Posted June 20, 2003

Solving the Mystery

of the

Arsenal Guns

by

Randy R. McGuire, PhD

Part I:

Introduction

Sources and Methodology

Background of the Arsenal

The St. Louis Arsenal in the Years Leading up to the Civil War

 

Randy R. McGuire, PhD is an archivist at Saint Louis University, and author of the recent St. Louis Arsenal: Armory of the West.

 

St Louis Arsenal by McGuire

St. Louis Arsenal: Armory of the West

by Randy R. McGuire, PhD

available from Amazon.com

 

 

Part I:

Introduction

Sources and Methodology

Background of the Arsenal

The St. Louis Arsenal in the Years Leading up to the Civil War

 

Part II:

Events of Early 1861 Affect the St. Louis Arsenal

Conclusion

Go to Part II

Bibliography

Appendix A

Appendix B

Appendix C

Appendix D

 

©2003 Randy R. McGuire, PhD.

No reproduction or distribution without the consent of the author

Geo Rule, webmaster of civilwarstlouis.com, has posed an interesting and historically significant question in his recent website article, “The 140 Year Debate Over the Number of Guns at the Arsenal.”  Having been impressed by Rule’s thorough research and his comparison of the various statements of Civil War historians in regard to this question, I have decided to enter the fray with a more definitive statement than that which I gave in my recent book, St. Louis Arsenal: Armory of the West

I believe that Geo Rule clearly establishes the importance of this question in the same way that Basil Duke argued that control of the St. Louis Arsenal was essential to controlling the City of St. Louis, which was the key to deciding Missouri’s future in the Union (see App C.11).  Some sources indicate that the arsenal held approximately “30,000 stand of arms” (Anderson [1908] App C.8; Catton [1961] App D.4.a; Vogelgesang [1963] App D.6.a; Nevin [1983] App D.7), that is to say, the weapons and accoutrements necessary to equip 30,000 infantry soldiers. Other sources suggest 40,000 arms (Shoemaker [1943] App D.3.a; Iverson [1963] App D.5.b), or the more commonly cited 60,000 arms (Peckham [1866] App C.5.a; Snead [1886] App C.7; McElroy [1909] App C.9; Rombauer [1909] App C.10.b; Duke [1911] App C.11; Stevens [1921] App D.1.c; Reasoner [1936] App D.2; Phillips [1990] App D.8.a; Primm [1998] App D.10), while one source mentions as many as 75,000 arms (Blair [1861] App C.5.l). Which account can the present-day reader believe? Clearly, it was, and perhaps is, important to know how many serviceable arms were in the arsenal because of the risks involved in keeping or capturing the installation and using the arms to outfit the newly forming regiments, whether Union or Confederate.  Each infantry regiment comprised approximately one thousand soldiers.  Therefore, the St. Louis Arsenal, in the opening days of the war, had enough small arms on hand to equip at least thirty regiments, and possibly as many as sixty.  If we are to believe a common calculation that the entire Confederacy had only about 150,000 stand of arms in the spring of 1861 (Stevens, App D.1.c), then we can readily see how important the addition of 30,000 to 60,000 arms would have been to the South’s efforts to prevail against the much better-equipped Union forces.

While conducting research for my history of the St. Louis Arsenal, I initially concluded that it held between 30,000 and 40,000 small arms.  This was based on my acceptance of the events described in the James Stokes affair, (Duyckinck [1861] App C.3; Moore [1862] App C.4.a) in which he was credited with “rescuing” about 21,000 small arms from the arsenal and transporting them to Illinois where they would be issued to newly formed volunteer regiments.  According to this account, the arsenal retained only enough weapons to outfit the ten regiments which Captain Lyon was authorized to enlist.  That would leave approximately 10,000 weapons at the arsenal or in the hands of Lyon’s recruits after the others were ferreted away to Illinois on April 26, 1861.  But what remains perplexing is why the Confederate sympathizers in Missouri remained resolute in their plan to take over the arsenal in spite of the fact that the majority of its guns had been shipped to Illinois.  Perhaps they dismissed, as Union propaganda, the report of this event in the Daily Democrat of April 27, for they persisted in believing that a substantial number of arms remained for the taking at the arsenal.

 

Sources and Methodology

In order to address the narrow question of how many arms were in the arsenal in early 1861, it is helpful to understand the wider spectrum of issues occurring at that time.  To set this question in a broader context, we will consider the political, military and logistical concerns which placed the St. Louis Arsenal at the center of events in the bitter struggle for control of the West.  We will proceed with the discussion in chronological order, considering the sources cited in Geo Rule’s article and consulting a number of others which bear upon the question.

Perhaps it will be helpful, in answering the basic question posed here, to trace the number of guns in the Arsenal by starting from a known, early point.  The arsenal was a vital, operating installation, evolving to meet the changing needs of the times.  As such, it took in small arms and other ordnance on a regular basis, primarily from arsenals of construction, such as Springfield, MA, and Harper’s Ferry, VA, holding and maintaining the armaments until issued to militia forces and regular units upon the receipt of authorized requisitions.  Arsenal commanders sent quarterly operations reports to the Chief of Ordnance, and the contents of the arsenals were inventoried, in great detail, on an annual basis. 

There are many surviving quarterly reports and annual inventories in the National Archives in Washington, DC, and these would no doubt answer our question in minute detail.  But short of having these records at our fingertips, we can extract some very useful statistics from published government documents containing the annual reports of the Chief of Ordnance to the Secretary of War.  Many reports and records of the Civil War period are also available in the voluminous “Official Records of the Rebellion” (OR).[1]  There are also references to the arsenal published in local newspapers of this period.  The reports are not always accurate, because they were written by reporters who had imperfect access to official sources.  Still, these articles can be helpful in corroborating information or helping to narrow down the possible options.  Finally, there are the published reminiscences of people who were present at the time of these events and who may have been privy to inside information.  These reminiscences often contain contemporary letters that might provide an insightful window on the world of Civil War St. Louis.  All of the above sources have been consulted in the research for this article, and the findings will be presented here in the order of their composition.

 

Background of the Arsenal

 Map of southeast St. Louis showing the location of the Arsenal in regard to the city, the Mississippi and Arsenal Island, where many soldiers who had died at the Arsenal were buried. The Arsenal’s location on the river made it directly accessible to riverboat traffic.

The St. Louis Arsenal was established in 1827 when the U.S. Government decided to replace Fort Belle Fontaine, which had been located since 1805 some 15 miles north of St. Louis on the Missouri River.  Belle Fontaine had served as an arsenal and quartermaster post, supplying Government outposts in the watershed of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.  It also served as a cantonment for a regiment of U. S. troops guarding the Western and Northwestern frontier.  The main body of troops was moved from Belle Fontaine in 1826 and established a few miles south of St. Louis at what became Jefferson Barracks.  The following year, Lieutenant Martin Thomas was instructed to purchase land convenient to the Mississippi for the establishment of a major arsenal to serve the needs of the growing Western military forces, as well as outfitting the militias of nine states and territories.  Lieutenant Thomas purchased a beautiful 37 acre tract on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi.  The Carondelet Road, which eventually became Broadway Street, marked the western border of the property, giving easy access to St. Louis, Carondelet and Jefferson Barracks, in addition to the access provided by the river.  A house of one-and-a-half stories stood on the property when it was purchased, which soon became an officers’ quarters. 

View of the main arsenal building from the west. This is possibly the oldest extant image of the arsenal (c1862). Piled in the foreground are pigs of lead captured from secessionists shortly after the beginning of hostilities. (Courtesy of the Missouri Historical Society)

Within twelve years, this property blossomed into a beautifully designed installation of 22 buildings within a handsome stone enclosing wall.  During peacetime, the population of the arsenal rarely amounted to more than about thirty Army ordnance soldiers and about as many civilian workers.  The installation was commanded by a captain in the early days and by a major just shortly before the Civil War.  There were usually two or three junior officers to serve as assistant ordnance officers or quartermasters.  The bulk of the work was done by civilians (many of whom were highly skilled German artisans) and a few enlisted personnel.  The work consisted of assembling, storing and issuing small arms, artillery, gun carriages, ammunition, gunpowder and a host of accoutrements.  The St. Louis Arsenal was not an “arsenal of manufacture.”  In other words, it did not manufacture small arms or artillery.  Rather, it assembled them from parts made at the major U. S. armories, Springfield, MA and Harper’s Ferry, VA, and contracted for cannonballs and artillery tubes from civilian foundries.  But the workforce manufactured nearly all types of ammunition and built gun carriages, traveling forges and caissons from scratch.  The arsenal also ran a bustling business in pyrotechnics and was said to create some of the finest fireworks displays in the country.

 

Arsenal fireworks displays were popular with the community in the peaceful years prior to the Civil War.

The St. Louis Arsenal in the Years Leading up to the Civil War

In order to understand the traditional functions of the St. Louis Arsenal and to better evaluate its status in the opening days of the Civil War, it is helpful to become acquainted with the significant period leading up to the war. Our overview begins with the period of the Mexican War, 1846 to 1848.  When the war broke out in early 1846, the civilian workforce at the St. Louis Arsenal grew at an unprecedented rate, from a couple dozen laborers to a high of 517 workers.  During the two years of war, the arsenal produced 19,500 artillery rounds, 8.4 million small arms cartridges, 13.7 million musket balls, 4.7 million rifle balls, 17 field cannon with full attachments, 15,700 stand of small arms, 4,600 edged weapons, and much more.  It is of some interest to notice that only 17 artillery pieces were issued, even though thousands of cannonballs were produced by the arsenal.  The primary reason for this is that the St. Louis Arsenal was established to outfit forces on the western frontier.  In the West, the Army units were infantry or cavalry and they had little use for artillery, except for those permanent units which had one or two cannons or howitzers to ward off Indian attacks and to perform formal gun salutes.  So the St. Louis Arsenal maintained only a small number of these guns.  When war came with Mexico, however, the U. S. faced a threat from a relatively modern and well-equipped opponent which had its own cities to defend and a strong force of artillery to be defeated.  In this case, the U. S. Army required substantial amounts of artillery and most of it came from the major eastern arsenals.  Still, St. Louis remained in a good position to provide ammunition for U. S. artillery forces, so a large proportion of shot and shell was produced in this western outpost.

The St. Louis Arsenal served an important role during the Mexican War of the mid-1840s as it supplied the American Army with thousands of small arms and artillery rounds, and millions of rounds of ammunition.

It is, perhaps, significant to note that a large part of the Missouri Volunteer Militia who served in the Mexican War were equipped at the St. Louis Arsenal.  Many key commanders of Missouri troops who would later gain notoriety in the Civil War, such as Sterling Price, Daniel Frost and John Bowen, were intimately familiar with the St. Louis Arsenal, its manufacturing capabilities and the types of weapons and equipment housed there.  These leaders and their Missouri volunteers served both in Mexico and in the border strife with Kansas from the late 1840s to 1861.  It was, therefore, quite natural that these veterans should turn to the St. Louis Arsenal to gain the means to advance their interests in the opening days of sectional strife.  In fact, the arsenal commander, Major William Bell, who had served intermittently in this post since before the Mexican War, was highly sympathetic with the Southern Cause and would play a significant role in the events of the spring of 1861.

The Missouri Volunteer Militia was activated in the late 1850s to protect the western border of the state from pro-slavery violence in Kansas. This image depicts the militia at Camp Lewis, near St. Louis, in 1860. (Courtesy of the Missouri Historical Society)

After the Mexican War a flood of materiel returned to the St. Louis Arsenal where it was reconditioned and put back in storage or sold off as military surplus.  In the mid-1850s the U. S. Army began equipping its regular troops with Springfield muskets, which featured rifling for the new .58 caliber “Minié ball” and had a highly accurate rear sight with an improved percussion system.  The Army also acquired a significant number of British Enfield muskets, rifled at .577 caliber, originally intended for issue to militia troops.  Some held the Enfield to be an inferior weapon to the Springfield, but tens of thousands of Enfields would see service with both Union and Confederate units.  Other rifles and carbines, developed from the 1840s to the 60s, would also be used in large numbers in the Civil War; Hall’s, Remington and Spencer were popular, and deadly, names in longarms, equipping both sides of the conflict.  Especially popular with cavalry and infantry were Sharp’s Carbines and Army rifles, which used a metallic cartridge and could fire with extreme accuracy and high volume.  Berdan’s “Sharps Shooters” would gain fame in the Civil War for their prowess with these weapons.  The St. Louis Arsenal held these and other patent small arms in its inventory, but the Springfield and Enfield would remain the workhorses of the common infantryman.

 Two of the more common .58 caliber muskets issued to troops by the St. Louis Arsenal. The weapon on the left is the 1855 U.S. Model rifle musket and the right-side one is the 1853 British Enfield rifle musket, both of which were in rather short supply in the opening days of the war, but were eventually issued in large numbers to the armies of North and South. (Courtesy of NIMA)

In 1857 and 58 there was a flurry of activity at the arsenal after President Buchanan ordered an expedition of U. S. troops to march on Utah to suppress a threatened Mormon uprising.  This “Utah Expedition,” led by General William S. Harney and later, Colonel Albert Sydney Johnston, was primarily outfitted from the St. Louis Arsenal and organized at Fort Leavenworth, KS.  At this time, the arsenal contingent consisted of thirty enlisted men and a similar number of civilians, but the heavy demand for armaments soon increased the civilian workforce to a hundred men.  The arsenal armed sixteen hundred federal troops for the expedition, in addition to providing its usual services for the militias of nine states and territories.  In all, during this period of crisis, the arsenal shipped 608 chests of small arms (usually packed with 20 rifles or muskets to a case) and 7,135 boxes of ordnance stores. Brevet Captain Jesse L. Reno was assigned as the expedition’s ordnance officer.  Reno’s “Battery” or “Siege Train,” as it was sometimes called, consisted of fifteen guns, fourteen caissons, four battery wagons and fourteen traveling forges.   The expedition evidently expected to encounter heavy resistance from the Mormons.  As it turned out, the Mormons were intimidated by the large show of force and accepted the offer of President Buchanan to submit to the U. S. Constitution and receive “a full pardon for their past seditions and treasons” (Moore 217).  A portion of the army established a camp forty miles southwest of Salt Lake City while the remainder was ordered to the Oregon frontier to suppress Indian hostilities.  Many of these troops remained in Utah and Oregon until the outbreak of the Civil War, when they were recalled to the East, or departed for service with the Confederacy.  It is unclear what happened to the large amount of arms and munitions sent on the expedition, but there is no known record of their being returned to the arsenal (Moore 217; Iverson 297-98; Missouri Republican, July 3 and 4, 1857 and February 4, 1858).

 U.S. Model 1842 Musket. This .69 caliber musket was produced in large numbers between the Mexican War and the Civil War and was the primary long arm issued by the St. Louis Arsenal before the .58 caliber Springfield rifle replaced it on the eve of the Civil War. Many of these were rifled and saw service in the war. (Courtesy of NIMA)

In 1857, U. S. Government inspectors condemned 190,000 outdated muskets as being “unsuitable for the public service” and recommended that they be sold.  At that time there were nearly 500,000 of these arms in the U. S. inventory  (Moore 206-07).  The Chief of Ordnance announced that on June 15, 1859, 50,000 unused United States muskets, both flintlock and percussion, would be sold by the department at a nationwide auction.  All sealed bids were to be submitted to the Ordnance Department and would be opened on June 15, at which time the muskets would be sold to the highest bidders.  The arms were all in serviceable condition but were being sold because they did not conform to the new army regulations.  These were mostly the old .69 caliber muskets which had been superceded by the new .58 caliber Model 1855 rifle muskets.  Each of the ten primary arsenals in the U. S. contributed to the number of weapons to be auctioned off.  The St. Louis Arsenal contributed 330 flintlocks and 6,160 percussion muskets, for a total of 6,490 firearms (Iverson 296-97; Missouri Republican, April 12, 1859) .  Unfortunately, the auction sale was a bust.  Colonel Craig, the Chief of Ordnance, said, “The bids received were very unsatisfactory, ranging from 10 ˝ cents to $2.00, except one bid for a small lot for $3.50.  In submitting them to the Secretary [of War] I recommended that none of them be accepted at less than $2.00” (Moore 207).  So the Ordnance Department made an effort to sell the guns in private sale for $2.50 apiece.  Still, only 31,610 of them were sold in parcels and it is unclear how many were disposed of by the St. Louis Arsenal.

Late in 1859, in answer to a request from Secretary of War John B. Floyd, the Chief of Ordnance provided a detailed list of “the number of serviceable muskets and rifles on hand at each armory and arsenal in the United States” (OR Ser 3, Vol 1, p 1—see App A.1).  It is of great interest, in regard to the present question, to know how the St. Louis Arsenal fared in this respect, less than a year and a half prior to the onset of hostilities.  The Chief of Ordnance reported to the Secretary of War that the St. Louis Arsenal held 33,015 muskets and 719 rifles.   This is close to 34,000 stand of arms.  The report actually breaks down the specific types of weapons included in the count, which is very instructive:

Altered to percussion, cal .69   25,990
Altered to Maynard lock, cal .69   1,502
Made as percussion, cal .69   325
Percussion since rifled, cal .69   4,488
Rifled Musket, cal .58   710
   
 

Total Muskets

33,015
     
Made as percussion, cal .54   236
New model rifle, cal .58   483
   
 

Total Rifles

719
   

Total Small Arms on Hand

33,734

Some significant conclusions can be drawn from this report which was issued just thirteen months prior to Secession (OR Ser 3, Vol 1, p 1—see App A.1).  The report shows that United States armories and arsenals held 610,262 small arms in twenty-one locations across the country.  Of those arms, 56,933 were located on the west coast or were in transit there.  In northern states that could pose an immediate threat to the South, there were 504,525 small arms. The future seceding states held, at that time, only 48,804 muskets and rifles, [2]  about eight percent of the total owned by the U. S. Government, and slightly less than ten percent of what the threatening northern states held.  But all of this was about to change through the influential actions of one man, Secretary of War John B. Floyd, who served in the Buchanan administration from 1857 through 1860.

 This image illustrates how rifles and muskets were packed 20 to a case for shipment or storage. This made the transport and preservation of small arms more convenient.

It might be of some significance that Secretary Floyd hailed from Virginia.  He was, in fact, a former governor of the state.  His actions as Secretary of War appear, in retrospect, to have been considerably favorable toward the South.  After having received the results of the above inventory of arms at U. S. arsenals, Floyd ordered, on 30 December 1859, that 105,000 muskets and 10,000 rifles be transferred from three northern repositories to five southern arsenals.  This transaction was carried out in the spring of 1860 and received little notice from federal authorities.  At this time, of course, all of the southern arsenals were in federal hands.  Within a year, however, those arsenals, with all of their arms, would be controlled by secessionist governments (OR Ser 3, Vol 1, p 39—see App A.9).  

This reduction of 115,000 small arms from northern inventories and their addition to southern arsenals considerably changed the potential balance of firepower. If we compare the number of southern arms to those held only by the northern states that posed an immediate threat to the South, then we will see that the proportions had changed significantly. The South now held 163,804 arms as opposed to the 389,525 in threatening northern inventories. This meant that the South would potentially control, at the outset of a regional conflict, nearly thirty percent of the small arms available in that theater of war, and this was the situation just nine months prior to secession. Moreover, with the strong possibility that Missouri would secede from the Union, secessionists looked longingly at the St. Louis Arsenal. Had they been able to add its 1859 figure of 33,734 small arms to the Confederate inventory, it would make the proportion 197,538 southern guns to 355,791 guns available to the North, giving the South control of more than thirty-five percent of the small arms in the theater of war. In fact, had the Confederacy come to control the St. Louis Arsenal, they likely would have held a majority of the small arms available to the western theater of operations, and who knows what chain of events that might have resulted from that set of circumstances? [3]

In spite of early protestations that he was “an avowed opponent of secession,” Secretary Floyd resigned early from his post in the Buchanan Administration, effective December 29, 1860, to return to Virginia, where he was commissioned a brigadier general in the Confederate Army five months later. After Floyd’s resignation, a Congressional investigation looked into his activities in regard to the transfer of arms to the South while he held office. Although the investigation formally exonerated him and President Buchanan stoutly defended his friend of any wrong-doing, there were many who continued to believe that the South would not have been as well-armed as it was at the outbreak of hostilities had it not been for the provisions made by their man in the Administration looking after their interests (Moore 206-07). 

In the months leading up to secession there was a flurry of activity as the southern states attempted to get their share (and more) of arms and accoutrements before leaving the Union.  Several states asked for their annual allotment of arms, designated for the state militias, a year or two in advance of what was due them.  It is hard not to conclude, when reading the correspondence of the War Department and the Ordnance Department in the Official Records of the Rebellion, that the southern states, from an early date, were fully aware of their intention to secede and desired to absent the Union as well-equipped as possible (OR Ser 3, Vol 1, pp 3-15).

 Two popular small arms found in fair numbers during the early months of the war were Sharps carbines and full length rifles, which used the convenient metal cartridge that permitted a higher volume of fire than was capable with the traditional muzzle-loader.

In addition to the 115,000 arms transferred to southern inventories by Secretary Floyd during 1860, several thousand other small arms were added by distribution in the annual allotment system and by purchase of surplus arms.  The total number of weapons distributed to southern states from all sources, including the St. Louis Arsenal, was as follows:  6-pounder bronze cannon—6;  12-pounder bronze howitzer—2;  .58 cal rifle muskets—1617;  .58 cal long range rifle muskets—686;  .58 cal cadet muskets—716;  .69 cal percussion muskets—450;  Sharps carbine—1;  Colt belt pistols—49;  percussion pistols—61;  various swords and sabers—325.  There were also at least 18,550 flintlock muskets (.69 cal) altered to percussion which were sold to southern states.  So, during 1860, the eleven states which would eventually secede from the Union had received, by annual distribution or by sale, (in addition to the transfer of the 115,000 arms) a total of: 8 cannon; 12,020 muskets and rifles; 110 pistols; and 325 swords and sabers.  (Another 5,560 flintlock  muskets (.69 cal) were sold to individual entrepreneurs who may or may not have been serving southern interests.  It is unclear how many of these guns made it into southern inventories.)  During this period, the St. Louis Arsenal gained 252 rifled muskets (.58 cal.), 8 Colt belt pistols and 8 non-commissioned officers’ swords as Missouri’s portion of the annual allotment.  But the record also shows that the arsenal sold 4,130 flintlock muskets, altered to percussion, to private parties, some of which might have had southern connections  (OR Ser 3, Vol 1, pp 27-29.  Note, for instance, attempts of George B. Lamar, an agent for a southern state, attempting to buy large numbers of weapons for his client:  see App B.2-4.) 

On January 8, 1861, barely a week after Secretary Floyd resigned his office and was replaced by Joseph Holt (see App A.3), the Chief of Ordnance sent the new Acting Secretary of War an eye-opening report revealing the serious lack of weapons in federal arsenals:

In my last annual report, dated 30th of October, 1860, I had the honor, among other matters, to state as follows:

“The number of arms manufactured at the national armories during the last year was not as great as the available funds would have justified.  This diminution is in a measure attributable to the diversion of armory operations from the manufacture of arms of the established model to the alteration of arms according to plans of patentees and to getting up models of arms for inventors.  Our store of muskets of all kinds at this time does not exceed 530,000, dispersed among the arsenals of the country—nowhere more than 130,000 arms being together.  As this supply of arms is applicable to the equipment of the Army, the Navy, the Marine Corps, and the militia of the country, it is certainly too small, and every effort should be made to increase the number of our new-model [.58 caliber] guns, whilst no further reduction by sale of the old-model [.69 caliber] serviceable arms should be allowed until our arsenals are better supplied.  Our store of muskets in former years reached nearly 700,000, and was not then considered too great for the country, as was evidenced by the liberal appropriations made for the further increase and for the construction of more perfect and productive machinery for the fabrication of small arms.”

Since that date, 127,655 serviceable muskets altered to percussion have been ordered to be sold, many of which have already been disposed of and passed out of the possession of Government.  I have now respectfully to recommend that no more arms on the orders already given be disposed of, and that no further sales be made except in the manner authorized by the Act of March 3, 1825.  (OR Ser 3, Vol 1, p 33—see App  A.6)

Secretary Holt followed the advice of the Chief of Ordnance and ordered an immediate halt to the sale of Government small arms.

The Committee on Military Affairs of the U. S. House of Representatives took a great deal of interest in the status of small arms in U. S. arsenals, especially after South Carolina seceded and captured the Charleston Arsenal with all of its ordnance while several other southern states were threatening secession.  The committee sought information on the transfer of arms to southern arsenals under Secretary Floyd, and then on January 18, 1861, the chairman of the committee, Benjamin Stanton, requested of Secretary Holt detailed information on the “number of improved arms, now recognized as suitable for the service, [that] are now in possession of the [U. S. War] Department, and how large a force the Department can now arm with the latest improved arms” (OR Ser 3, Vol 1, p 42—see App A.11-12).

On January 21, 1861, the Chief of Ordnance, Colonel Craig, produced for Mr. Stanton a detailed enumeration of the small arms transactions under former Secretary Floyd and the effect it had on the supply of guns remaining in Union inventories:

In answer to the letter of the Hon. B. Stanton of the 18th instant I have to state that it appears by the last returns that there were remaining in the U.  S. arsenals and armories as follows: Percussion muskets and muskets altered to percussion (caliber .69), 499,554, and percussion rifles (caliber .54), 42,011; total, 541,565. If from this number are deducted the numbers of the same description that were in the arsenals in South Carolina, Alabama, and Louisiana, which arsenals have been officially reported to have been taken possession of by the authorities of those States, 60,878, it leaves this number, 480,687; the whole of which are “recognized as suitable for the service.” In addition to these there are, rifle muskets, model of 1855 (caliber .58), 22,827; rifles, model of 1855 (caliber .58), 12,508; total, 35,335; which are “the latest improved arms.” 

In a footnote, the ever-fastidious Craig added a comment concerning the number of weapons which, it was implied, would soon fall into Confederate hands with the imminent secession of two more states:  “NOTE.—Of the above 480,687 muskets and rifles, 22,000 of them are in the arsenal at Augusta, Ga., and 36,362 in the arsenal at Fayetteville, N. C.” (OR Ser 3, Vol 1, pp 42-43—see App A.13).

Since Colonel Craig’s discussion of the numbers is rather convoluted, a simplified form of the chart accompanying his letter is reproduced below:

States and

Territories

With Arms

All Types

of

Muskets

All Types

of

Rifles

Total

Small

Arms


Union and Border States

Massachusetts 155,566 12,177 167,743
Dist. of Columbia 73,778 2,285 76,063
New York 42,005 28,406 70,411
California 47,501 7,218 54,719
Missouri 32,468 5,673 38,141
Pennsylvania 27,443 5,493 32,936
Maine 24,313   24,313
New Mexico 2,333 2,248 4,581
Washington Territory 4,082 470 4,552
Kansas 1,385 2,193 3,578
Maryland 50   50
 


  410,924 66,163 477,087
Seceding States
North Carolina 32,678 3,636 [36,314]
Georgia 20,001 2,000 22,001
South Carolina 17,413 2,817 20,230
Alabama 17,359 2,000 19,359
Louisiana 12,364 6,141 18,505
Virginia 10,646 6,868 17,514
Texas 3,253 2,204 5,457
Arkansas 1,310 54 1,364
 


  115,024 25,720 140,744

Unfortunately, the figures in Colonel Craig’s chart do not square with his calculations in the letter.  One sum in the original chart was found to be incorrect and it has been corrected for the simplified table above.[4]  In the original chart, Colonel Craig included all of the states having arsenals, in both North and South.  He then listed the total number of small arms (muskets and rifles) and artillery pieces (sea coast, siege and garrison, and field artillery) held in their inventories.  There is no reason to believe the inventory numbers are inaccurate, even though Craig’s handling of the figures leaves something to be desired.

As for artillery, the Union states show the following totals of sea coast, siege and garrison, and field guns:  Maine—19;  New Hampshire—22;  Massachusetts—265;  Rhode Island—151;  Connecticut—73;  New York—744;  Pennsylvania—295;  Maryland—81;  District of Columbia—490;  Missouri—11;  Kansas—4;  New Mexico—5;  California—197: for a total of 2,357 Union guns.

The seceding states show the following number of heavy guns:  Virginia—864;  North Carolina—41;  South Carolina—133;  Georgia—22;  Florida—464;  Alabama—79;  Louisiana—187;  Texas—10;  Arkansas—10:  for a total of 1,810 Confederate guns. A large proportion of these guns was coastal artillery, and would not offer the advantage of small size or mobility to support the field armies of the South.  We might conclude then, that the Confederate states, at the time of secession, held about 77 percent as many artillery pieces as those held by the Union. So the North held a 1.3 to 1 ratio of advantage over the South in terms of the big guns.

 Drawing of a typical 6-pounder field gun with parts labeled. The St. Louis Arsenal did not have many artillery pieces when the war began, but once the Union controlled the facility, thousands of heavy guns and millions of rounds of ammunition passed through here on the way to western armies.

Finally, with regard to the initial question of this article concerning the number of guns at the St. Louis Arsenal, the above chart, dated 21 January 1861, shows the state of Missouri to have an aggregate number (in its two arsenals) of 32,468 muskets and 5,673 rifles, for a total of 38,141 small arms.  Of artillery pieces, Missouri has two siege or garrison guns, and nine brass field guns and howitzers.  The chart does not show how many of each type of weapon were at each arsenal, but it is clear that the St. Louis Arsenal contained the vast majority of ordnance in Missouri and the Liberty Arsenal held just enough to equip a small militia force in the northwestern part of the state—probably 1,500 small arms.  This becomes the key information necessary to answer the question of how many guns were at the St. Louis Arsenal in the opening days of the war.   If all of Missouri had 38,141 small arms, and the Liberty Arsenal held approximately 1,500 of those arms, that would leave the St. Louis Arsenal with about 36,600 small arms (OR Ser 3, Vol 1, p 43—see App A.13). 

As far as artillery is concerned, it is likely that nine or ten guns were located at the St. Louis Arsenal at the beginning of the war.  This dispels the notion of some writers that the arsenal held up to forty artillery pieces.[5]  Early in the war the St. Louis Arsenal simply had no reason to have large numbers of cannon in its inventory.  It was a supplier of western posts and western state militias, few of which had any need for artillery.

Go to Part II

Events of Early 1861 Affect the St. Louis Arsenal

Conclusion

Part I:

Introduction

Sources and Methodology

Background of the Arsenal

The St. Louis Arsenal in the Years Leading up to the Civil War

Return to Part I

Part II:

Events of Early 1861 Affect the St. Louis Arsenal

Conclusion

Go to Part II

Bibliography

Appendix A

Appendix B

Appendix C

Appendix D



[1] The full title of this excellent series is The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.  It was published in 70 volumes between 1880 and 1901.

[2]Harper’s Ferry Armory, VA—18,322;  Fort Monroe Arsenal, VA—372;  Fayetteville Arsenal, NC—9,363;  Charleston Arsenal, SC—3,227;  Mount Vernon Arsenal, AL—2,396;  Baton Rouge Arsenal, LA—13,160;  San Antonio Arsenal, TX—1,561;  Little Rock Arsenal, AR—403.

[3]It might be noted at this point that all of the figures discussed above represent a theoretical consideration of the status of arms nine months prior to secession. In the subsequent year, more arms would be manufactured and distributed throughout the North and South, but the relative percentages of arms would remain about the same. As it turned out, southerners were shocked and disappointed when Missouri did not secede from the Union and the St. Louis Arsenal arms remained in Union hands. But another surprise occurred when Fort Monroe could not be taken by Confederate forces during the entire war and its humble (1859) collection of 372 small arms likewise remained with the Union. While the loss of the St. Louis Arsenal was judged a great tragedy to the Confederacy, the absence of the Fort Monroe arms would not appreciably affect its firepower.

[4]See North Carolina under the “total small arms” column.

[5]See the figures estimated by some of the historians cited in Geo Rule’s article.  At least one source says that there were one or two old cannon captured at Liberty Arsenal and later used at Wilson’s Creek, which would suggest that St. Louis held nine or ten.

 

 


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