SUPPLIERS TO THE CONFEDERACY: BRITISH ARMS AND ACCOUTREMENTS
By Craig L Barry & David Burt
Schiffer Publishing (2013), 192 pp.
There are specialty books on just about every aspect of foreign and domestic American Civil War materiel, including rifle-muskets and rifles, handguns, swords, uniforms, ammunition and accoutrements. Few studies however, deal with a variety of imported military goods manufactured in a particular country. Craig L Barry and David Burt's Suppliers to the Confederacy sets out to do just that. In a detailed account drawn from primary and secondary sources and accompanied by a large number of period and modern photographs, this handsome volume tells the story of arms and equipage the Southern states purchased in Great Britain during the war.
Most who are familiar with the nuts and bolts of Civil War logistics are aware that both sides depended on imported war materiel. The Union's need for overseas supplies declined as the North's considerable manufacturing base shifted to military production. The Confederacy's lack of a serious pre-war industrial foundation led to a dependence on foreign goods, primarily from Great Britain, that endured into 1865. Photographs of dead Rebel soldiers at Petersburg reveal recently imported uniforms made in Ireland.
Many are aware that British made P53 Enfield rifle-muskets were used in great numbers on both sides, particularly by the Confederacy. The South also imported a significant amount of other equipment from Britain that Suppliers to the Confederacy attempts to correctly identify. One whole chapter deals with leather goods including cap boxes or pouches of various style. Although it is not a popular item, there was apparently some Rebel use of the British ball bag which held ten cartridges ready for action while the rest of a soldiers ammunition supply (50-60 rounds) was held in reserve in his cartridge box.
Barry and Burt also describe and provide images of a variety of knapsacks, mess tins and other articles while attributing them to specific contractors and brokers. These include the well known S. Isaac Campbell & Co who sold them to Confederate agents as well as the subcontractors often responsible for actually producing the goods. There is a similar but more complex contractor business and production model in place for suppliers of the P53 Enfield pattern arms, most of which originated in Birmingham. Barry and Burt discuss both London and Birmingham gunmakers and explain the labyrinthine structure of the Birmingham trade. They provide details on some of the major manufacturers and describe a system in which producers of parts from barrels down to small components like screws and washers from which an official maker assembled a gun.
In the early 1860s Birmingham's traditional compartmentalized firearms production reached its apogee and fortunes were made on the war across the Atlantic by major manufacturers, their subcontractors and skilled labor. Prosperity would not outlast the conflict, however as the "American system" with one factory producing a gun with completely interchangeable parts, replaced the old system. An extended and detailed discussion of small arms, the most important military products supplied by Britain to the Confederacy, appropriately takes up much of the book. One interesting sidelight is the explanation of the contemporary description of "browning" as a firearms finish.
Barry and Burt also provide a rare, but fascinating and valuable look into the Birmingham system of manufacture's social implications by reprinting excerpts from an inspection report by the "Parliamentary Commission on Children's Labour" that visited the R&W Aston factory in 1864. Aston supplied ramrods, barrel bands, lock assemblies, bayonets, tompions, triggers and screws to major arms makers. The commission found young boys and girls working in the company's factory. Most of them were functionally illiterate. One 11 year old William Morris worked "regular hours...from 6 am to 7 pm but sometimes until 8 or 9" for six pence per week, which he turned over to his mother. Morris reported that "the work here is very hot and wets my shirt." The report noted that "he can spell some words and goes to school on Sunday." Some of the children did not even know who Queen Victoria was. So much for the good old days!
Other English imports covered by Barry and Burt include slings, bayonets, snapcaps and revolvers. They also discuss Confederate copies of British products. There are valuable appendices that include information on specific Confederate units' British-made equipment, blockade runners, numbers of Enfields actually imported and other relevant subjects. Much, although certainly not all, of the material in Suppliers to the Confederacy has been published here and there over the years but Barry and Burt have collected it all together in one place. Then they added new information and reinterpreted the overall story---complete with detailed footnotes and great illustrations.
If you are a student of materiel used or imported during the Civil War, you will want to add this volume to your library.
Joseph Bilby, Civil War News July 2013