Saddles of the Trans-Mississippi (Texas Arsenal and Districts)

In spite of the frontier-like state of civilization various Ordnance Arsenals, depots and manufacturing centers were established in Trans-Mississippi Texas. San Antonio already contained a fairly significant pre-war U.S. Arsenal and other major arsenals or depots were erected in Tyler, Marshall and Houston. Other important ordnance facilities or manufacturing centers were located in cities and towns in other Texas Districts including Austin, Fredericksburg, Jefferson, Anderson, Henderson, Port Lavaca and Bonham. Still, with few exceptions even by eastern Confederate standards of manufacturing these were little more than minor ordnance stations.

Saddle manufacturing was generally done by contract with local manufacturers but this was ineffective at best. Even in Texas where leather and iron supplies were the most favorable in all of the Trans-Mississippi manufacturing was sporadic and inefficient. Here too, labor, financing and leadership issues compounded a nearly impossible situation. There is little record of saddle or horse equipment manufacturing but the circumstantial evidence indicates that the government supply of trooper’s horse equipment was minimal and therefore largely left to the individual to provide.


Tyler, Texas is one of the few Trans-Mississippi Department Ordnance establishments in which there remains any record at all. Surprisingly though, a fairly complete record for its operation exists.   On Sept. 13, 1863  Col. Gabriel H. Hill, C.S.A. was ordered to Tyler Texas with the apparent idea of fomenting the establishment of an Ordnance Works there. Upon his arrival he relieved Capt. S. C.  Faulkner as commander of the post as of Oct. 1, 1863. The facilities at Tyler consisted of an armory, a carpenter shop, tin shop, laboratory and harness shop. Everything made there was forwarded to Shreveport or Marshall for issue to Trans-Miss. and Indian Territory troops.

From October 1863 to May 1865 Col. Hill commanded the Tyler Texas Ordnance Works in exemplary fashion employing approximately 200 workers it became the largest and most successful weapons manufactory in the State. Its obvious from remaining  records that the Works produced or repaired a large number of small arms including rifles, ammunition for small arms and fixed artillery, leather accoutrements and a some saddle work. While the work was slow in the beginning by mid-1864 the Works was in full production manufacturing all of the equipments and arms that its raw materials and labor force could accommodate.

Throughout its history it is apparent the chief concerns of Col. Hill were the want of supplies, transportation and labor. However, it was not until late in 1864 and early 1865 when the supply of essential raw materials and the lack of sufficient transportation impeded its efforts did production actually begin to slow. In the last few months transportation became such an insurmountable difficulty that he often could not even haul in enough feed for his own transportation animals let alone his people in an adequate fashion.

On May 26, 1865 after suffering many trials and tribulations in the anarchy surrounding the final days of the collapse of the Confederacy Hill completed the last entry into his Day Book stating “in the morning I will publish an order disbanding the Ordnance Works”. On the very same day the surrender of the Trans-Mississippi Department, the last remaining vestige of the once proud and powerful Southern  Confederacy was taking place in New Orleans, La.

SOURCE: WDCCR, Vol. 147 (correspondence) & 148 (invoices & records)
Tyler Texas, By William A Albaugh, III, 1953, reprint 1993 by Broadfood Publishing Co. Wilmington, N.C.



Little is known about Confederate operations at Marshall Texas during the war. However, it is clear that sometime in the early summer of 1863, Major Thomas G. Rhett, Chief Ordnance Officer for the Trans-Mississippi established an Ordnance Depot in Marshall where he had erected powder mills, percussion cap making machinery and a manufactory for ammunition.

At its height the powder mill and laboratory employed some 150 people mostly in the manufacture of powder, ammunition and repair of arms. A brick building valued at not less than $15,000 may have been built on the powder mill site by the Confederate government during the war. A small iron works was also located here that may have manufactured pistols. Local Ordnance Dept. headquarters were made at Lock’s Mill. Other Confederate operations in Marshall included commissary, hospital and quartermaster where hats, harness and other goods were made.

Marshall remained an important center of powder and ammunition production until the end of the war. Much of the mill and its remaining powder was destroyed by its Ordnance officers before occupation by the Federal army. Located off of what is today Powder Mill road there are few traces left of the old facility.

SOURCE: Marshall, site of Confederate Powder Mill, Other war Dept., Marshall News Messenger, Marshall, Tex. Nov. 10, 1963.
Tyler Texas, By William A Albaugh, III, 1953, reprint 1993 by Broadfood Publishing Co. Wilmington, N.C. (OR’s, Ser. 1, Vol 22, Pg. 1140)



The San Antonio Arsenal began with somewhat obscure beginnings  in 1850 apparently on leased land as a frontier supply depot for the U.S. Army. In 1858 it was officially established by the U.S. Army Ordnance Department as a means to furnish arms and ammunition to troops protecting outlying settlements. The next year, the government purchased some twenty-one acres and began erecting buildings on the site. By 1860 a magazine, armory shop,  saddler’s shop, stable, office and officers quarters had all been completed.

On the morning of February 16, 1861 Army of Texas troops under the command of Col. Ben McCullough surrounded the Federal garrison at the Alamo and forced its commander General David E. Twiggs to surrender without firing a shot. Thus, Federal resistance in Texas, which had been up to this time fragile held together by Twiggs, was easily dispatched. In quick precession the San Antonio Arsenal and eighteen other frontier forts and outposts were turned over or seized by state authorities garnishing in all, over $1,209,500 worth of ordnance stores, mules, wagons, horses, tools, clothing and commissary goods. It is believed some harness and possibly a few Grimsley saddles were part of these captured stores.

War time records of Confederate manufacturing may have been ordered destroyed by their officers before capitulation so very little information is known about their activities. It is not clear who, how or when Confederate manufacturing began at the old U.S. arsenal but by fall 1862 it is reported substantial numbers of rifles, carbines and revolvers were begin made there as well as ammunition, knives, accoutrements and even gun powder at its powder mill which was located at Monumental and Commerce Streets. Employing some sixty-five operators and ten blacksmiths the arsenal built carriages and recoil mechanisms for the heavy seacoast cannon along the Texas coast and smaller field carriages.

In addition to being at one time the Confederate Texas’ Ordnance Department Headquarters, by 1862 San Antonio had become an important jumping off point for Mexican and multi-national trade. A brisk business of cotton trade was being conducted down the Rio Grande through Matamoros Mexico and thence to points east including New Orleans, Havana, England and even New York. The sale of cotton conducted by Texas state government, Confederate government, foreign adventurers and even Yankees had, by 1863 become so huge it was estimated over $4 million dollars in supplies were coming in through this route including arms, food, saltpeter, lead and uniforms. This cotton trading and San Antonio’s importance to Confederate supply in the Trans-Mississippi slowed but continued until the end of the war.

SOURCE: San Antonio Newspaper article, March 22, 1927
San Antonio Herald, Sept. 13, 27, Oct. 11, Nov. 1, 15, 1862.
The Alamo City guide, San Antonio, Tex. Being a Historical Sketch of the ancient City of the Alamo and Business Reviews, By Stephen Gould, MacGowan & Slipper, New York, 1882. pg. 55-56.
The Problem of Supply in the Trans-Mississippi Confederacy, By William Windham, Journal of Souther History, Vol. 27, 1961, Pgs. 162-167.