From the Richmond Enquirer, October 11, 1861
THE STATE ARMORY. - This valuable establishment, which, from its importance to the cause of Southern independence, may, with more propriety, be termed a national than a State institution, is situated at the foot of 7th street, upon the banks of James river, from whence it draws its abundant supply of water, for the propelling of the machinery required in the manufacture of small arms. The building itself had for many years been used rather for the receptacle than for the manufacture of arms, until shortly after the 'John Brown raid,' when the attention of the people of the State, having been thus called to the threatening aspect of Yankee radicalism and to the wisdom of being prepared for any emergency, the Legislature, in deference to the popular will, appropriated a large sum of money for the establishment of a Virginia State Armory, and shortly afterwards a Board of Commissioners, to whom was entrusted the duty of carrying out the purposes of the Legislature contracted with the proprietors of the Tredegar Works in this city to provide the establishment with all the requisite machinery, tools &c., for the manufacture of 5,000 rifle muskets a year, at a cost of $156,590. Before, however, the Messrs. Anderson could enter fully upon their contract, the National difficulties had culminated in the disruption of the Union, and the enforcement, by the mobs of the North, of a practical embargo upon the exportation of their manufacutures to the South. Under these circumstances, little, if any doubt can be entertained, that but for the timely acquisition of the works at Harpers Ferry, very much of delay and of difficulty would have been encountered before the South could have supplied herself with the required machinery, even for the repairing of disabled muskets, &c. Providence, however, appeared to exert itself upon the side of the patriots, and the same controlling power which subsequently supplied us with necessary cannon from the Gosport Navy Yard, and with powder to render them effective from Fort Norfolk, also secured to as, despite the vindictive spirit of our enemies, the invaluable works of the national armory, at Harpers Ferry. Machinery of the best description, worth in the aggregate upwards of two hundred thousand dollars, and which, under the most favorable circumstances, of ordinary methods of supply, could only have been furnished us after years of delay.
With the abandonment of Harpers Ferry by the Yankees, and the seemingly providential rescue of its costly machinery from the destruction to which our worse than Vandal foe had consigned it, our readers are of course familiar. To Col. H.W. Clowe, at that time a Superintendent at Harpers Ferry, the Southern Confederacy is probably indebted, under Providence, for its present possession of the most valuable portion of the machinery saved from the ruins of the National Armory. Regardless of his own personal safety, and turning a deaf ear to the reports that the buildings had been all mined, Col. Clowe, guided by his intimate knowledge of the situation and relative value of the machinery, rushed into the burning shops, and not only himself saved much which to us was of inestimable value, but inspired others to imitate his patriotic example, and to finally subdue the flames. It is, of course, impossible for us to enumerate, in so hurried and brief a sketch as this is intended to be, the number or specific performances of the machinery which was reached. It will be satisfactory to our readers, however, we are sure, to learn that all the important works were saved, and that our Armory can now turn out as perfect a musket as ever emanated from Harpers Ferry. Made - lock, stock, barrel and mounting - entirely by means of machinery formerly employed by the old Government for the same purpose. We include, in our category of manufactures, the stock; for it may not be generally known that some 20,000 musket and rifle stocks, of the best black walnut, were secured at Harpers Ferry, and are now in this city. The transfer of the machinery from Harpers Ferry to this city, and to Fayetteville, N.C., where a considerable portion of it was conveyed, and where it is now in working order - was performed under proper superintendence; and it is a notable fact, that , notwithstanding the delicate nature of much of the machinery, and the severe tests of fire and water to which it was subjected by foe and friend, no portion of it was materially injured. On the contrary, it was found upon its arrival here to be available, after slight repair, for immediate use.
Among the most valuable of the rescued machinery is a set of five separate pieces, used in cutting upon the stock the grooves for the reception of the lock plates, &c., and which are marvels of mechanical ingenuity and skill. They cost about $27,000 in the aggregate, and were made at the "American Works, Springfield, Massachusetts." A determined, but fortunately fruitless effort was made by the Hessians to destroy these machines. For that purpose they erected beneath them strong fires, which were, however, discovered and extinguished, before they could effect any injury, by George Mauzy, then an employee in the armory, and now engaged, we are pleased in being able to add, at our Armory.
There is no portion of the musket, from the fashioning of the stock out of the rough material to the polishing of its screws and mountings, which is not performed by machinery, and which, though most complicated in their arrangements, yet work with a perfection of movement and completeness of detail absolutely wonderful. Each portion of the gun, being made separately and upon the same model, admits of what is technically called fitting"- the perfect adaptability of any portion of the work to others of more
recent or of anterior make.
The Virginia Armory is divided into the Stocking Department, Machine Shop, Mounting Department, Assembling Room, Locking Department, Polishing Department, Smith Shop and Mill Wright Shop. Describing these in the order of our recent visit to the establishment, we shall first enter the
THE STOCKING DEPARTMENT.
Here the stock is first rudely fashioned, and then nicely turned to its proper form; the work of grooving it for the reception of the barrel, lock plate, breech plate, &c., &c., is performed each by a different piece of machinery, of which there are twelve in all, and the stock is then ready for its mountings. This department is under the direction of John W. Prepps, foreman, and is capable, with its present force, of turning out seventy-five barrels a day, an aggregate which can, however, be largely increased by extra exertion.
MACHINE AND MOUNTING SHOPS.
In this department is manufactured all the ironworks which go to complete the musket except the barrel, which is the special manufacture of a branch department. Here there are in all some thirty or forty pieces of machinery, employed in making trigger, guard and breech plates; butt and mounting screws; guard bow, ramrods, bayonets, tips and bands. The machinery here employed was also brought from Harper Ferry, with the exception of the heavy shaftings, which were furnished by the Tredegar Works. Here may be witnessed some of the most interesting mechanical operations connected with the manufacture of the gun. It may afford some idea of the number of machines, employed in this department alone, to enumerate the number of operations which each portion of the weapon must undergo, and upon separate machines, before it is complete, thus:
The guard bow requires seven, trigger four, guard plate six, breach plate five, ramrods five, and butt screws six. The bayonet is punched by heavy machinery into the required shape, and tipped and finished by several subsequent mechanical operations. Preparations are now being made for the erection of a heavy tilt hammer, especially devoted to the manufacture of this terrible weapon. In this department is a most ingenious and effective machine for punching and trimming several of the mountings - the invention of the accomplished superintendent, Colonel James H. Burton, while master Armorer over the Harper Ferry works.
The foreman of this department is R.H. Butler, who has at present under his control about 584 workmen, and J.B. Myers, who controls about forty mechanics.
A branch of the mounting department, above described, is specially appropriated to the rifling and finishing of gun barrels. Here, also, innumerable pieces of elaborate and powerful machinery are employed. In the rifling of the barrels, four machines, recovered from Harper Ferry, are used. An additional one, purchased in Belgium, is in possession here but is seldom used for that purpose. It gives what is known as the twist to the barrel, but can be so regulated as to reduce the number to the standard required for the Minie gun.
There are now on hand, ready for finishing, about fifteen hundred excellent barrels, the best of some ten thousand rescued from the fire at Harper Ferry; a large number of bayonets obtained from the same source, are also here awaiting the finishing touches.
Immediately adjoining the department, previously mentioned, is a shop where the barrel otherwise finished, is burnished to the highest degree, by six large rotary polishing machines.
THE LOCK DEPARTMENT.
We next come to the Lock Department, where the lock of the musket is made, polished, &c., ready to be adapted at once to the weapon. This is under the direction of foreman Joseph A. Brera.
THE ASSEMBLING ROOM.
Here the stock and all the various component parts of the musket, some fifty in all, are collected, and the gun put together for use. The "of the parts of the muskets is the final operation connected with its manufacture. When completed, the weapon, after being properly tested, is here packed in oblong boxes, 20 in each box, and transferred to the armory, from whence distribution is made. There are now on hand in the "Assembling room," and very nearly ready for delivery, perfect and well finished Minie Guns, together with about 1500 of the old model percussion muskets, saved unimpaired from the Harper Ferry conflagration. Salmon B. Adams, Master Armorer, directs the operations of this important department.
THE SMITH'S SHOP.
A new and extensive Smith Shop has recently been added to the establishment. It is situated at the foot of the high hill, upon which the Armory is built, and within the walls which enclose the entire area of the establishment. The addition is not yet complete, a large force of workmen, being busily engaged under the direction of the foreman of this department Col. H.W. Clowe to whose services is rescuing the machinery from the flames at Harper Ferry we have already referred, in building fine new tilt hammers for forging purposes, cone seating, cutting bayonet stocks, making bands, &c. It is expected that these will all be fully completed in a few weeks, and, added to the four already in operation, will give nine forges and tilt hammers for the manufacture of guns. Connected with the department is a mechanical curiosity, technically termed, the Wind Cock, a substitute for the old fashioned blacksmith bellows, and used for the purpose of supplying the forge fires with draughts of air. The arrangement a very simple one, consists of a huge iron pipe, running laterally beneath the furnaces, through which a strong current of air is constantly forced, by the action of a rotary fan moved by machinery, the blast being let into the furnace by simply turning a cock conveniently placed.
THE MILLWRIGHT SHOP.
In the same building and connected in its operations with the smithy, is the Millwright Shop, also under the direction of Col. Clowe. The sole business of this department, is in the construction of the huge oak frame work connected with the tilt hammers, and in the construction of other frame work necessary in the mechanical operations of the establishment.
The operations of the Armory have, under the supervision of its capable Superintendent, Col. Burton, and his assistants, been marked with most commendable energy. In proof of this gratifying fact, we have but to mention that though the tearing down of the machinery recovered at Harper Ferry was not begun until April 19th, and its conveyance to the city was not completed for several weeks subsequent to that date, yet, in a few short months which have since elapsed, the armory has been put in complete working order, and a system of active operations inaugurated which will enable the establishment to furnish henceforward to the Confederacy not less than 1,000 improved muskets each month. At present about 200 persons, in all, are employed in the establishment, of whom between thirty and thirty-five were formerly connected with the National Armory at Harper Ferry, and have thus been qualified to render most valuable service in the organization of our SOUTHERN CONFEDERATE ARMY.