Despite the boast "We can lick’em with cornstalks," the Confederacy needed modern weapons to wage a modern war. In 1861, the largely agrarian South was not prepared for the mass production of weapons needed to arm the growing numbers of soldiers enlisted in the army. Josiah Gorgas was appointed Chief of the Army Ordnance Department, and according to Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, "He [Gorgas] created the Ordnance Dept. out of nothing." United States armories and arsenals in the South were seized, and state military storehouses were opened. However, only the Richmond Arsenal was equipped to manufacture small arms, so the Ordnance Department worked to establish the government armories as centers for arms production with machinery captured from Harper’s Ferry and imported from Europe. In the meantime, they turned to the private sector to fill the gap. With cash grants and loans to set up factories, the government encouraged private enterprise with the guarantee that they would make a profit on any government contract for weapons. 


In Our Vaults

The Museum’s military collection includes a small but important collection of firearms, including the personal side arms of Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart, P.G.T. Beauregard, John Hunt Morgan, and many other notables.

Besides U.S. and European weapons pressed into service, the collection contains examples of southern manufactured firearms such as Leech & Rigdon and Griswold & Gunnison revolvers, Robinson “Sharps” carbine, and rifled muskets from the Richmond and Fayetteville armories. Unique weapons include a breech-loading carbine manufactured by George W. Morse’s firm in Atlanta, Georgia, and a Richmond-made sharpshooter’s rifle used by J.W. Davies, who raised a company of sharpshooters for special service on the James River.