Nashville Arsenal and Armory: October 1861 through February 1862

South 3rd and Mulberry St., Nashville, Tenn.
October 1861 through February 1862

The Nashville Arsenal and Armory was first put in operation under the State of Tennessee      The Nashville Arsenal and Armory was first put in operation under the State of Tennessee Ordnance Department in the Spring of 1861. On September 18, 1861 Capt. K. Johns transferred title of the ordnance operation and stores to Lt. Moses H. Wright of the Confederate States Government. In short order, the Confederate Nashville Arsenal consisted of a brick building housing the ordnance stores and offices. It also included a Pyrotechnical Laboratory (established at the Nashville Medical College), another laboratory and a magazine erected at the Nashville Penitentiary, a cap factory located in the city, and various other buildings for manufacturing and production. Although it was in operation only a short time the Nashville Arsenal and Ordnance Station sometimes known as the Nashville Gun Factory, was instrumental in supplying a significant portion of the young western Confederacy’s arms, equipment and gun powder.
For the most part, arms manufacturing of the arsenal was limited to repair and “conversion” of flintlock to percussion. It appears little equipment manufacturing was done “on-site” at the arsenal. Rather, the majority of its cavalry, artillery and infantry equipments were sub-contracted from local suppliers. Items purchased from contractors by the arsenal included saddles, bridles, saddle blankets, artillery harness, cavalry and artillery sabers, halter chains, nose bags, curry combs, cartridge boxes, cap boxes, waist belts, bayonet scabbards, canteens and more.
The arsenal grew in size and ran smoothly until the early morning of December 23, 1861, when the ordnance depot warehouse was completely destroyed by an arson fire. Losses in this fire were reported as 600-800 sets of artillery harness; 300 cavalry saddles; 8,000 to 15,000 infantry equipments; caps; primers; paper, etc. Though no arms were destroyed virtually the entire compliment of Nashville’s military stores were lost temporarily halting the arsenal’s ability to supply the troops.
Immediately after the first of the New Year, contracts were let for large numbers of new equipment including horse furniture, many of which were quickly delivered. With the fall of Forts Henry and Donelson on February 15th, the Nashville Arsenal was ordered closed and its machinery, stores and personnel evacuated to Atlanta, Georgia. On February 19th, Lt. Wright and Lt. Chambliss, late commanding officer of the Ordnance Depot at Bowling Green Kentucky, left Nashville for Atlanta. Arriving in Atlanta on March 5th, Lt. Wright immediately set about construction of facilities that were to become the great Atlanta Arsenal.
Although records are incomplete it is clear great numbers of horse equipment were made and issued in Nashville before and immediately after the fire. Given middle Tennessee’s reputation for horse breeding, racing and farming during the pre-war period it was a natural location for tanneries, saddleries and harness makers. Records show the Ordnance Depot contracted with the area’s many manufacturers to provide equipment for mounted troops.