Atlanta Arsenal: March 1862 – August 1864

The rail crossroads town of Atlanta was a natural southern manufacturing center. As early as March of 1861 the first Convention of Manufacturing and Direct Trade Association of the Confederate States was held in Atlanta in order to organize and affiliate Southern manufacturers in the newly forming Confederacy. It was here that these Southern industrialists recognized that Atlanta would soon become the Confederacy’s “great center of manufacturing because of its proximity to coal regions, railroad facilities and healthy climate”. Like all Southern cities when hostilities became imminent Atlanta formed and equipped its rapidly expanding military organizations to the best of its ability. However, Atlanta with its numerous iron works, foundries and growing railroad production facilities had more assets and advantages to build upon than most of the South.

When Nashville fell in February 1862,  Lt. Moses H. Wright transferred its arsenal facilities and ordnance stores in their entirety to Atlanta, Georgia. Officially opened on March 5th, 1862, within weeks, the very capable Lt. Wright had contracted for the purchase of land, construction of facilities and begun production. The first buildings for the new arsenal consisted of a magazine, various shops and laboratory. Known locally as the old “Rail Track” this land and other property located at the northwest corner of Walton and Peachtree streets become the nucleus of the arsenal. By November, at least five machines for making percussion caps and other machinery and engines used in production were contracted for. Other machinery for the arsenal came from the ordnance works at Vicksburg, Holly Springs, Knoxville and possibly from New Orleans. The Spiller and Burr revolver factory was located here for a time but very few, if any, pistols were completed before it was moved to Macon.

After the Shiloh-Corinth battles and when the western campaign shifted from Corinth to Chattanooga, Confederate Departmental commander General P.G.T. Beauregard was quick to recognize the strategic importance of Atlanta’s industrial assets and its rapidly expanding arsenal facilities. Atlanta would soon become a huge arms and equipment manufacturing center and the primary cross roads for supply to the Army of Tennessee in most of its campaigns. With it as the new base for Gen. Braxton Bragg’s army, Atlanta now became the central focus of so much armed struggle that occurred later in the war.
Over the next three years a huge facility was built in Atlanta consisting of thirteen buildings including an armory, arsenal, laboratory, magazine, machine shop, carpenter’s, blacksmith’s, harness and gun carriage shops and more. Employing up to 5,453 men and women at its peak in 1864 this arsenal manufactured in-house, contracted for and/or repaired thousands of cannons, rifles, pistols, caissons, bayonets, saddles, bridles, bits, spurs, buckles, knapsacks, gun supplies, cartridge boxes and belts, friction primers, buttons, canteens, armor plating and railroad rolling stock. In ammunition, Atlanta produced nine million rounds of rifle and pistol ammunition, one-half million friction primers, 41 million percussion muskets caps and 5 million pistol caps between July 1st 1862 and June 30th 1864. It was also the headquarters for Confederate Quartermaster and Commissary Departments for the lower South, Provost, signal corps, a recruit camp and an army horse remount depot.

Supplying the Confederate army was multi-dimensional. Ordnance records of receipts and deliveries show other Confederate arsenals often assisted in meeting Atlanta’s requisitions with significant additional stores coming from Macon, Columbus, Montgomery, Selma and frequent shipments from Augusta. In turn, Atlanta supplied western troops, often the coastal commands served by other arsenals and occasionally even Richmond. For example, although the Atlanta Arsenal’s major responsibility was to the Army of Tennessee its percussion caps were sent all over the South as they were considered more reliable than those from the Richmond Cap Factory.

On July 5th, 1864 as the Federal army under Gen. W.T. Sherman threatened the city the arsenal machinery and stores were dismantled and sent south to Macon and Columbus, Ga. Remaining stockpiles of ammunition and supplies were burned by C.S. troops during the evacuation of Atlanta on September 1st. That September, the city of Atlanta went up in flames ignited from the torch of Sherman’s troops.