From the Charleston Mercury, 8/16/1861
NOTES OF THE WAR.
From Our Own Correspondent.
RICHMOND, VA. August 13.
A large majority of visitors to the fortifications in and around Charleston Harbor, are, doubtless, of the opinion that we are still indebted to Yankee or English mechanics for the heavy ordinance with which those works are supplied. Certainly, until the Messrs. EASON demonstrated the contrary, very few persons could have been persuaded that rifled cannon of as good finish, and nearly as great range, as the best imported guns, could be turned out of our own workshops. The fact is, and it should put our patriotism to the blush, that the general tendency with us has been to disparage domestic manufactures of every class, and to take it for granted that any article was the better in direct ratio to the distance from which it was brought. Whatever was home made must be inferior, and, acting upon this generally accepted axiom, our authorities and our people have as a rule, given all their larger contracts to Northern companies, without so much as taking the trouble to inquire into the ability of Southern houses to furnish the same articles at the same prices. Some excuse might be made for this singular inconsistency, if the question of economy were at all involved. We cannot expect trades people to be over-liberal , nor is it reasonable to suppose that, in making a bargain, any one is likely to disregard his own interest. But it is humiliatingly true, that even where our own mechanics have underbid their Northern rivals the latter have been preferred, under a mistake idea that the workmanship and material of the South are vastly inferior to those of the more wealthy and ingenious North.
A striking illustration of this blunder in political economy, and of the vassalage in which we have been so long and voluntarily held, is furnished by a recent experience in Virginia - happily, to unfavorable, owing to the maladroitness of the enemy. Some time last year a Board of Commissioners was appointed by the State to contract for tools and general machinery for the manufacture of five hundred rifle muskets per annum, to be equal to the best fire-arms and in the world, and requiring, therefore in their construction, the most perfect and complete machinery; the object being to establish on a permanent basis a State Armory.
With characteristic negligence, none of the Richmond contractors urged their proposals before the board, until it appeared that there was a strong probability of the work being given to the Massachusetts firm of AMES & CO. Fortunately for us, at this juncture, the impudence of the Yankee got the upper hand of his habitual caution. Confident of success, the New York Times brought out a ___ in which it sneered most contemptuously at the helplessness of Virginia, and exulted over the alleged inferiority other mechanics. This article, which was re-published in the Richmond Enquirer, stung the leading iron men here into energetic remonstrance and action. Mr. JOSEPH R. ANDERSON, the accomplished head of the Tredegar Works, at once perfected his plans, and soon offered the Commissioners proposals even more advantageous to the State than those tendered by AMES. Governor LETCHER, after full consideration of the matter, signified his approval of the contract, and the over-confident Yankee had the satisfaction of knowing that his Abolition friends had choused [sic] him out of a job which would have secured him large profits and additional celebrity. He is welcome now to make as much out of the United States as he can during the rest of the war. We are grateful for the opportunity he gave us to develope our resources, and, I think, we will prove to the full satisfaction of himself and the world, that we are equal, if not superior, to the North in the manufacture as well as the use of every variety of arms.
I had the pleasure of visiting, yesterday, the great Southern foundry, known as the Tredegar Iron Works; an establishment of which the whole South may be justly proud, and to which we are mainly indebted for the ordnance necessary to prosecute this war with energy and success.
It happened to be a busy day, and I was about giving up my proposed inspection for want of a cicerone, when Dr. ARCHER, a polite and cultivated gentleman, interested in experiments connected with the laboratory and ordinance department, kindly volunteered to act as my guide and interpreter through the mazes of the many detached shops which make up this monster establishment.
The traveller, entering Richmond by night, catches a glimpse, as he rolls slowly over the bridge which spans the James River, of the most picturesque sight which has relieved the monotony of his journey through pine forest and corn field for many a hundred miles. Far below him the shadow haunted stream, broken by jutting rocks and deep foliaged islands, brawls along, and as he looks over towards the left bank, where the clanger of a hundred anvils assails his ear, he sees the broad red glare of innumerable fires flashing out upon the ware, and dimly descries the dark forms of men moving seemingly through the flames which shoot up myriads of sparks into the smoke-obscured atmosphere. The next morning, if his curiosity so inclines him, a short walk along the canal banks to the armory grounds will bring him vis-a-vis with the smutty forges and blackened shops into which daylight transforms the unearthly looking works of the previous night.
Entering the first of these he will find himself in a Rolling Mill, surrounded by furnaces for melting and converting pig iron, and ponderous machinery for rolling it, into bars and axles and bolts and chains for railroads. “Step this side,” says the polite conductor, “you can see the process by which this piece of carbonized and crystallized iron is converted into the fibrous material which the skillful workman can shape into any form he pleases.” First a long slab or bar of ordinary cast iron is placed in the furnace and brought to a white heat. Armed with a powerful pair of forceps, a gigantic negro seizes it by one extremity and carrying it rapidly to the roller - which consists of a series of revolving wheels, whose broad edges are at equally decreasing distances from an iron bed below - thrust it over the top of the machine to his fellow-workman opposite, who passes one end with equal dexterity between the first wheel and the bed, through which it is squeezed out with diminished thickness. Seized again as it emerges it is again handed over, to pass between wheel No. 2, and so da capo until the requisite degree of compression has been attained. Next, the bar is cut up into a number of small pieces and roasted in a second furnace, where, as it begins to melt, it is continuously stirred and conglomerated into a large amorphous mass about a foot and a half in diameter. This process is graphically called puddling. Here there are a half dozen workmen, stripped to the waist and reeking with perspiration, one of whom catches up this lump of glowing metal, transfers it to a kind of truck, ladle-shaped opposite the handles, and by a very skillful manoeuvre thrusts it into the open jaws of a revolving, stove-like machine. What the intestinal arrangements of this iron-feeding devil may be, I cannot say, but in a single second he spits out the white hot morsel, reduced in size by at least one half. This lump is again rolled, brought once more to a welding heat, and the work is done.
A few yards further on you come to the second Rolling Mill, where all the kinds of large and small iron are made; and attached to this mill is the extensive Spike Factory, four stories high, where rods are fashioned into spikes by three powerful machines, each of which turns them out at the rate of one a second, or about twenty five tons a day; these, falling into the lowest story, are carefully inspected, packed, marked and stored, ready for transportation.
One of the most interesting objects in this part of the building is an enormous punch, whose power is equal to about twenty tons to the square inch. A long iron plate is carefully adjusted; two men stand by the machine - one to govern its movements, which is done with all ease by a simple lever, and the other to bring the plate accurately to the spot where the whole is to be cut. A motion of the handle, and the immense mass rises noiselessly a few inches; another motion, and the hard steel punch quietly, and without the slightest apparent resistance presses out a circular plug, an inch thick and an inch and a quarter in diameter. The plates they were punching when I visited the works are intended for -----, a purpose which will rather astonish some good people when they find it out.
I have not time to take you through the cooper shop, or the brass foundry, or the machine shop, with its powerful hydraulic press for forcing car wheels on their axles, and as indicator to show the exact power required to effect it; or the locomotive, or boiler or blacksmith shops, in the latter of which twenty-five fires are blasting, and a large steam hammer, with innumerable younger brothers, are running a tilt, and making the day hideous with sound. My lyre is tuned to war, and I only sung of that puddling process as an episode nearly connected with the main plot of cannon making. But if you will come into one of the foundry buildings with me, I will show you a sight that will make you open your eyes as wide as LINCOLN will when he sees JOHNSTON and BEAUREGARD riding up to the White House with twice ten thousand rebels at their back, craving pardon for that naughty affair of Bull Run. All through that building were a hundred men and boys are making shot and shell, canister, shrapnel, percussion and others, and leaving the laboratory on your left, where they are cutting and filling fuzes, and strapping spherical cases, and fixing leaden and wooden sabots on all sorts of destructive missiles, pass straight through that door before you, and look around. Those four irregular cylinders sticking up out of the central pit, are the moulds of our eight inch columbiads. Lying by their side, is one in sections, not yet fitted together, which gives you a good idea of their construction; and that big iron stove, with a trough running from it into the pit, is the furnace out of which the molten mass that these moulds will shape into huge cannon runs. If you go into the yard by the side of this foundry, you will get a notion of how cannon look in the rough, and, in the building opposite, you may see the workmen boring out the guns with enormous lathes, and cutting off their honey-combed months, and shaping their ragged cascables, and turning off their trunions, and boring their vents.
Here, too, cannon of all sizes, from 8 inch columbiads to the lightest field pieces, are in process of rifling. The most beautiful of these are the 3 inch field guns, constructed on a new principle, with twelve grooves, and carrying a ten pound shot, invented by Dr. ARCHER. The Washington Artillery, of New Orleans were supplied with these, and the Major commanding told me that he never has seen any thing like their accuracy of fire. At one time, in the battle of the 21st, a section of his battery was very much annoyed by one of the enemy’s guns, and he ordered it be silenced. At the first fire it was struck directly in the axle, and the piece tumbled over into the mud, harmless henceforth, as far as that day’s work was concerned.
My space will not allow me to speak of the brass boat howitzers, and other naval guns which are fashioned in these works. A far as my limits allow, I have tried to give your readers a concise description of the most magnificent establishment, in point of the variety as well as magnitude of its operations, in the broad land. I hazard nothing in affirming that the work turned out from the Tredegar shops will compare favorably with any in the world. It has all the advantages of the best iron, the most consummate skill, and its machinery is driven by water power - the cheapest of all forces at our command. To its enterprising proprietors the South owes a debt of gratitude, which they are now able to appreciate, and which we trust, they will repay by active and liberal patronage in the future.
J. D. B.