Lessons from the Crimean War: The Augusta Arsenal

Lessons from the Crimean War: The Augusta Arsenal

In 1853 a conflict began that, for the first time since the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, pitted most of the great powers of Europe against each other. What initially started as a conflict between the Russian and Ottoman empires quickly escalated to involve the western European maritime powers, Great Britain and France. New technology altered the fighting and forced adjustments to medical care.[1] While military planners quickly forgot most lessons of this Crimean War, turning the conflict into one of the century’s forgotten wars, the struggle had a profound impact on the Civil War. The architectural style and building plan of the Confederate Arsenal at Augusta, Georgia, illustrates a strong resemblance to the new Austrian Arsenal in Vienna, and in the absence of explicit written statement by Confederate authorities, this architectural transnational comparison highlights how Jefferson Davis’s government learned from recent European military experiments to ensure the Confederacy’s survival.[2]

Watercolor by Rudolf Alt of the Museum at the Vienna Arsenal in 1856. Courtesy of the Austrian Military Museum.

Initially, the new military achievements were supposed to benefit the United States. The U.S. government under Franklin Pierce determined to learn from the European conflict by sending officers to observe and report advances in military technology. On April 3, 1855, Major Richard Delafield, commander of New York City’s harbor defenses, received orders to head to Washington and report to Secretary of War Jefferson Davis. Besides Delafield, the same telegraphic order went to Captain George B. McClellan and Major Alfred Mordecai. Secretary Davis instructed the three men to visit Europe and report on the newest European military developments, including but not limited to uniforms, arms, fortifications, and transportation infrastructure.[3] The three men brought back valuable but frequently ignored information, published in voluminous reports over the next few years.

Blueprint of the arsenal from Richard Delafield, Report on the Art of War in Europe in 1854, 1855, and 1856 (Washington: G.W. Bowman, 1860).

Delafield had orders to inspect European production facilities for weaponry and report on new weapons technology, fortifications, bunkers, and others military advances. Much of his report and information came from the new Vienna arsenal. Besides talking about new cast iron technology and weapons, Delafield focused on the new arsenal building in Vienna. He commented that “no arsenal in Europe will compare with it in extent; none in which there is more unity of design.” He lauded the arsenal, calling it “perfect in all respects.”[4] The report included a detailed blueprint of the new arsenal and detailed descriptions, especially of the military and weapons museum:

Nearest to and parallel with the front is a richly ornamented two-story building of 130 by 30 toises (1 toise is about 1.9m), with projecting wings and center for a museum of ancient armor, arms, trophies, &c., &c., illustrative of the history of this branch of the art of war, with extensive arm racks as a store house for the small arms now being manufactured.[5]

In addition to the detailed report of the structures, Delafield noted that the arsenal could produce about “2,400 stand of arms per week.” He concluded in his report that construction commenced in 1851 and finished in 1856. “The cost is said to have been 7,900,000 florins, including 180,000 florins, the cost of the ground, containing 107 yokes of 1,600 square toises each. . . . The museum is calculated to hold in its wrought-iron racks 211,968 muskets.”[6] While the brief section on the architectural design of the Vienna Arsenal may seem of little importance, Secretary Davis seems to have remembered.

In September 1861, Confederate Chief of Ordnance, Josiah Gorgas, ordered the creation of a new arsenal at Augusta for both the manufacture of weapons and ammunition. Confederate authorities completed construction in early 1862. With the powder works and material in place, the facility was producing a large amount of materiel for the Confederate war effort between 1863 and 1865. The arsenal became a major producer of Confederate ammunition.[7]

Central Avenue, U.S. Arsenal, Augusta, Georgia. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The workshop building at the Augusta Arsenal bears strong resemblance to the Museum of Arms at the Vienna Arsenal. While the Augusta facility was only one story, except for the central and two outer wings, and far less ornate than the Vienna structure, the blueprint of the two buildings was remarkably similar. Unfortunately, available sources do not indicate whether Davis or the Confederate authorities directly relied on the Vienna Arsenal report in the construction of the site in Augusta. However, an architectural comparison indicates the strong similarity between the two sites. The builders in Augusta likely had some knowledge of the Vienna arsenal. This architectural comparison offers another avenue to explore transnational relations and exchanges during the mid-nineteenth century. Finally, despite the often-perceived agrarian and backward status of the Confederacy, the correlation between the two arsenals illustrates that the Confederacy paid attention to international, military achievements to use in their own struggle for survival.

The Crimean War signaled the arrival of modern warfare and offered keen observers an opportunity to learn important lessons.[8] Equipping an army with new weapons required new technology, which in turn required modern production facilities such as the Arsenal in Vienna. It is likely that the Confederacy used material from the Crimean War reports when constructing the Arsenal at Augusta and thus learned important lessons about modern military production facilities. In general, military planners did not embrace the lessons of the Crimean War, but the Augusta Arsenal is a refreshing reminder that transnational lessons were learned.

 

[1] Niels Eichhorn, “A Transnational View of Medicine and Medical Practices During the Civil War,” Muster (blog), The Journal of the Civil War Era, November 13, 2018, https://www.journalofthecivilwarera.org/2018/11/a-transnational-view-of-medicine-and-medical-practices-during-the-civil-war/.

[2] I want to thank Park Historian James “Jim” Ogden at the Chattanooga and Chickamauga National Military Park, who in his many public talks made me aware of the possible transnational comparison between the Augusta and Vienna arsenals.

[3] Richard Delafield, Report on the Art of War in Europe in 1854, 1855, and 1856 (Washington: G.W. Bowman, 1860), xiii-xiv. Also see George B. McClellan, Report of Captain George B. McClellan One of the Officers sent to the Seat of War in Europe in 1855 and 1856 (Washington, DC: A. O. P. Nicholson, 1857); Alfred Mordecai, Military Commission to Europe, in 1855 and 1856 (Washington, DC: George W. Bowman, 1860).

[4] Delafield, Report on the Art of War, 261.

[5] Ibid., 261.

[6] Ibid., 262, 264.

[7] Gordon A. Blaker, “From Powder to Projectile: The Production of Ammunition in Augusta,” in Never for Want of Powder: The Confederate Powder Works in Augusta, Georgia, ed. C. L. Bragg, et al. (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2007), 132-156.

[8] Reid Holden, The Civil War and the Wars of the Nineteenth Century (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Books, 2006).

Niels Eichhorn

Niels Eichhorn is an assistant professor of history at Middle Georgia State University. He holds a Ph.D. in History from the University of Arkansas. His first book, Separatism and the Language of Slavery: A Study of 1830 and 1848 Political Refugees and the American Civil War, is under contract with LSU Press. He has published articles on Civil War diplomacy in Civil War History and American Nineteenth Century History.

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