Brown's Mill Lecture: Crescent of industry brought Union troops to Newnan
By W. WINSTON SKINNER
The McCook-Stoneman Raid – legendary among local Civil War enthusiasts – was centered around industries that were supporting the Confederate war effort.
That was the central message that David Stieghan, U.S. Army Infantry branch historian at Ft. Benning, brought at the first in a series of summer lectures. The “Coweta and the Confederacy” lecture series is sponsored by the Brown’s Mill Battlefield Association.
The McCook-Stoneman Raid brought Union and Confederate soldiers to Newnan in July 1864. The Battle of Brown’s Mill, fought just south of the city, was a Confederate victory.
Stieghan said the raid was part of an effort by Union troops to destroy factories supplying the Southern war effort which was met by Confederate forces seeking to preserve and protect those industries.
Stieghan, a former U.S. Army captain, has taught history and museum and park management. He also has served as a technical adviser for motion pictures and appeared in two television miniseries, “Rough Riders “ and “Truman.”
The Pine Mountain resident outlined the general story of the McCook-Stone Raid which involved skirmishes on “both sides around Atlanta” with the Union goal being to “destroy the railroad.”
Trains were revolutionizing the conduct of war. “The internal combustion engine did wonderul things for armies in those days,” Stieghan said, enabling governments to get supplies from distant points to troops and cities.
Stieghan said there was a series of factories and depots “in a ring outside Atlanta” and said “the central Georgia industrial complex” was able to supply the Confederate army up to Murfreesboro, Tenn. until Atlanta fell.
A slide show accented Stieghan’s remarks. One slide was of a Union map. The scholar first pointed out the errors and omissions – West Point is shown 35 miles from its actual location on the Chattahoochee and Newnan is not on the map at all.
Stieghan then noted writing indicating the 125-mile distance from Atlanta to Andersonville, where Union prisoners were held. “One of the longrange goals of these two raids” was to liberate Andersonville, he said.
In addition to Andersonville, there was also Camp Oglethorpe, a Union officer camp near Macon. “About the time of the Battle of Brown’s Mill, there were about 1,200” held there, and Maj. Gen. George Stoneman hoped “to liberate these Union officers,” Stieghan said.
The rise of the railroads and of weapons that could fire multiple times meant cavalry was not as important as in the past. The railroads also made war a yearround activity.
Trains could transport troops, ammo, gear and supplies “throughout the year – not just in the summer,” Stieghan said.
The development of the Colt revolver in the 1850s led to the quip: “God didn’t make men equal. Col. Colt did.”
The manufacture of “a revolver that fired five or six rounds” turned old ideas about warfare to dust. “It did not make any sense to bring a sword to a gunfight.”
The new guns could fire multiple times and could sometimes be reloaded by a soldier on horseback.
Repeating rifles also were part of the transformation. A rifleman could not fire many times “without having to reload.” By the time the conflict ended, 90 percent of Union soldiers were armed with carbines.
A CSA Army soldier – however skilled – was at a disadvantage if he had a musket in his hand.
As the war progressed, the Union soldier was increasingly in a superior position – better paid, fed, clothed and armed. “It didn’t matter if you were born in the saddle if you didn’t have a saddle to sit on,” Stieghan said.
Stieghan showed a photograph of one of Sherman’s bowties, a pair of railroad pieces that had been heated and then bent. Railroads then ran on rails that weighed a third of what they weigh today.
“It was not as difficult to set the ties on fire, set the rails on top,” heat them and twist them, Stieghan explained.
Gen. William T. Sherman and his troops set out to disrupt the railroads and to destroy factories and supply lines relating to “a crescent of sites in the deep South,” according to Stieghan.
The crescent ran from Selma, Montgomery and Tallassee in Alabama to West Point, Macon, Atlanta and Augusta in Georgia.
Border towns like West Point and Columbus had a particular fragility. Railroads ran on different gauge tracks in Alabama and Georgia. Supplies had to be unloaded from boxcars and often warehoused before being shipped again.
There were “lots of warehouses” in West Point, and they made tempting targets for Union troops.
The Selma Naval Ordnance Works was a major cannon manufacturer. Montgomery was mostly an arsenal, a place to repair guns. “There weren’t a lot of manufacturers there,” Stieghan said.
A Tallasee company had been making denim cloth since the 1840s. The cloth factory was retrofitted to make carbines during the war. Union troops never got to the factory, and it continued to make jeans until a few years ago.
After 1862, Columbus was the South’s largest industrial center with the exception of the Confederate capital of Richmond, Va.
As Union troops intruded into Southern territory, factories moved southward. “They had to shift around some of their existing machinery, factories and workers. Much of it began to consolidate in Columbus starting in 1862,” Stieghan stated.
“They were making steam engines in Columbus before the Civil War began,” he noted. The city’s reputation and experience as an industrial center made it vital to the Confederacy as the war progressed.
Stieghan noted that while most “rural areas and small towns” in the South had a blacksmith or two, experienced industrial workers were rare. In Columbus and Macon, however, “you had people who were used to working in factories making heavy duty goods.”
The Columbus Iron Works was leased by the Confederate Navy to make ships and parts. Columbus factories made cannonballs for the cannons manufactured in Selma.
In Columbus, “they also built torpedos,” Stieghan said, explaining “torpedo is the period term for a mine.”
Those mines proved to be “the most effective means of sinking Union vessels,” he said. Far more ships were sunk using mines than by attacks from Confederate troops.
Stieghan also said 15-20 million rounds of small arms were produced in Columbus – mostly by women, small boys and slaves. Those rounds were wrapped in paper in a process similar to manufacturing cigars.
Stieghan talked about two brothers had tin shop in Columbus where they made large knives and swords. At one point, they were the Confederacy’s biggest source of bayonets.
They later “switched over to making copies of Colt revolvers,” he said.
Between 80-100 bronze artillery tubes were made at three different foundries at Columbus. “You can find them on many of the Civil War battlefields – including Gettysburg,” Stieghan said.
Wooden boxes were also made – each to hold 1,000 rounds of musket or rifle ammunition. The boxes were needed to make sure ammo “shipped to the front” could be “kept dry,” he said.
Stieghan said other items – wool flannel bags and shoes, among them – were also needed by the CSA troops. Some of the shoes were made with wooden soles for longevity.
The largest shoe factory in the Confederacy was in Columbus.
“Wooden and tin canteens,” cups and frying pans were also needed “so soldiers could cook in the field,” Stieghan said. Knives, belts, saddles, harnesses and spurs were needed.
Each soldier also needed a haversack, which the speaker described as “a bag they would carry their rations or food in.”
Some items were made of cloth painted with enamel – an effort to make fabric waterproof in the days before rubber and plastics.
There also were goods made from layers of cotton fabric, painted to look like leather as hides became hard to obtain.
Macon was located at the terminus of two railroad lines. “The official Confederate armory was located there,” Stieghan said.
James Burton, superintendent of armories, had formerly been military storekeeper at Harpers Ferry and had worked for gun manufacturer Enfield in England for a couple of years.
Machinery for manufacturing guns was “being shipped through the blockade,” Stieghan said, but was stuck in the Bahamas at war’s end.
Macon’s armory “was meant to make weapons from scratch.” While that never happened, more than 100 artillery pieces were manufactured in Macon.
“Macon did a lot of stuff Columbus did – but on a smaller scale. Macon was the place to bring things in from the blockade and get them out to the Army of Tenneessee,” Stieghan told the crowd of about 90 at the Coweta County Fairgrounds.
A pistol factory moved to Macon during the war, making “a copy of the Whitney revolver.” Griswold and Gunnison at Griswoldville – near Macon – produced 3,700 revolvers between 1863-1864.
There were “almost as many pistols (made) in this little factory in rural Georgia” as in all others in the Confederacy. “These revolvers look almost exactly like a Colt Navy model,” Stieghan said, but were made from brass rather than iron.
Stieghan also talked about the Georgia State Arsenal at Milledgeville, which was then the capital. “The state penitentiary was there, which meant they had free labor.”
The prison was turned into a foundry to manufacture pikes.The prison foundry was burned “by Sherman’s horsemen in 1864,” Stieghan said.
At one point, the arsenal manufactured rifles. Older weapons were often sent there for repair and then distributed to the state guard or to prison guards at Andersonville.
Stieghan also talked about Dixon, Nelson and Company in the south Georgia town of Dawson. The company moved several times during the warm, making carbines.
Dawson was “its fifth location” during the war, and the factory operated there during the last two years of the conflict.
The Augusta Powder Works “made some of the finest black powder in the entire universe,” Stieghan noted.
Stieghan said information on boxes – which littered battlefields – often provided clues for Union troops about the location of factories and warehouses.
When Atlanta fell, Sherman emptied the town. He did not intend to assign a provost to keep order or to take responsibility for feeding those left behind.
“What you have is refugees – hundreds of thousands of people choking the roads,” Stieghan said.
“Atlanta could only be held” by the South “if it had the proper supplies,” he said. Without food, weapons and – most importantly – reinforcements, the vital city fell.
Examining why the South lost the war, Stieghan observed, “It was entirely an economic issue.”
At a Glance
The Brown’s Mill Battlefield Association is continuing its July lecture series with an informational talk each Sunday.
The theme for the series is “Coweta and the Confederacy.” Upcoming topics are:
• “Life in Newnan/ Coweta County, 1862,” Coweta County Fairgrounds, Sunday, 2 p.m. Presented by members of the BMBA board.
• “The History of Railroads in Georgia and the Great Locomotive Chase,” meeting room, Carnegie Library, July 22, 2 p.m. Presented by Tom Redwine and Lisa Hall.
• “Using Smart Technology to Enhance the Battlefield Tour Experience,” Coweta County Fairgrounds, July 29, 3 p.m. Presented by Bill Bryant and Mike Staples.
The July 29 event will follow the annual BMBA barbecue. Barbecue tickets will be $12 each and are available at the lectures and from the Coweta Visitors Center.