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Confederate Industry

Confederate Industry: Manufacturers and Quartermasters in the Civil War

Harold S. Wilson
Copyright Date: 2002
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    Confederate Industry
    Book Description:

    By 1860 the South ranked high among the developed countries of the world in per capita income and life expectancy and in the number of railroad miles, telegraph lines, and institutions of higher learning. Only the major European powers and the North had more cotton and woolen spindles.

    This book examines the Confederate military's program to govern this prosperous industrial base by a quartermaster system. By commandeering more than half the South's produced goods for the military, the quartermaster general, in a drift toward socialism, appropriated hundreds of mills and controlled the flow of southern factory commodities.

    The most controversial of the quartermasters general was Colonel Abraham Charles Myers. His iron hand set the controls of southern manufacturing throughout the war. His capable successor, Brigadier General Alexander R. Lawton, conducted the first census of Confederate resources, established the plan of production and distribution, and organized the Bureau of Foreign Supplies in a strategy for importing parts, machinery, goods, and military uniforms.

    While the Confederacy mobilized its mills for military purposes, the Union systematically planned their destruction. The Union blockade ended the effectiveness of importing goods, and under the Union army's General Order 100 Confederate industry was crushed. The great antebellum manufacturing boom was over.

    Scarcity and impoverishment in the postbellum South brought manufacturers to the forefront of southern political and ideological leadership. Allied for the cause of southern development were former Confederate generals, newspaper editors, educators, and President Andrew Johnson himself, an investor in a southern cotton mill.

    Against this postwar mania to rebuild, this book tests old assumptions about southern industrial re-emergence. It discloses, even before the beginnings of Radical Reconstruction, that plans for a New South with an urban, industrialized society had been established on the old foundations and on an ideology asserting that only science, technology, and engineering could restore the region.

    Within this philosophical mold, Henry Grady, one of the New South's great reformers, led the way for southern manufacturing. By the beginning of the First World War half the nation's spindles lay within the former Confed-eracy, home of a new boom in manufacturing and the land of America's staple crop, cotton.

    Harold S. Wilson is an associate professor of history at Old Dominion University. He is the author ofMcClure's Magazine and the Muckrakersand of articles published inAfrican American Studies,The Historian, theJournal of Confederate History, andAlabama Review. Learn more about the author at

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-072-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xii)
    (pp. xiii-2)

    The statistical war between the sections began before the first shots sounded at Fort Sumter. James D. B. DeBow, superintendent of the national census in 1850, devoted most of three volumes on industrial resources to a benevolent analysis of cotton and slavery in the South. His successor, Joseph C. G. Kennedy, superintendent of the 1860 census, was the alleged author of a polemic against the “King Cotton” theorists that favorably compared the economy of New York to that of the Gulf states (Colwell; Elliott). Drawing freely upon the decennial reports and other sources, abolitionist Hinton Rowan Helper inThe Impending...

  5. 1 The Advent of Abraham C. Myers, Quartermaster General of the Confederacy
    (pp. 3-41)

    Southern manufacturers did not sleep through the long secession winter of 1860–61. They resolutely resisted the states’ rights zealots at every turn. Francis Fries and Edwin Holt in North Carolina, James Simmons in Georgia, William Gregg in South Carolina, Daniel Pratt in Alabama, and Henry Merrell in Arkansas were simply the better known of a large number of manufacturers who unsuccessfully attempted to stay the hand of secession in their states (Beatty 77–78; Merrell 292–93; Evans 457, 466). Allies for the manufacturing class reached deeply into the old Whig leadership with its national perspective on economic development:...

  6. 2 The Reign of Quartermasters
    (pp. 42-92)

    Despite the woolen famine and desultory public clamor about destitute soldiers and improvident quartermasters, Abraham Myers continued to gain influence and authority within the Confederate hierarchy until he held a guardianship over Southern manufacturing that was without precedent. The necessities of the front-line troops, with more men dying from exposure and disease than from bullets, drove Confederate authorities to the brink of military socialism, with Myers as the government’s leading actor. With the sanction of the Congress, Myers assumed control of all workers of military age, exempting or detailing back to the factories only such men as he and his...

  7. 3 Confederate Mobilization
    (pp. 93-129)

    In late August 1863, following the battle of Gettysburg, a correspondent of theAugusta Constitutionalistsurveyed the condition of the Army of Northern Virginia at Culpepper and lamented the “sad waste and destruction.” General Dick Ewell’s Second Corps lost most of its baggage train in the retreat to Falling Waters, and his troops were deficient in “clothing and shoes.” One colonel forwarded a requisition to Georgia quartermaster general Ira Foster “in which he reported his command as destitute of everything” (Charleston Mercury, August 26, 1863). Some men had worn out two pairs of shoes on the Northern march, and all...

  8. 4 Factories under Siege
    (pp. 130-154)

    Confederate military authorities were more successful in controlling factories than in succoring them. The Confederate system of controls through impressment, details, profit limitations, supply of raw materials, and management of railroads and blockade-running created challenging operating conditions for manufacturers. Bereft of parts and machinery and threatened by marauding armies, manufacturers were often imperiled by a hostile local press that offered considerable sympathy for economic independence but decried rising prices as pure extortion.

    The problems of factory operation were numerous, and one of them was Confederate policy. In an early address to the Manufacturing Association of the Confederate States, William Gregg...

  9. 5 The Bureau of Foreign Supplies and the Crenshaw Line
    (pp. 155-179)

    Until the end of the war, most garments and goods provided to the Confederate army came from domestic resources through Alexander Lawton’s mobilization of manufacturing. However, to supplement these goods, the Confederate War Department turned increasingly to imports; in this endeavor, James B. Ferguson Jr., a former dry goods import merchant, and William G. Crenshaw, a Richmond woolen manufacturer, played important roles.¹ In doing so, Ferguson and Crenshaw rendered Upper South mills modest but vital support by procuring essential items from abroad. Otherwise, the War Department displayed little concern about the needs of private manufacturers and mostly devoted official energies...

  10. 6 The Coming of Total War
    (pp. 180-227)

    As the Union blockade wreaked destruction upon Confederate sea-borne commerce, planned devastations by both armies laid waste the home front.¹ Early in the war the governments of both the North and the South made disclaimers that the fighting would be on a civilized plane, with solicitude for noncombatants, protection of private property, and an honorable treatment of enemy captives, but long before the battles of Gettysburg and Vicksburg both governments settled into a system of planned economic destruction. Jefferson Davis endorsed a scorched-earth policy of burning cotton, subsistence stores, transportation facilities, and buildings liable to be of benefit to the...

  11. 7 The Tortuous Course Toward Economic Reconstruction
    (pp. 228-272)

    After Appomattox, a “New South” emerged that was characterized by the rapid rebuilding of factories, railroads, mines, stores, and homesteads. Manufacturers, railroaders, former Confederate officers, educators, and editors, deeply shocked by the wartime scarcity and deprivation, asserted leadership in this endeavor and widely called for the adoption of modern science and technology as tools to rebuild the conquered South. From the pulpit and the podium, the press and the statehouse, there was a renewal of the great antebellum campaign to introduce a system of technology to the South, to bring the factories to the fields. At hand were the successful...

  12. 8 Forging the New South
    (pp. 273-288)

    Radical Reconstruction began the process of political integration anew.¹ The Radicals reestablished new military districts, created new state constitutions on the basis of the Fourteenth Amendment, and replaced Andrew Johnson’s officialdom with new biracial legislatures and governments. However, the attempt by Thaddeus Stevens, Charles Sumner, and their congressional supporters to force racial equality upon the South was short-lived in most states, ending in 1870 in Virginia and 1877 in South Carolina. When the last Federal troops were withdrawn, the new industrial order was clearly taking shape upon the earlier foundations. After Redemption, or restoration of home rule, American manufacturing dramatically...

    (pp. 289-290)
  14. APPENDIX A Abstract of Confederate Census of Major Lower South Factories—May 1864
    (pp. 291-292)
  15. APPENDIX B Abstract of Confederate Census of North Carolina Factories—November 1864
    (pp. 293-294)
  16. APPENDIX C Statistical Survey of Workers in Ten Savannah River Mills—June 1864–June 1865
    (pp. 295-296)
  17. APPENDIX D Assets of Selected Mills in the Summer of 1865
    (pp. 297-298)
  18. NOTES
    (pp. 299-368)
    (pp. 369-376)
    (pp. 377-394)
  21. INDEX
    (pp. 395-412)