Marker highlights Macon’s weapons production during Civil War

lfabian@macon.comApril 16, 2014 

Macon did not see any major Civil War battles, but the community played a key role in the fighting.

Free and enslaved men, women and children melted candlesticks, door knockers and church bells into weapons. And up to 500 workers daily churned out 10,000 rounds of small arms ammunition and 125 artillery shells during peak production here, according to a new commemorative marker noting the accomplishments of the city’s Confederate Industrial Complex during the war that ran from 1861 to 1865.

As the largest armory in North America was under construction off Telfair Street, weapons were built in the Old Macon & Western Railroad depot, which used to sit near The Medical Center of Central Georgia.

“Macon was considered a safe place. It was well fortified, and it was deep in the center of the South. That’s why it became important,” historian Conie Mac Darnell said.

Wednesday in Daisy Park, the Macon Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee dedicated the marker.

The marker -- located on the point of Daisy Park at Forsyth Street, across from the hospital campus -- explains how Gen. Josiah Gorgas ordered Col. Richard M. Cuyler to move ordnance-making equipment from Savannah to Macon in 1862. Cuyler leased Macon’s Findlay Foundry and a dozen of the largest warehouses.

Schofield’s Iron Works, in a building that still stands near Fifth and Poplar streets, was commissioned to build arms and munitions. Samuel Griswold turned his cotton gin factory into a revolver-making plant.

“Sam Griswold made more Confederate revolvers than any other manufacturer. He made over 3,600 revolvers about 11 miles out of town,” said Earl Colvin, executive director of the Cannonball House. “The Middle Georgia area played a huge role in war materiel production.”

Colvin displayed Wednesday a rare Spiller & Burr cap and ball revolver that was made in Macon.

“The problem with the Confederacy was they didn’t have steel, so this is iron,” Colvin said of the chamber.

Jack Thomas, who also attended the dedication, noted three notches on the handle, which might have indicated the soldier’s kills, he said.

The pistol and a Richmond rifle are on display at the Cannonball House, which is hosting Civil War trolley tours Saturday at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Stocks for the Richmond rifle were made in Macon, which also churned out the “Pride of the Confederacy” -- 1,200 pound Napoleon cannons used for wide range firing for short distances, according to the sesquicentennial committee’s research.

Parrot guns weighing more than 1,600 pounds were built here for long range accuracy.

Tons of copper and tin were needed for the bronze barrels and more than 100 pieces of each big gun.

The South’s “Cotton Kingdom” quickly converted to a munitions and war materiel manufacturing hub. Macon produced heavy castings, tents, enameled cloth, matches, caps, buttons, harnesses, wire, soap, shoes and other items to fuel the war effort.

Up to 1,500 gun stocks per month headed on rail cars to Richmond for assembly.

“The railroads were the interstates in those days and there were several that came into Macon,” said Bill Elliott, chairman of the sesquicentennial committee that already has dedicated 11 of 14 planned markers. “Macon was sort of the hub of railroads in this state and largely in the South.”

Confederate Maj. James Burton spent three years building North America’s largest and most modern armory that spanned a couple of football fields, but it hadn’t opened yet when Macon was captured in April 1865.

After the war, it was offered to the federal government, but the U.S. government had no interest in taking over that operation, Darnell said.

“They said, ‘Absolutely not. We’re not putting anything in the Confederacy,’ ” he recalled.

The roof had not been completed and the building eventually rotted and was torn down, Darnell said.

At the same time, Col. John Mallett was building a new laboratory complex in the Vineville community in an area across from the current site of Jim Shaw’s restaurant.

During construction, Mallett, a chemist who was born in Ireland, experimented in other buildings to improve shells and bullets.

The arsenal and the laboratory were two of only a few buildings built by the Confederacy.

Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce President Mike Dyer said he was surprised to learn of the city’s pivotal role in arming troops.

“I was fascinated by the history associated with the arsenal, the armory and the laboratories in Macon,” Dyer said. “It had to be daunting times and full of unknowns.”

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.

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