. Agents
were sent out to investigate their capabilities with authority to make
contracts, and supply the necessary information for their working;
the last was accomplished by means of a pamphlet which I published
in Nashville giving detailed instructions, and which was distributed
throughout the country; it was republished in Richmond, New
Orleans and other places. As rapidly as the crude saltpetre was re-
ceived from the caves it was refined and sent to the powder mills,
and the products mostly sent to General A. S. Johnson s command.
About 100,000 pounds of gunpowder were thus supplied before the
fall of Nashville, besides a considerable amount sent to New Orleans
and other places.
The caves of Arkansas \vere rich in nitrous earth, and those of
Texas still more so, and these supplied the armies west of the Mis
sissippi river with material for gunpowder. As early as practicable
I sent out instructed powder-makers to both those States, who under
the directions of the military authorities, assisted to put up the neces
sary powder mills for the Trans-Mississippi department, which after
the fall of Nashville was left necessarily to its own resources.
In the early part of November my time had become so much oc
cupied that it was no longer practicable to attend to the production
of saltpetre, and Mr. F. H. Smith was sent from Richmond by the
Chief of Ordinance to relive me from its duties. At a later day a
separate department was established, called the Nitre and Mining
Bureau, which then had the entire charge of its production.
In the latter part of November, by the desire of General Lovell
the able officer in command at New Orleans I proceeded to that
city and examined the temporary arrangements for making gun
powder, and also conferrecUwith him relative to procuring a supply
of saltpetre from abroad. He suggested the chartering of the steam
ship Tennessee, then lying idle in the river near the city, to proceed
at once to Liverpool and take in a cargo of saltpetre and return to
New Orleans, or, in case of necessity, to put in at Charleston or Wil
mington. The suggestion met my views, and was approved by Mr.
Benjamin, then Secretary of War, but was not carried out on ac
count of the effective blockade of the mouth of the Mississippi.
The Confederate Government, however, by its agents in Europe,
purchased saltpetre which was shipped on swift blockade runners
which arrived from time to time at Charleston and Wilmington.
This proved to be adequate to our wants, and about two millions,
seven hundred thousand pounds were thus received during the war
and sent to the Confederate Powder Works. The amount obtained
from the caves amounted to about three hundred thousand pounds
for the same period. Thus the total amount received at the works
amounted to about 1,500 tons.
The Governor and Military Committee of Tennessee, in making
the contracts for war material, had engaged Mr. Whiteman, of
Nashville, an energetic citizen, to construct a Powder Mill at Man
chester, who at my suggestion adopted the incorporating process of
heavy rollers on an iron circular bed, such as I had
proposed to employ at the Confederate Powder Works erected
at Augusta. The construction of this mill was urged on so success
fully, that by the middle of October one set of rollers was in opera
tion, and a second set in course of erection ; a month later, by supply-
ing saltpetre and charcoal from the refinery at Nashville, 1,500
pounds of gunpowder were daily produced.
I had proposed at an early period to make this Powder Mill a
school of instruction for a few selected men, so as to have them ready
for service at the Augusta Powder Works when they should com
mence operations similaly to what had been done at the Refinery
at Nashville, where men were being taught to refine saltpetre and
distill charcoal. Before the occupation of Nashville by the Federal
forces, these men, together with the machinery and articles of the
Refinery in that city, were removed to the Augusta Works ; thus
they were supplied at the commencement with the necessary means
of operation, which could not have been otherwise accomplished.
But one man Wright could be found in the Southern States who
had seen gunpowder made by the incorporating mill the only kind
that can make it of the first quality ; he had been a workman at the
Waltham Abbey Government Gunpowder Works, in England. He
was made available in the operation of the Manchester Mill, and
afterwards for a short time at the Augusta Confederate Works, and
although sadly defective in a certain way, I was much indebted to
his knowledge and experience.
A singular good fortune happened at the commencement of my
labors. I came into possession of an invaluable pamphlet by Major
Bradley, the Superintendent of the Waltham Abbey Works ; in this
the entire process and machinery employed at that Factory the
best existing in any country was succinctly stated ; drawings, or
working plans, or details of the buildings, or apparatus, however,
were not given.
Nowhere could be found a publication in which this was done of
any powder factory, hence in the projection of the Confederate
Powder Works, I was thrown upon my own resources to supply
During the many hours spent in railroad cars, these matters were
thought over and planned separately as necessity required. A rough
sketch was made, dimensions given, and location designated ; this
data was placed in the hands of capable men to carry out. In my
young Architect and Civil Engineer, C. Shaler Smith, recommened-
ed by the proprietors of the Richmond Tredegar Iron Works, I at
once recognised genius of a high order, and placed in his hands my
rough sketches of buildings to elaborate and give architectural finish.
All know with what result, the fine taste exhibited in the massive
and beautiful structures which ornamented the banks of the Augusta
Canal, for two miles, bore witness of his success.
Good fortune also brought to my notice, by a casual encounter
with General Pendelton, Chief of Artillery at Richmond, a skilled
machinist, who had served his time at the Tredegar Works, and
was then a Sergeant in the Confederate army. He, William Peri-
dleton, was applied for, and in his acquisition, was gained a man of
capability and integrity, into whose hands could be confidently
placed the erection of all the extensive machinery then in process of
construction. The responsible duties of Superintendent of the
W T orks were also committed to his charge.
The Tredegar Iron and Machine Works, at Richmond, were the
only ones throughout the South, having adequate capabilities for the
construction of the heavy and extensive machinery required in the
projected Confederate Powder Works. They were only partially
available for the purpose, however, as the demands made upon them
for heavy artillery, and for all kinds of urgent work required by the
Government, absorbed their resources, nevertheless, I was compelled
to call upon them for most of the twelve circular iron beds, and
twenty-four ponderous five ton iron rollers, w r ith other work requir
ed for the incorporating Mills, which, together, weighed 240 tons ;
two of the rollers were made in Macon and two in Chattanooga.
The immense iron shaft, nearly three hundred feet long, varying
from twelve inches in diameter at the central portions, to ten inches
and eight inches, toward the extremities, was cast and completed in
sections, mainly, at the Webster Foundry and Machine Works at
the latter city ; here, also, were made the twelve heavy spur wheels,
and twelve powerful friction arrangements to start and stop gradual
ly each set of rollers separately, as the main shaft, working in the
extensive subterranean archway, which extended below the line of
mills, continued its incessant revolutions.
The great gear-wheel, sixteen feet in diameter, attached to the
centre of this shaft, giving it motion, with its corresponding massive
pinion on the engine shaft, were cast and accurately finished at At
The fine steam engine of i3O-horse power, having two cylinders
and a fly wheel of fourteen tons weight, and five boilers was made
at the Xorth just before the war, and brought to that city to be used
in a flouring mill. This was purchased as being exactly the motive
It was designed to make use of the water power of the canal for
all purposes, but its available capacities at that time would not per
mit this, for the large amount required by the incorporating mills ;
it was employed at the other and more dangerous buildings, which
required a smaller amount of power. Two smaller steam engines
one procured at Macon and the other at Selma were employed in
the Refining building. Two Hydraulic Presses were procured at
Richmond ; the twelve iron evaporating pans, each holding five hun
dred gallons, were cast at the large Iron Works on the Cumberland
River, in Tennessee. The extensive copper drying pans for the pow
dered saltpetre, being together forty feet long by nine feet broad,
were made at Nashville ; the four cast iron Retorts, four feet long
by three feet in diameter, with eight cast iron coolers, and twelve
sheet iron slip cylinders of nearly the same dimensions, were made
at the Augusta Confederate Foundry and Machine Works, where al
so all the smaller machinery required \vas constructed. Copper boil
ers were procured from Wilmington, N. C, being made of large tur
pentine stills ; pumps, pipe and cement from Charleston ; sheet cop
per from Savannah and Nashville ; tin and zinc for roofing from
Mobile; the larger steam pipes from Right s Foundry, in Augusta,
and the smaller from New Orleans ; iron and coal for castings
were had from North Georgia and Alabama, and copper from Duck-
town, in Tennessee.
Thus material was gathered from all the Southern States to unite
with the resources of the City of Augusta, to construct the largest
and finest Gunpowder Factory to be found in any country.
On the 2oth of July, 1861, I examined the Augusta Canal and re
sources of the citv, and later selected the location of the Powder
Works, beginning at the site of the United States old Magazine,
half a mile from the western city limit. Land adjacent was purchas
ed, and also that between the canal and the river for a distance
of two miles, so that the different buildings required, might be
seperated by intervals of at least one thousand feet for safety in case
any one of them should have an explosion.
It was remarkable that the most favorable conditions required in
the erection of an extensive Powder manufactory, were all met at
this location, and nowhere eise attainable. These are :
1. A central point of the country, for obvious reasons.
2. On a main line of railroad communication, to distribute the
products to all parts of the country.
3. On a canal or river, which could afford a safe and economical
means of transportation of the pulverized materials in process of
manufacture, at the same time affording the necessary water-power
to the different buildings.
4. In the neighborhood of a town or city, from which mechanics
and employes, as well as necessary articles, could be obtained.
5. A location near which the best building materials could be
procured for permanent structures.
6. A temperate climate, where operations could be continued
throughout the year without obstructions from ice, and to avoid the
hazard and expense of warming the building.
7. A district of country free from lime and earthy salts, so that
the large amount of water required in the operations of the Saltpetre
Refinery should be as nearly pure as possible.
8. A location which would insure an abundant and cheap supply
of the proper kind of wood required in the making of gunpowder.
9. A situation which, whilst sufficiently near a town to procure
readily supplies and workmen, should, at the same time, be removed
so far off that the dangerous structures, should an explosion occur,
would cause no damage to the nearest inhabitant.
10. Hence, also, the canal or stream on which the works exist,
should have but little traffic or commerce, and, in the vicinity of the
works, should pass through a sparsley inhabited district.
The Augusta Canal, having been selected for the site of the Con
federate Powder Works, contracts were immediately entered into
for the brick, stone and carpenter s work, on very favorable terms.
At the beginning of the war, business was more or less paralyzed,
so that the manufacturers and builders were, to a considerable ex
tent, thrown out of employment, which enabled contracts to be made
advantageously at the usual prices. Thus, the total cost of the en
tire works did not exceed three hundred and eighty-five thousand
The erection of these works on the ground of economy alone, was
of great service to the Confederate Government. The extreme haz
ard of importing gunpowder through the blockade, raised its aver
age price, the first year of the war, to three dollars per pound. There
were made one million pounds at the works in that period, at a total
cost, including the materials, of one million and eighty thousand
dollars ; thus saving to the Government in one year, one million,
nine hundred and twenty thousand dollars.
The requisite land having been purchased, and contracts made
for building materials, the site of the main buildings were located by
myself, and construction commenced on the I3th of September, 1861,
under the immediate supervision of Mr. - - Grant, a young civil
engineer from Savannah. These buildings were erected of the ex
cellent bricks supplied by the Augusta and Hamburg yards, which
were worked to their full capacity, and above five millions were sup
plied. The handsome granite of Stone Mountain, on the Georgia
Railroad, was employed for the sills, lintels, copings, and foundation
stones. The whole of the buildings were erected by Messrs. Den
ning and Bowe, of Augusta, the former having immediate charge,
and could not be surpassed for excellence of workmanship.
The first structure or the one nearest the city was called the
Refinery building, because the central portion was used for such
purposes, but it included a saltpetre and sulphur warehouse, of a
capacity of fifteen hundred tons, on the east end, and a charcoal de
partment and machine shop with a steam engine on the west end.
Rifle and ballistic pendulums on the northeast, and the steam boiler
house on the northwest portions. There were four square towers
at the corners, used as offices ; the entire structure forming three
sides of a square, fronting two hundred and fifty feet along the
canal, and extending back two hundred and seventy-five feet. The
north side was mostly a brick enclosure with high walls, but having
no roof, and temporarily used for storing wood its ultimate desti
nation was for worshops.
Within the square were located the kilns for drying the wood to
be distilled in the charcoal retorts ; the copper boilers and other ap
paratus for the extraction of the saltpetre from damaged powder ;
as also the arrangement for the final extraction of the saltpetre from
the refuse of the Refinery; lastly, the great chimney, into which all
the smoke flues of the entire structure terminated.
In the projection of this part of the Powder Works, I conceived
the design of making the central portion present the appearance of
a grand monumental structure. For this purpose the chimney was
placed centrally, and its exterior dimensions considerably enlarged ;
in fact, it is composed of two distinct parts, the chimney and out
side obelisk ; the former being enclosed at its base by a square tower,
nineteen by thirty-five feet in height, whose battlements arose to
view above the front walls. From the top of this tower the envelop
ing obelisk commenced, and ascended one hundred and fifteen feet,
making the complete structure one hundred and fifty feet from the
ground to the coping. The interior chimney flue is five feet square
from bottom to top. The corner stone, or rather the box, containing
the usual documents, was, by a fancy of the architect, placed in one
of the corners of the top coping of the obelisk.
The saltpetre refinery occupied the right central portion of the
front, being sixty-five feet long, fifty-five feet broad and thirty feet
high, open from the floor to the ventilated roof. At the east end
were four of the large evaporating iron pans, placed side by side,
and elevated three feet above the floor by the brick work which sur
rounded them ; five similar pans were in a corresponding position at
the west end, and the large copper drying pans occupied forty feet
along the north side at the same height. Each evaporating pan had
a separate furnace, and the heated air from the whole passed be
neath, and in contact with the bottoms of the drying pans on its wav
to the great chimney ; the furnaces opened into side rooms com
municating with the outside open space in the rear of the building.
Thus the refining room was entirely free from ashes, dust and
The centre space of the floor, about thirty-six feet square, was
sunk four feet to allow water from the canal to pass around the bot
toms of two of the large evaporating pans, which were placed there
in near the centre of this area, and nine feet apart ; these were used
for a special purpose.
The best quality of gunpowder can only be made from the purest
saltpetre; the impurities of the crude material are mainly deliques
cent salts, which rapidly deteriorate the strength of the powder by
the moisture absorbed. To refine more or less the rough saltpetre
of commerce is then a necessity even in producing an inferior arti
To carry the refining process to the extent of nearly absolute
purity, required several successive crystallizations and washings,
involving a large amount of manual labor in the manipulation, and
consuming much time. This was particularly the case in the very
large amount of saltpetre, eight to ten thousand pounds per day,
used by the Works, the refining of which would demand extended
buildings and apparatus, as well as requiring a large number of
operatives. Hence, it became desirable to devise methods by which
hand labor could be superseded by motive power and machinery ; in
this I was entirely successful. Thus, in the operations of filling the
various boiling pans with water or mother-liquor; the transference
of the boiling solution of saltpetre to the draining trough, and thence
to the crystallizing machines ; the cooling down of the solutions, and
their constant agitation to break up the forming crystals into fine
particles, and transferring of these to an adjoining tank ; the wash
ing of the crystallized mass, and the subsequent removal of the
mother-liquor and wash- waters, were all accomplished by machin
ery, with the assistance of two or three workmen only.
The saving of time and labor was thus manifest, and the rapidity
with which these operations were performed, permitted a double
and triple process in a single day ; thus allowing a degree of purity
in the product of refined saltpetre not attained in any other re
finery. Its purity was such generally, that there was not the one-
hundred-thousandth part of chlorides left in the salt.
Of the machinery used, the most important was a bronze revolv
ing wheel with buckets attached to the periphery, which worked into
an iron pan or kettle, whose section was an arc of a circle ; the buck
ets grazed the surface of the bottom and sides of this kettle, the
bottom of the latter being immersed in a current of cold water. The
hot filtered solution of the crude saltpetre was received into this ket
tle, and thus kept into a state of rapid agitation, the effect being to
produce a wet mass of minute crystals, which, as fast as formed, were
taken up by the sharp edged buckets, and lifted sufficiently high to
pour into a receiving vat ; this permitted the liquid part to flow back
into the kettle. By this means in a short time the entire mass of fine
deposited crystals from the rapidly cooled liquid, were removed to
the vat. When the operation was completed the remaining liquid
in the kettle was by the revolutions of the bronze wheel, discharged
into one of the eight capacious cisterns below the floor; there were
two of these machines employed.
The facility for work which this apparatus, with the other me
chanical appliances afforded, enabled the refinery to carry the puri
fication of the saltpetre beyond that of the most celebrated powder
Adjoining this part of the Works was the Sulphur Refinery,
where this material was prepared from the crude stock, and made
ready for the incorporating process. About one hundred and thirty
tons of very impure sulphur had been received from Louisana, for
the use of the Powder Works ; it had been purchased before the war
by the planters for use in the making of sugar, and was bought up
by the Confederate officers. The best quality of gunpowder has its
sulphur chemically pure, which could be demonstrated by showing
no trace of acid when powdered and boiled in water, and should
entirely evaporate on a piece of glass when heated, leaving no stain.
This can only be accomplished practically by distillation. The crude
article was melted and poured into upright, thick wooden boxes
five feet high and ten inches square at the bottom, tapering upwards ;
when cold the earthy matters would be found in the lower portion
by subsidence, leaving about three feet apparently pure. This was
broken off and placed into two kettles of suitable form and dimen
sions, having furnaces ; the tops of these kettles were connected by
a bent iron pipe to an enlarged portion, which was surrounded with
water. On the application of heat the sulphur vaporized, and
passing over through the pipe was condensed in the cooled portion,
whence it trickled in a thick stream into a; receiving vessel below ;
the first portions being rejected, the remainder was of a beautiful
citron yellow when cold, and entirely pure.
Unlike the refined saltpetre, the purified sulphur had to be pul
verized and bolted like flour before being used. The former was
done by two iron wheels of twelve inches face and five feet diameter,
weighing six hundred pounds each, revolving on a bed circle of iron
like the incorporating rollers ; the later was accomplished by bolters,
but when these were worn out and could not be replaced, for want
of the silk cloth, which was not to be found in the South, necessity
compelled me to devise a different, and as it proved, a superior
The pulverized sulphur was placed in barrels or cylinders, with
hollow axles, which were made to revolve slowly by machinery ;
there were ledges on the interior which caused the sulphur to be lift
ed and poured over as the cylinders revolved ; a light current of air
was blown through each, entering the hollow axle at one end, and
passing out through the axle at the other end, which led into an ad
joining room; there the impalpable sulphur dust was deposited,
much finer than by the usual bolting process.
Adjoining this Refinery was the department in which charcoal
was made and pulverized. Charcoal for gunpowder has to be made
of a porous fine-grained wood, having very little ashes when burned ;
willow is generally preferred, and was used at first in the Powder
Works, but the exigencies of the war taking away those who would
ordinarily have supplied it, rendered it impracticable to procure a
sufficient quantity. Recourse was had to the cotton wood, which
was abundant ; on trial its charcoal was found fully equal to that of
the willow for the purpose, and was, thereafter always used.
Charcoal for gunpowder must be made by what is termed the
distilling process ; that is, the wood must be heated in iron retorts
to the proper degree, to have it of the best quality and free from
sand or grit. For this purpose cast iron cylinders, or retorts, six feet
long and four feet in diameter were used, placed over furnaces,
each having one end solid and the other with a movable cover ; into
these were run the slip cylinders, which contained the kiln dried
cotton wood, split up into sticks about one and a half inches in
diameter, and entirely filling it.
The slip cylinders were charged with the wood in an outside
apartment, their covers put on, then readily moved by cranes to the
retorts, into which they were pushed ; the covers of which were
then luted with clay and closely applied. The bottoms of the retorts
being perforated, permitted the escape of the vapors and gases into
the furnaces beneath, where inflaming, they supplied mainly the heat
required in the operation. In about two hours the slip cylinders
were withdrawn from the retorts and moved by the cranes over, and
lowered into the cast iron coolers beneath the floor ; these had water
from the canal circulating around them ; the covers being then put
on to exclude the air, the mass of charcoal was rapidly cooled. As
soon as a slip cylinder was removed from a retort a freshly charged
one would take its place, and thus the process was continued. The
slip cylinders were taken out of the coolers in succession by the
cranes, and swung over a long and broad table upon which their
contents were dropped; here the sticks of charcoal were separately
examined and the imperfect rejected. The charcoal was then placed
in pulverizing barrels with bronze balls, which revolving by ma
chinery, soon reduced it more or less to a fine powder ; it was then
bolted, and with the sulphur and saltpetre taken to the weighing
house. Here the three materials were arranged into sixty pounds
charges, by mingling forty-five pounds of saltpetre, nine pounds of
charcoal and six pounds of sulphur, which was then moistened and
ready for incorporation.
Reflecting over the processes for making gunpowder, it suggested
itself that the chemical reactions would necessarily have the most
favorable conditions, when there should be the most intimate ap
proximation of the component molecules. That, as the charcoal by
its combustion with the oxygen of the saltpetre, supplied the expand
ed gases which produced the explosive force, it was of the first con
sideration that there should be the most perfect mixture practicable
between these two ingredients. Under the microscope a fine particle
of charcoal was seen to be a mass of carbon penetrated by numerous
pores, hence it became necessary to completely fill these minute pores
with the saltpetre to have the best condition. This might be accom
plished by the usual processes, as the charge is kept moistened when
stamped or rolled, but as it will not answer to have the mass ivct
during the incorporating operation, only moist or damp, the com
pletion of the process was necessarily delayed. If this mass of ma
terial could be made into a semi-liquid condition by the action of
steam, the hot solution of saltpetre would speedily penetrate the
minute pores of the charcoal, and thus the desired end would be
Accordingly, the following process was devised : The moistened
sixty pounds charges, roughly mixed and moistened with water,
were introduced into horizontal cylinders of sheet copper thirty
inches long by eighteen inches in diameter. These cylinders re
volved slowly on a common axis, consisting of a heavy brass tube
three inches in diameter, perforated with holes. High pressure
steam was introduced through the tube raising the temperature to
the boiling point while the water produced by condensation, added
to that originally used to moisten the materials, reduced them to a
semi-liquid slush, which was run out of the cylinders after about
eight minutes rotation. On cooling, this mud became a damp solid
cake, the saltpetre which in the state of boiling hot saturated solution
had entered the minutest pores of the charcoal, now crystalizing.
The cake as produced was transferred to the incorporating mills,
and under the five ton rollers was in an hour brought to the condi
tion of finished mill cake, ready to be cooled and granulated, while
without the steaming process, four hours incorporation in the mills
had previously been necessary to produce powder of the same first-
class character. The capacity of the work of the mills was thus
practically quadrupled, the thorough saturation of the charcoal with
saltpetre being accomplished by the steaming, while it remained for
the rollers merely to complete the incorporation of the whole mass
and give the required density to the mill cake.
The Incorporating Mills, twelve in number, extended along the
canal beyond the Refinery building and further back from its bank,
having the Laboratory between the two; they were two hundred
and ninety-six feet long. This seperation was for safety, as they
worked explosive material. The walls were massive, being four to
ten feet thick, the horizontal section of each being that of a huge
mortar of seventeen feet wide by twenty-four feet long; the height
of the walls was twenty-eight feet; they faced alternately in op
posite directions, so that an explosion of one would not be com
municated to those adjoining.
The fronts were constructed of light wood and glass, and the
roofs of sheet zinc, so that but slight resistance would be offer
ed, upwards and outwards, to the explosive force. A wing wall,
nearly as high as the main walls, and three feet thick, extended out
wards from the centre of the exterior back wall of each mill twenty
feet, to guard still further against the effects of an explosion. Be
hind these the powder-makers stood, for safety, while starting or
stopping the motion of the ponderous rollers. This was done by
means of a long lever, which threw in or out of gear the friction
arrangement, which worked each set beneath the floor, in the thick
archway which extended from end to end beneath the mills. It has
already been stated that this archway contained the great iron shaft
which imparted motion to all the mills, and which derived its own
from the large steam engine, which was located above, in the centre
apartments seperating the mills into two divisions.
In adddition to the above precautions to prevent the explosion
of a mill from extending to the others, above each set of rollers was
balanced a vessel containing about thirty gallons of water. This
was connected by means of a small iron shaft with a similar vessel
to each mill of the division. Thus, on an explosion in one mill, its
bed-plate was instantly drenched with water, and this caused the
same to take place at the same moment with all the others.
These precautions were rendered the more necessary by the care
lessness of the powder-makers, who might not remove the broke up
powder cake from the mill enclosure before placing a new charge
under the rollers, thus having one hundred and twenty pounds of
material to take fire at the same time as once happened producing
a powerful explosion. There occurred only three explosions at these
mills all before the steaming process was adopted and in the first
only was any one injured. In that one no material harm was done,
as the two powder-makers exposed by their own carelessness
were at work again in a few days. This explosion completely des
troyed the slight roof, as well as the wood and glass front, but did
scarcely any other damage to the mill, and had no action on the other
mills further than drenching their beds with water. The other two
explosions were insignificant.
These incorporating mills consisted, each, of an iron circular -flat
bed of seven feet diameter, fixed in a mass of masonry built up above
the brick archway, through the center of the floor, to a convenient
height. On this bed two massive iron rollers, six feet in diameter
and fifteen inches face, revolved. Each weighed five tons. They
had a common axle of wrought iron, of five inches diameter, and a
vertical shaft of cast iron passing through the centre of the bed,
having a rectangular cross-head through which the axle worked.
This shaft connected below with the machinery which gave it mo
tion from the main shaft.
These rollers were not equi-distant from the centre of revolution,
by which arrangement evry part of the charge of materials on the
bed was subjected to their action which was crushing, grinding,
mixing and compressing; grinding and mixing from the twisting
motion which followed from so large a diameter revolving in so
small a circle, and crushing and compressing from the weight of the
To keep the powder on the bed, a wooden curb, fnnnel-shapped,
two feet, high was placed around the circumference, fitting closely,
extending outwards at an angle of forty-five degrees. In the centre
of the bed was a short cylinder of metal, two feet in cliamenter and
six inches high, through the top of which the vertical shaft passed.
This prevented the powder working inwards. It also acted as a
steam-chamber to keep the bed-plate warm ; but this was not used
for the purpose, since the steaming process rendered it unnecessary.
A scraper, or plo.w, followed each roller, which continually broke up
the powder-cake, mixed its fragments, and kept them in the path of
At the commencement of the operation the charge of sixty pounds
of steamed materials was uniformly distributed over the bed; the
rollers were then set into motion, revolving about ten times each
minute, which continued for an hour ; the broken up powder, or mill
cake, which was about five-eights of an inch thick, was then removed
from the bed, having a blackish grey color and taken to the cooling
magazines. These were excavated in the clay and rock on the other
side of the canal, about one hundred yards distant; were four in
number and separated from each other; here the mill cake became
cold and hard, and was ready for the next operation, that of granula
The permanent building in which this was done was about fifteen
hundred feet distant from the Powder Mills, on the same side, fur
ther up the canal ; this, as well as each of the other permanent
structures, was made of brick, having thin walls and light roofs.
Wood in the damp atmosphere of the canal speedily decayed.
A natural growth of trees and brush-wood intervened between
the buildings along the canal, which were generally situated about
one thousand feet apart ; thus the explosion of any one of them
would be harmless to the remainder. There was a temporary
structure of wood used at first for granulation, about one hundred
yards distant from the permanent building, on the opposite side of
the canal ; this, after a use of some months, exploded with about
three tons of gunpowder.
The explosion was heavy, shaking the earth for some distance,
and throwing up a convolving column of flame and white smoke
five hundred feet in height. It was composed of a series of con
fused masses of smoke and heated air revolving in vertical planes
with extraordinary velocity, through which the flames flashed out
wards in all directions ; this was followed by the thundering sound
of the explosion, which vibrated the air for a mile around, and was
heard within the limits of the city.
There were seven men within the structure, a sentinel outside,
and a boy with a mule in a shed adjoining. The bodies of the seven
men and the boy,with the debris, were carried up with the ascending
column, and by its revolving action, reduced mainly to small frag
ments and dispersed ; the sentinel was killed by the shock, but his
body was not otherwise disturbed. A growth of small pines sur
rounded the place, which effectually intercepted the lateral flying
fragments ; in fact the force of the explosion did not extend outside
a diameter of one hundred feet, but within that area the trees were
destroyed and the space where the structure stood was ploughed up
and nothing remained. At the time there was no work being done,
as the workmen were aw r aiting the arrival of the boat with the mill
cake. The careful foreman, Gibson, had been called away, and prob
ably the accident happened from matches falling on the floor, as it
had been found impossible to prevent their use by the workmen, for
smoking, when off duty. This was the only explosion at the
Works during the war, except the three at the Mills, already men
tioned. It demonstrated the safety of the arrangements^ since their
was no damage to any portion of the Works except the destruction
of the glass sashes, and a slight movement of the roof of the per
manent granulating building, about one hundred yards distant.
This was about to be occupied, having been completed.
In the granulating building the cold mill cake was broken up into
fragments by bronze toothed cylinders of small diameter, and then
by smooth ones ; these worked in pairs, and successively, in connec
tion with vilratory screens and sieving, all in one machine. By the
action of this arrangement the powder cake was broken into frag
ments, separated into different sizes of grain, and each delivered into
its proper receptacle. A very large grained powder, each grain be
ing a cube of one inch in dimensions, and weighing about one ounce,
was made by a seperate manipulation of the powder cake, and used
for the very largest guns only.
From the granulating building the powder was taken to the dry-
ing, dusting and glazing department, 2500 feet further up the canal.
There was an intermediate building designed and used for several
months, as the dusting and glazing department, the drying alone
being done in the one above mentioned ; afterwards the three pro
cesses were carried on together in one structure. It was soon per
ceived that the drying process, which was done by similar arrange
ments to those used at the government works at Waltham Abbey,
England, that is, by placing the powder in small quantities in shal
low trays in a frame work, over steam heated pipes, required con
siderable manual labor and occupied much time. It occurred to me
that the same could be accomplished more speedily and with far
less, labor, by a single operation, which would likewise perform the
glazing and dusting.
To accomplish this the powder from the granulating house was
placed in revolving cylinders having hollow axles, and a current of
air warmed by passing through an arrangement of steam pipes was
blown through, carrying the dust into its receptacle, leaving the
grains clear. This also dried and glazed them at the same time.
Thus by one operation, by machinery, all three processes were ac
complished, resulting in a large saving of labor and time. In ad
dition, a beautiful jet black glazing was given by admitting a small
quantity of steam at the proper time to the current of air, while the
barrels revolved. This was not generally done, however, as it was
regarded of but slight, if any, practical value, the usual glazing
answering all required purposes.
Two hundred yards .from this department was the boiler house
supplying the steam required for the pipes used in the drying pro
cess. Its chimney was one hundred yards still further removed,
communicating with the furnace by a subteranean arched flue ; thus
sparks would have had to drift over three hundred yards to reach
the clean metal roof of the drying building.
The finished gunpowder was taken to the next building, one
thousand five hundred feet beyond, up the canal, where it was
weighed out and put into strong wood boxes about two and a half
feet long, by one foot square, having the ends let into grooves ; one
of the ends had a strong wood screw, two inches diameter, with an
octagonal head. Experience proved that these powder boxes, a
devise of my own from necessity, were superior to barrels, being
stronger, occupying less room, standing transportation better, and
safer in use. No explosion ever occurred in their transportation,
notwithstanding the occasional Railroad accidents, and the many
thousands that were sent from the Powder Works during the war.
The powder boxes being filled, were then transported to the
magazine, three quarters of a mile still further up the canal. This
wood structure was on a rising ground one hundred yards from the
canal, enclosed by a high fence. Its capacity was about one hundred
tons of gunpowder.
At this, and every other separate building of the Powder Works,
a sentinel was stationed day and night, and the utmost viglance
used. Also, each of the seperate buildings along the canal, except
the magazine, containing large amounts of gunpowder, were enclos
ed with high brick walls, having a single entrance.
At the Waltham Abbey Works, in England, the gunpowder cake
after being crushed, is subjected to compression by the hydraulic
press to give if sufficient density. I found that by using five ton rol
lers; the proper compression could be given in the powder mills
during the incorporation, thus saving much labor and time. The
hydraulic press, consequently was only used to compress the powder
dust into thin cakes, which were sent to the granulating department
to be used for fine grain powder only.
The press house was located between the Cooling Magazines and
the granulating building on the same side of the canal as the for
mer. It was a large brick structure provided with two hydraulic
presses, cranes, and other appliances, with a turbine water wheel
to supply the required motive power. After the discovery that the
proper density could be better given to the powder cake, by using
sufficiently heavy rollers during the incorporation, this department
was used only for the purpose above stated.
The interval of ninety feet between the Refinery building 1 and the
Incorporating Mills, was mainly occupied by a fine building called
the Laboratory. It had a projecting tower in the front centre,
twenty-five feet square at the lower stories, which together were
forty-five feet in elevation. From this the upper portion fifteen
feet square ascended to the height of thirty feet, making seventy-
five feet in all. The upper part of this constituted the clock tower
with its four large circular openings for dials. These could be seen
for a long distance.
This building which was very striking in its appearance, was
never completed in its interior, as the different work to be here per
formed was being done at the Arsenal sufficiently well, in tem
porary structures. Awaiting the completion of the clock, the time
was struck by hand, every half hour on the large bell suspended
temporarily, in the open building in rear of the Refinery.
The continual testing of the powder, as it was being manufactur
ed to insure its equality in strength, and to ascertain its exact pro
pelling force, was done for the fine graded powders, by excellent
musket and ballistic pendulems constructed at the Confederate Ma
chine Works in Augusta under my direction. For the cannon or
large grain powders, by the initial velocities given to the proper pro
jectiles in an eight inch Columbiad. To determine these velocities
an accurately made electro-ballistic machine, such as was employed
at the West Point Military Academy, was constructed at the same
works. Also Rodman s apparatus for determining the absolute
pressure on each square inch of the bore of the gun, exerted by the
charge. In addition to these instruments, complete arrangements
for determining the gravimetric densities and hygrometric pro
perties of different samples of gunpowder were made.
The foregoing appliances enabled accurate comparisons to be
made at all points between different gunpowders, and to determine
the various matters required in the manufacture of the first quality
for the various arms of service. That this was successfully done
was certified to by Boards of Artillery and Infantry Officers ; after
the war the captured powder of these works was used in the School
of Artillery practice at Fort Monroe, on account of its superiority,
then in active operation, and in his recent valuable book, speaks in
Mr. Davis, whilst President of the Confederacy, visited the works,
more than one place in flattering terms of their products. Articles
published in the London Times were highly commendatory of the
Works and their results, which were copied in Continental papers.
They were visited by many distinguished civil and military gentle
men, both native and foreign.
The great extent of the Powder Works and their immense
capabilities, were the admiration of all visitors. This was mainly
due to the foresight of the President of the Confederacy, who, com
prehending the requirements of a great war, then scarcely com
menced, strongly drew my attention to the probable necessity of very
large supplies of gunpowder to meet the service of artillery of great
calibre, which would probably be employed, as well as the largely
increased quantities necessary to meet the rapid firing of the improv
ed small arms, with which infantry and calvary were now supplied.
The daily product of the Works varied with the demand for gun
powder, and with the amount of saltpetre on hand. At no time after
their completion were they worked to their full capacity ; indeed,
were only worked during daylight. Even when supplying the ur
gent call of General Ripley at Charleston for cannon powder, to re
place the twenty-two thousand pounds consumed during the action
with the iron-clad fleet ; two days work nearly supplied that
Notwithstanding the admirable serving of the heavy artillery at
Fort Sumter during that engagement, it would have fallen and
Charleston captured, had any but the strongest gunpowder been
used. The armor of the iron-clads, though constructed expressly
to withstand the heaviest charges and projectiles, gave way before
its propelling force. Mr. Davis makes the statement that the en
gagement between the Alabama and Kearsarge would have resulted
in a victory for the former, had Admiral Semmes been supplied
with the powder from these works. Any failure in their construc
tion and products would have rested with myself. A carte blanche
had been given, and there was no one to share the appalling re
There were made at the Confederate Powder Works at Augusta,
commencing April 10, 1862, and terminating April 18, 1865, 2, 750,-
ooo pounds, or one thousand, three hundred and seventy-five tons
of gunpowder. This was distributed throughout the Confederacy,
mostly east of the Mississippi river. There remained on hand, at the
Magazine, at the end of operations, about seventy thousand pounds,
besides considerable amounts of saltpetre and other material.
The Navy Department during the war established a manufactory
of gunpowder at Petersburg, Virginia, which was afterwards re
moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, and then to Columbia, South
Carolina. A powder mill was put into operation at Richmond,
Virginia, also, at Raleigh, North Carolina, but the extent of their
operations is unknown. Two small stamping mills in the northwest
ern portion of South Carolina, near the mountains, which were
erected to make blasting powder for the neighboring tunnel were
visited, but I found that they could be made available only to a very
The Confederate Powder Works were so constructed that the
rough materials were received at the building nearest the city ;
thence successively passed up the canal from building to building
in the progressive stages of manufacture, until it arrived finished
and ready for shipping at the Magazine.
To facilitate the transportation, a short branch of railroad was con
structed connecting the canal basin with the Georgia Railroad. The
safe, economical, and ready means of transportation by the canal
were invaluable ; no accident ever happened, notwithstanding the im
mense amount of combustible material over two thousand five
hundred tons which had passed to and fro over it during the three
years of operations. From the canal bank to the entrance of each
building, the walks were covered with compressed sawdust, and rub
ber shoes were worn by all operatives in the departments containing
It is an interesting fact that Augusta was the only city of note
in the South, which was not occupied at some time by the Federal
forces during the war; here the flag of the Confederacy floated un
disturbed to the end.
The extensive Sibley Cotton Factory has been erected on a por
tion of the site of the Refinery, Laboratory and Incorporating Mills,
and so arranged that the Confederate obelisk stands conspicuously
in front of the centre ; the battlemented and ornamental architecture
of the Powder Works was adopted in the construction of the Factory
buildings, which give them a fine and noble appearance.
Here was once heard the noise of the clanking wheels and muffled
sounds of the ponderous rollers of war, as they slowly concentrated
into black masses the enormous energies which were to shake the
earth and air, with the roar and deafening explosions of the bat
tle fiell Now the air is again filled with the sounds of moving
machinery, but it is the busy hum of peaceful occupations which
assist to clothe the world from the \vhite cotton fields of Georgia.
The black material of war has given away to the white staple of
Of the extensive Confederate Powder Works nothing remains
except the obelisk enclosing the great Chimney. Its battlemented
tower and lofty shaft, large proportions and beautiful workmanship,
will bear evidence of the magnitude and style of their construction
to future generations.
To the special duties of the manufacture of gunpowder were
added the command of the Augusta Arsenal, on the /th April, 1862,
and at a later period that of the Military District of Augusta. In the
early part of February, 1863, in connection with Captain Fairfax,
of the Confederate Navy, the duties of getting into effective opera
tion the extensive and unfinished Foundry Works constructed at
Selma, Alabama, under contract with the War and Navy Depart
ments, were superadded. When the communication with Richmond
was endangered, in the latter part of the war, all the Arsenals south
of Virginia, were committed to my charge.
It had been the design at an early period, of the Chief of Ordi
nance, to convert the Arsenal at Augusta into one of construction,
and Capt. Gill was placed in charge with that object in view. On
taking command, I found there were no existing facilities for
large constructive works ; thus the intention had to be for the time,
abandoned, but it was found available, by the erection of several
wood structures, for lighter work, such as the preparation of car
tridges, fixed ammunition, signal rockets, fuses, primers, grenades,
nitric acid, fulminates and percussion caps, etc.
It was necessary for works of construction to make available the
water power of the canal within the city ; accordingly, a Machine
and Foundry establishment, then lying idle, was purchased. Air
and cupola furnaces, etc., were added to the Foundry, and lathes,
planers, drills, ets., were purchased from Holly Springs, Mississippi,
and Columbus, Georgia, and from Selma, Alabama, and other places,
and added to those already present in the Machine Works. Also an
extensive and complete gun-carriage department was erected, and
a powder-box manufactory established, together with several houses
for the preparation of small arm catridges, and other purposes.
These structures were rapidly erected, and machinists, founders,
blacksmiths, tinners, harness makers, armorers, etc., and the various
material required, were gathered from all available sources. The
large brick building erected by Captain "Gill at the Arsenal was con
verted into a harness and equipment department for field artillery ;
also used for tin and blacksmith shops, hospital and warehouse.
I was fortunate in obtaining skilled men for the heads of the
several departments ; among these were, at the Arsenal, Professor
W ilson, Chemist ; Master Armorer Oliver and F. Smyth ; the last
had charge of the Tinners department, and also was Captain of the
Operatives Military company.
At the City Works were Foundry Superintendent Van Buren, of
Clarksville; Superintendent Markey, of the Gun Carriage Depart
ment; Superintendent Walker, of the Machine Works. Mr. Wy-
man had charge of the Harness and Saddle and Equipment Depart
ment, but the artillery harness was mostly manufactured in the city,
very satisfactorily, by Messrs. Jessup, Hatch and Day. There were
several valuable foremen in the different shops, among them were
Jaillet, Sharky, Shehan, Barr, and others, whose names are not re
I was also materially assisted by Military Store-Keeper Girardey
and several young officers Captain Finney, and Lieutenants Wal
ler, Collier, Sparrow, Hallam, and Cadet Lewis, and towards the
close of operations by Captain Warren.
At the several works under my charge at Augusta, a large amount
of war material was manufactured, in 1863, 1864 and part of 1865.
The record of the last year has been lost. Among the various
articles of the two above years were the following, copied from my
official reports to the Chief of Ordinance :
no Field Guns, mostly bronze, 12-pounder Napoleons. These
guns were cast, turned, bored and finished complete at all points.
Four of them now ornament the principal entrance to Washington s
Headquarters, at Newburgh, New York.
174 Gun Carriages.
343 Limbers to Field Artillery.
21 Battery Wagons.
31 Traveling Forges.
10,535 Powder Boxes.
n,8n boxes for Small Arm Ammunition.
73,521 Horse Shoes.
12,630 Nitric Acid, pounds of.
2,227 ounces of Fulminate of Mercury.
2,455 Saddles, complete.
2,535 Artillery Harness, single sets of.
2,477 Signal Rockets.
85,800 rounds of Fixed Ammunition.
136,642 Artillery Cartridge Bags.
200,113 Time Fuses.
476,207 pounds of Artillery Projectiles.
4,626,000 Lead Balls.
1,000,000 Percussion Caps.
10,760,000 Cartridges for Small Arms.
Together with an immense amount of Infantry, Artillery and
One hundred of the 12-pounder Napoleon guns were formed in-
to complete Batteries, and sent to the Army of Tenessee and North
Georgia ; the metal being received from Ducktown, Tennessee, and
other places wherever it could be procured, including Church and
other bells, and captured 6-pounder bronze cannon. The improved
Hand-Grenades with General G. J. Raines sensitive tubes were
here manufactured, and many thousand sent to the Confederate
The Army of Tennessee, before the fall of Atlanta, being at one
period about to run short of small arm ammunition, and finding
it impracticable to procure sufficient additional labor in time, a call
was made on the ladies of Summerville and Augusta, to assist in
making cartridges. This call was answered with all the promptness
which their devotion to the cause inspired, and by their invaluable
aid the danger was tided over by the production of 75,000 cartridges
Gaylord Bros., Ine,
T. M. Reg. U.S. Pat. Off.
RETURN TO the circulation desk of any
University of California Library
or to the
NORTHERN REGIONAL LIBRARY FACILITY
Bldg. 400, Richmond Field Station
University of California
Richmond, CA 94804-4698
ALL BOOKS MAY BE RECALLED AFTER 7 DAYS
2-month loans may be renewed by calling
1-year loans may be recharged by bringing
books to NRLF
Renewals and recharges may be made
4 days prior to due date
DUE AS STAMPED BELOW
SENT ON ILL
MAR 2 3 2004
U. C. BERKELEY
DD20 15M 4-02