Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bragg, Blaker, Ross, Jacobe & Savas: "NEVER FOR WANT OF POWDER: The Confederate Powder Works in Augusta, Georgia"

[Never for Want of Powder: The Confederate Powder Works in Augusta, Georgia by C. L. Bragg, Gordon A. Blaker, Charles D. Ross, Stephanie A. T. Jacobe, and Theodore P. Savas (University of South Carolina Press, 2007). 14.3 x 10.8 Cloth, 74 color and 50 b&w illus., appendices, notes, bibliography, index. 336 pages. ISBN:978-1-57003-657-6 $44.95]

It's a fairly common refrain that Confederate armies, ill clothed, equipped, and armed as their soldiers may have been at times, never lost a battle because of a lack of ammunition. Nowhere have the reasons behind this been so well presented as in Never for Want of Powder: The Confederate Powder Works in Augusta, Georgia, a truly remarkable recent book from contributors C. L. Bragg, Gordon A. Blaker, Charles D. Ross, Stephanie A. T. Jacobe, and Theodore P. Savas.

George Washington Rains is the individual most readers will associate with the Augusta facilities, and his role in its management and construction is well outlined in the book. A capsule biography of the man is provided, as well. The study then moves on with an incredibly detailed, yet very readable, four-part technical discussion of the process of powder production, from refining, mixing, and finishing the various types of powder all the way through quality control and testing. Another chapter is devoted to the next step of incorporating the powder into fixed ammunition. Like many other parts of the book, this section is supported with numerous data tables showing various inventories and production levels by month.

The specialists that designed and worked in the powder works and arsenal are also given their due. Engineer C. Shaler Smith and storekeeper Major I.P. Girardey are featured, as well as a host of other engineers, architects, and mechanics. Obviously, this complex would become a target once Union armies penetrated deep within the Confederacy, and the plant employees would go on to help defend Augusta in 1864 during Sherman's March through Georgia.

This impressive compilation concludes with a short post-war history of the works and the later lives of the major figures involved. Each chapter written by these co-authors is well integrated with the rest. The result is a very cohesive cooperative effort, with very little in the way of content overlap. Four appendices provide further manufacturing information and reports.

Although, at nearly 11 x 14 inches, one may complain of the sheer unwieldiness of this bulky and heavy tome [a table is needed to comfortably read it], but a glance at the wonderful full color architectural plates (74 in number) that grace its pages might tell the story. Often, such intricate technical drawings are so reduced in size for publication that labels and vital drawing details are lost. There is little chance of that happening here.

Never for Want of Powder is truly publishing in the grand old style, an exemplar of material and content excellence. The co-authors and University of South Carolina Press are to be congratulated, for the high aspirations of the former and the latter's commitment to seeing them through to fulfillment. More than reasonably priced, anyone seriously interested in Confederate military industry and logistical requirements needs to own a copy of this landmark study.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for mentioning this book, Drew. It was a fun project to work on, and one I have been laboring over for about 20 years now (researching Rains for a biography that routinely gets sidetracked for other projects).

    The co-authors were marvelous to work with (Chip Bragg took the lead in putting this together), and U of SC Press produced an outstanding quality volume priced attractively (with the generous financial assistance of a private donor making that possible).

    Unfortunately, these sorts of books are routinely overlooked by most Civil War students. That is a shame, because a full appreciation of what Rains accomplished in Augusta allow us to see the war through a completely different lens. The information I have in my file cabinets at home on Rains and the Works, for example, allows one to judge Sherman's Georgia campaign and March to the Sea in an entirely different way.

    (The only thing I would take minor exception with in your review is the labeling of one of my 2.5 contributions to the book as a "capsule biography." I don't have my copy handy, but I think that piece is several thousand words long and copiously footnoted; I don't want anyone to think "capsule" means three or four paragraphs.)

    Thanks again and keep up the good work.



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