Civil War Arsenals

The second state to secede from the Union, Mississippi began the Civil War lacking in the industrial capacity needed to outfit a modern military force. The largest and perhaps best-known arsenal was the Confederate Briarfield Arsenal in Columbus. Other minor works and depots were located in Vicksburg, Corinth, and Tupelo.

Columbus was an important junction of the Mobile and Ohio Railroad. The building that housed the Briarfield Arsenal was described in 1865 as a brick building some “300-feet long with two wings forming three sides of a square.” Lt. Col. William R. Hunt of the Confederate Niter and Mining Corps, a Memphis native, commanded the ordnance operation, which employed more than one thousand workers between the summer of 1861 and December 1862. An 1862 Ordnance Department memo listed Columbus as fourth in the Confederacy in the production of small-arms ammunition (behind only Richmond, Virginia; Augusta, Georgia; and Atlanta). The site received some seven thousand pounds of powder from the Atlanta Powder Works. In addition to ammunition, the arsenal produced bronze six-pounder cannons. German master Jacob Faser set up shop at the arsenal and made several custom swords for general officers along with a set of dueling pistols for Pres. Jefferson Davis.

After the April 1862 Battle of Shiloh roughly five thousand damaged muskets were sent to the arsenal for repair by a staff of fifty gunsmiths gathered from throughout the region. The manufacturing works of Leech and Rigdon of Memphis fled that city in the summer of 1862 and set up a factory across the street from the Briarfield Arsenal. The company produced iron-framed .36 caliber Colt pattern 1851 Navy revolvers along with a number of cavalry sabers and knives.

Confederate general Braxton Bragg declared in 1862 that the arsenal contained “machinery and stores we cannot replace; so that its loss would be great and irreparable.” When Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton was forced to abandon his lines in North Mississippi and fall back on Vicksburg and Jackson in November 1862, he petitioned Gen. Joseph E. Johnson for permission to move the Briarfield Arsenal away from advancing Union armies, and the machinery was moved to Selma, Alabama. There, the works remained in operation until destruction by Union lieutenant general James H. Wilson’s cavalry on 6 April 1865. The Union Army captured the Columbus Arsenal buildings and used them for storage. Arson was suspected in a 1 December 1865 fire that destroyed about four thousand bales of cotton.

The strategic river fortification of Vicksburg had two cannon foundries in operation during the first half of the Civil War. The most prolific was A. B. Reading and Brother, which produced at least six bronze three-inch rifles, two twelve-pounders, and thirty-five six-pounder guns between 1861–63. Vicksburg rival A. M. Paxton produced at least fourteen Federal model 1841 bronze six-pounder guns for the Confederacy in his own works. The town’s siege and eventual fall to Grant on 4 July 1863 closed both works.

Several other temporary depots operated in Mississippi during the Civil War, but none is known to have produced weapons or equipment; rather, they served as collection and distribution points. During the summer of 1862, eighty-seven hundred pounds of gunpowder from the Atlanta Powder Works were stockpiled in Tupelo, and a similar shipment of small-arms ammunition was collected in Corinth. With the evacuation of North Mississippi, these supplies were moved to prevent them from falling into Union hands.

Further Reading

  • Michael B. Ballard, Vicksburg: The Campaign That Opened the Mississippi (2002)
  • Patti Carr Black, Art in Mississippi, 1720–1980 (1998)
  • C. L. Bragg, Never for Want of Powder: The Confederate Powder Works in Augusta, Georgia (2007)
  • James C. Hazlett, Field Artillery Weapons of the Civil War (2004)

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Civil War Arsenals
  • Author
  • Keywords civil war, arsenals
  • Website Name Mississippi Encyclopedia
  • URL
  • Access Date April 7, 2020
  • Publisher Center for Study of Southern Culture
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update January 31, 2018