Macon Arsenal

Geographically located in the Deep South at an important transportation crossroads yet away from the threat of Federal forces, Macon was selected in April 1862 as the future location for the Confederate center of military manufacture and supply. That June, at the behest of the Ordnance Department’s Master Armorer James H. Burton, it was decided that Macon would be the site for a permanent national armory to manufacture Enfield rifles of the English pattern. Originally planned for Atlanta the site was moved to Macon when the city offered the government 42 acres of free land. In addition to the armory, the Confederate Central Laboratory for testing and production of ammunition was also placed in Macon under the command of Lt. Col. J.W. Burton. At war’s end it was second only to Richmond in overall production. By late summer 1862, the Confederate government had established a significant cadre of military facilities in Macon including a large arsenal and depot, its Central Armory and Laboratory, a Quartermaster Depot and it even hosted a Treasury Depository for Confederate gold.

Work commenced for construction of huge brick facilities for the Central Armory and Laboratory while manufacturing of more immediate needs was accelerated at the arsenal and, at temporary laboratory and armory work shops. During the next three years various government institutions manufactured, stockpiled and supplied cannon, ordnance, small arms, ammunition, chemicals, canteens, knapsacks and other accoutrements, clothing, horse equipment and other necessary supplies destined for the Army of Tennessee, the Army of Mississippi and even the Army of Northern Virginia. Millions of dollars were expended constructing large brick buildings for both the armory and laboratory that by war’s end were nearly completed. In their entirety they encompassed a total of over 200 acres and dozens of brick and frame shops, warehouses and dwellings.

In the closing days of the war, Lee’s and Johnston’s armistice allowed Macon’s Confederate facilities to survive certain destruction when they were surrendered with the city to the Federal cavalry under Gen. James Wilson on April 20th, 1865. Though these buildings survived the war little trace of them remains today. Interestingly, the land lot leased by the city of Macon to the Confederate government in 1862 to house the temporary armory was still owned by the city in 1997. The huge armory building is long gone but the last vestige of the Central Laboratory building was not torn down until 1998.

A large collection of Macon Arsenal and armory records have survived. Unfortunately, most of what is left is unrelated to horse equipment. What remains is very limited and widely scattered leaving the researcher to piece together the available information. Nonetheless, the following information about Macon’s “purchased and fabricated” horse equipments can be discerned:

From its inception in 1862 to the summer of 1864, Macon was second only to Richmond as the leading recipient of imported leather and other manufacturing materials from abroad. Large amounts of imported and domestic leather, hardware, linseed oil, white lead paint and other raw materials were sent to Macon for use in the manufacture of harness, horse equipment and accouterments. Though significant numbers of horse equipment were manufactured here, Macon’s output apparently ranked behind that of the arsenals at Richmond, Atlanta and Augusta.

Most of the surviving record is from the year 1863 which gives us an idea as to what was being manufactured how, where and when. For an eleven month period, from mid-March 1863 through February 1864, the Macon Arsenal “finished or received” 1,695 saddles, 758 bridles, 754 halters, 1,001 halter-bridles, 997 saddles bags, 323 felt saddle blankets and 7,230 “moss” saddle blankets. During the same period, the arsenal “issued or expended” 1,850 saddles, 940 bridles, 936 halter, 894 halter-bridles, 926 saddlebags and 8,478 “moss” saddle blankets.

Records for 1864 are sketchy. From June 22nd thru July 4th 1864, the only complete monthly record available, shows that the arsenal had on hand, 113 halter bridles, 387 (mostly McClellan) cavalry saddles, 106 cavalry saddle bags and purchased 1,491 moss saddle blankets.  However, records indicate additional equipments were being purchased from manufacturers. That same month the arsenal issued 110 halter bridles, 210 cavalry saddles, 110 saddle bags and 1,617 saddle blankets. This shows that the Macon Arsenal at this late-war stage (summer 1864), had the capacity to supply roughly a little over 100 complete sets of horse equipment a month.