Sunday, September 4, 2011

Unsung Heroes

Have you wondered about the men who supplied Confederate soldiers in the trans-Mississippi? It seems that so often we focus on the combat leaders, but weren't the men who worked behind the scenes to get weapons, ammunition, clothing, and food to the soldiers just as important? Have you ever heard of Major William Haynes, Marshall McDonald, Major Joseph H. Minter, or Henry F. Springer? All of these men played an important role in securing or transporting supplies to trans-Mississippi Confederates. These men and many others (including a few rogues) are discussed in C. L. Webster III's book, EntrepĂ´t: Government Imports into the Confederate States (Roseville, MN: Edinborough Press, 2010) which has a lengthy section devoted to the trans-Mississippi. Webster's focus is on imports rather than on home manufacturing, but he points out that in spite of incomplete records, enough evidence survives to show that the trans-Mississippi Confederacy was the fortunate recipient of Enfield rifles, knapsacks, cloth, ready made uniforms and other items from Great Britain. Points of entry included Matamoros, Mexico; Galveston; Sabine Pass; and even some shipments from the cis-Mississippi after the fall of Vicksburg. One of his most fascinating accounts involves a huge shipment of cloth from England that was supposed to be sent to the eastern Confederacy; instead it was landed near Matamoros in June 1862. The cloth made its way by wagon train through Texas and Louisiana, where it was distributed to various depots, and then a large portion of this valuable shipment made its way to Thomas C. Hindman's army in Arkansas. The timing of the shipment was fortunate as Hindman was in the process of rebuilding the Confederate army and needed all of the cloth and other supplies that he could get his hands on.

Webster is careful to note that "It is difficult to draw any resounding conclusions with respect to imports into the Trans-Mississippi. There were simply too many points of entry and too few comprehensive surviving records to provide anything approaching a complete picture" (p. 232). However, he demonstrates through primary documents and artifact discoveries that the Confederate army that smashed into Major General Nathaniel P. Banks' army at Mansfield, Louisiana, on 8 April 1864, was well armed and probably well clothed--mostly as a result of British imports. Remnants of hardware from English manufactured knapsacks have been unearthed near the Mansfield battlefield and on the road between Mansfield and Pleasant Hill. Webster concludes "Whatever the source or date of issue, the presence of so large a number of British knapsacks on two late-war battlefields [Mansfield and Pleasant Hill] in the Trans-Mississippi is reflective of the convoluted and occasionally mysterious manner in which the Department's supply system worked. Buried in the Louisiana soil, these humble pieces of foreign-made hardware bear mute testament to the perseverance of government agents who overcame incredible obstacles in the effort to clothe and equip the armies of the Confederacy's most remote Department" (p. 236).


  1. Interesting that some shipments came across the Mississippi after Vicksburg fell. I was under the impression that only small boats with a few men bearing important messages could sneak across.

  2. Interesting isn't it? Webster states that Henry F. Springer was apparently able to convey stores worth several million dollars across the Mississippi after the fall of Vicksburg. His work, though, came to an end when he was captured in October 1864. Before then, though, he managed to ferry across wagon loads of weapons, ordnance stores as well as "mail, official correspondence, and large amounts of specie intended for Kirby Smith's bureaus" (p. 195). Webster documents shipments from the cis-Mississippi by some other people, but Springer was the most successful.