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Chapter V:

U.S. Arsenals. By the end of 1860, the United States had 13 arsenals, two armories, and one depot for manufacturing and housing ordnance and ordnance stores. [1] At that time, the United States had a small regular army, and it did not have large stores of arms and munitions. Also, the size of the arsenals was comparatively small. When the Civil War began, the war department was confronted with a problem. Prior to the war, the ordnance department had been responsible for the fabrication and testing of ordnance required by a small regular army. With the onset of war, that same department had to furnish weapons and munitions for military operations on an unprecedented scale. [2]

During the first part of the war, the army had started contracting out the manufacture of arms and munitions because it was cheaper and faster to do so. Also, the army became more lenient with its interpretation of rules governing the manufacture and acceptance of arms. Earlier, arms with small blemishes were rejected. Because the need for great production was so high, the arsenals began accepting some of those minor flaws as long as the calibers were standard enough to accept government ammunition and the arms were stout in construction. [3]

By 1863, the chief of ordnance in Washington had begun expanding his arsenals because he saw how it was impossible to depend on private manufacturers of materiel. The manufacturers could not control labor and raw material costs, and could not keep as much stuff on hand as the federal government needed, so the chief of ordnance expanded the number of arsenals to include those at Watertown, Massachusetts; Watervliet, New York; Allegheny, Pennsylvania; St. Louis, Missouri; Washington, D.C.; and Benecia, California. [4]

Officers who commanded arsenals and armories had major responsibilities including the control of large amounts of federal funds, and the supervision of all types of mechanics and craftsmen. The ordnance department had both commissioned and enlisted men in its service, and included a great number of civilian employees.

Despite a rough start at the beginning of the Civil War, the amount of munitions that arsenals produced increased dramatically, and the quality of the articles that they made was highly praised. The quality of ordnance surpassed anything that had been used up to that point by the armies of the world. [5] By the end of the Civil War, the ordnance department began the task of repairing, cleaning, storing, and preserving all of the materiel that it had accumulated during the Civil War. [6]

Fort Union Arsenal. Fort Union Arsenal did not start out as a separate military installation in a physical sense. Instead, it was incorporated into the physical plant of Fort Union for its first years. In an administrative sense, however, the ordnance depot (arsenal) was a separate military facility in that its chief reported directly to the chief of ordnance in Washington, D.C. In March, 1851, the army had made an application to Congress for an appropriation to build an arsenal in New Mexico. The chief ordnance officer for the Department of New Mexico, the man assigned the task of erecting an arsenal in New Mexico was William Rawle Shoemaker.

Shoemaker was born on October 11, 1809 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was the civilian military storekeeper at the U.S. Arsenal at Fort Armstrong (Rock Island), Illinois from 1836 until 1841. He received a civil appointment to the U.S. Army on August 3, 1841, and he transferred to St. Louis Arsenal. There, he was in charge of casting the shells and manufacturing ammunition for use in the Mexican War. In the spring of 1848, he transferred to Leavenworth, Kansas. Slightly more than a year later, he joined the expedition of Lt. Col. John Monroe to Santa Fe. He, his wife, and seven children arrived in Santa Fe on September 15, 1849.

By the time that Shoemaker arrived in New Mexico, he had thirteen years of military experience under his belt, and he was just shy of forty years of age. His position as military storekeeper for the Department of New Mexico was one of considerable responsibility that entailed among other tasks choosing the site for the new arsenal in New Mexico. Although the ordnance department in Washington had considered locating an arsenal in Santa Fe, Shoemaker recommended against that for several reasons. First, he noted that the land in the vicinity was extremely barren and that the small Santa Fe River could barely supply the water the town needed. Also, he noted that "Santa Fe is probably the worst place on the continent to keep enlisted men in, temptation of every kind is so great, and access to vice so easy that anything like good discipline or order in a detachment stationed here is out of the question. Besides the great insecurity, and the prejudices common to citizens against soldiers in their midst has to be encountered and not without its effect as we have frequent evidence." Instead of Santa Fe, Shoemaker recommended that the arsenal be constructed in Albuquerque or somewhere else along the Rio Grand del Norte. [7] His concerns about Santa Fe were identical to those that Sumner expressed before he moved the troops to Fort Union.

William Rawle Shoemaker
Figure 10. William Rawle Shoemaker in 1859. Shoemaker was appointed Ordnance Storekeeper, Ordnance Department on August 3, 1841, and then appointed Captain and Ordnance Storekeeper, July 28, 1866. He proudly ran the arsenal at Fort Union from its inception in 1851 until his retirement in 1882.

Although Shoemaker believed that the ordnance depot should not be constructed in Santa Fe, he was livid when he received orders to move to the proposed Fort Union. He argued that the location, about "one hundred miles northeast of this on the extreme frontier and about six miles from the nearest house," was contrary to his recommendation. Because of the strategic advantages it would offer, he still believed that the "proper" (his emphasis) location for an arsenal was somewhere along the Rio Grande del Norte near the geographical center of the territory. He was also furious that the only protection that Colonel Sumner could offer for the ordnance stores were tents until structures could be built or rental storage space could be arranged in Las Vegas. [8]

Shoemaker refused to divide his valuable stores, and proposed two courses of action to his superiors in Washington. First, he said that he would proceed without orders to Las Vegas to see Colonel Sumner and to make arrangements to store his ordnance goods in Las Vegas for the winter. He believed that there was no way that the army, specifically his detachment, could build storehouses for his ordnance stores in time for winter. Second, he did not want to have to depend on the vagaries of the quartermaster department or Colonel Sumner in accommodating his stores. Shoemaker cited experience with the quartermaster department while he was stationed at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He stated that it would be impossible for him to get along under the quartermaster department. He stated that he would "endeavor to keep my Depot as separate & distinct from the other departments as possible." [9] He succeeded in this last item throughout his entire career.

Construction Begins. Apparently Shoemaker gained the attention of his superiors in Washington. Although he did not get all of his requests accommodated, Colonel Sumner did facilitate matters in getting Shoemaker and his precious stores into quarters and storehouses that autumn. Shoemaker reported that because the move out of Santa Fe was so fast, half of his stores were temporarily in Santa Fe while the other half were "in tents on the Prairie." He assigned his own small detachment to building quarters and storehouses, and Sumner also assigned him a small detail from the troops of the line. [10]

By November, 1851, Shoemaker and his crew were still constructing quarters and storehouses. He explained that the buildings they constructed were of "rough unhewn logs, and barely sufficient in extent to afford shelter for the detachment & small amount of stores brought here from Santa Fe for this winter. They will be partially completed and occupied within ten or twelve days, whence all will be secure for the winter." He explained that buildings were very temporary ones, and that most of the ordnance stores remained in Santa Fe because there was no transportation out to Fort Union. Shoemaker could not help but put in another jibe at the location of Fort Union. He commented that leaving most of his stores in Santa Fe was a fortunate circumstance, since "as every days expression goes to show the many disadvantages and objections to this place as a permanent location for an ordnance depot. Its remoteness from the centre of the Territory, added to its want of common natural advantages seems to indicate the absolute necessity of its abandonment as an Ordnance Post so soon as there is an appropriation to build an Arsenal for New Mexico which must ultimately be done on the Rio Grande del Norte." [11]

Apparently the alliance formed between Shoemaker and Sumner continued. A subsequent letter to the ordnance office in Washington stated that Sumner was about to abandon Fort Union as department headquarters, and that when he did Shoemaker anticipated that he would receive the order to go along with Sumner to that more central position. Shoemaker's attitude toward Sumner also had changed. He wrote that Sumner's "views are most intelligent and sensible." [12] This was a dramatic change from his earlier opinion of Sumner.

Shoemaker, however, did not get the chance to move out with Sumner to a more suitable location as he had planned. Instead, he and his stores stayed at Fort Union. Up until the time that Colonel Sumner moved out of Fort Union to headquarters, the quartermaster department, under orders from Colonel Sumner, had supplied all of the building materials and the transport of those materials to the building site. When Sumner left, he informed Shoemaker that all future construction would be at the expense of the ordnance department.

Shoemaker reported this objectively to his superiors in Washington, and the tone of the letter showed that he bore no animosity toward Colonel Sumner. Before the Colonel left, Shoemaker procured a team of six mules to use for hauling building materials. He noted that "timber & lumber for building have to be hauled a considerable distance, the latter from near Las Vegas." He also wrote that he would have sufficient shelter built for his stores by late spring, 1852, but that the buildings were temporary and should only be expected to last a year or two. He stated that he only built the buildings there because that was the planned site for the fort; he still believed that the location was not built for convenience or safety from fire. Also, he noted again that every day he lived in New Mexico pointed out to him that the best building material for the climate, especially for his ordnance, was fireproof adobe. [13]

In June, 1852, Shoemaker wrote to Colonel Craig at the Ordnance Department in Washington asking for lightning rods (stems and conductors). [14] Shoemaker wrote that he also wanted Craig to send additional rods because he planned to add more buildings, including a magazine. He intended to complete all of the storehouses before starting on the magazine. He also requested a bell "to call the men in the morning & to sound the work hours &c.—I must respectfully request that one similar to that at St. Louis Arsenal may be sent out at the same time with the lightning rods." [15]

Six months later, Shoemaker came closer to having his magazine constructed. He wrote to Colonel Craig in Washington requesting that hired labor construct a portion of the magazine and enclosing wall (the back yard of HS-133) he planned. Shoemaker wrote: "The making and laying up of the adobes cannot be done well by our force which will have as much as it can possibly do on the other work during the next season." In the same letter, he enclosed his estimate for ordnance and ordnance stores for 1853. In addition to requesting rifles, rifle powder, cartridges, he also requested fastenings and hinges "suitable for a magazine with two doors and two windows . . . as the Magazine will be located at a distance from the other buildings, very secure fastenings will be required." [16]

In 1853, Shoemaker had started construction on a gun shed. He wrote in his report to the ordnance department in Washington that the building was "like all the rest of our building here, constructed in a very cheap manner, the chief expense being in the labor and of the detachment and Team." [17]

By 1855, Shoemaker complained to his superiors in Washington again that his buildings were collapsing. They had been constructed with such rapidity to get the stores out of tents in the fall of 1851. He was concerned that the ordnance department understand that so much of his monthly reports showed building repairs, and he doubted that any other ordnance depot that the government had was constructed of unpeeled logs and earthen roofs. He recommended to his superiors in Washington that permanent buildings would be needed at Fort Union as soon as possible; he also volunteered to make "some suggestions in regard to mater. &c. that will have to be procured in St. Louis or perhaps further east." He added in a post script to that letter the following: "I have made a cross examination of the logs, foundations &c of these houses. They are really so decayed that I cannot urge too strongly some immediate action to secure new buildings for the stores . . . and I am not certain but that a site within a very short distance of our present location would answer every purpose for the Depot for New Mexico. Certain it is that we have since we built these, supplied every demand without inconvenience or trouble to any one. And for all kinds of material for building & fuel &c. for the future this neighborhood has more advantages than any other situation in New Mexico." [18]

In the autumn of 1855, Shoemaker reported that in anticipation of receiving a large account of "horse equipments" that he was in the process of turning his mess room and barracks into store rooms, and he was going to build new structures to take their place. He hoped to accomplish it expeditiously. [19]

One year later, Shoemaker wrote to the ordnance department in Washington in September, 1856, asking the chief of ordnance to give orders for selection of a site of a permanent arsenal and to ask for appropriations for new construction as soon as possible. He stated that the dilapidated state of the present buildings the arsenal occupied left his people and his stores at the mercy of the elements. He wrote: "The entire foundation of some of our large storehouses is decayed & given way so that the buildings are supported by props." [20]

Shoemaker's requests for new construction were not approved, because two months later he was writing to Washington with one of his repeated requests for a saw mill. He justified it by saying that he could not preserve the extant structures or build a shell over the other property under his charge without one. For some reason he did not discuss in the letter, timber was unavailable from the quartermaster department under any circumstances and there were no mills in New Mexico that would guarantee providing lumber. At the time that he wrote, his troops had to trek 70 miles to get one load of lumber. [21]

Nor was his request for a sawmill approved yet. In October, 1857, Shoemaker wrote to his superiors in Washington that he had been acquiring a great deal of lumber on his vouchers. He wrote that the lumber was used for roofing storehouses, quarters, shed, and stables, flooring store rooms and quarters, and making packing crates for shipping old arms to St. Louis. [22]

Apparently his superiors were finally able to answer his repeated requests for a sawmill, because he had one in his possession by May, 1858. [23] Because he was anticipating a possible relocation for his arsenal, he had not set up his new sawmill by that time. He did not want to expose it to the elements or to the wear and tear of setting up and taking down if a move was imminent. He also requested authorization to buy four mules to work in his sawmill operation. He anticipated a much larger need for lumber than his earlier estimates because he wanted to put weatherboards on his existing log buildings to make the quarters and storehouses more weathertight. During the spring of 1858, Shoemaker reported that he was in the process of constructing "two rooms exactly such as are now occupied by our own men" to house a married mechanic and his family. He stressed that it was necessary to do that in order to keep his hired mechanics. He had his own detachment construct the "two rooms." [24]

In January, 1859, the word was out among the troops that the new Fort Union would be constructed about a half mile away from the first site. Upon receipt of this information, Shoemaker wrote to the Ordnance Department in Washington for a few reasons. First, he wanted his superiors to understand that since his ordnance depot had been located there in 1851, the quartermaster's department from the fort supplied his depot with water. He and the fort commander had made a special arrangement for the water. Shoemaker argued that his depot needed new "houses" [storehouses] more than the other detachments stationed at Fort Union because of the kind of stores that he had to preserve. He concluded that he would "encounter the expense & inconvenience of hauling water about 3/4 of a mile. & I do not feel safe, without a magazine & some new houses.—" [25] He also asked if the Ordnance Department in Washington was planning to spend its appropriation for an arsenal in New Mexico that year; Shoemaker offered his service to any officer sent out to New Mexico to accomplish that. He believed that he could still run his depot operation and help out with the new arsenal, and get the arsenal site chosen and construction underway within a few months. [26]

By May, 1859, he had enough adobes to construct a magazine. [27] By the end of August of that year, Shoemaker had completed construction on his new storehouse and wrote to his superiors that the depot stores were in a better state of preservation than they ever had been. Shoemaker felt so good about it, in fact, that he took a trip back to Washington and points east. [28] Although the specific reason for Shoemaker's trip back east did not appear in the correspondence, at least one of the reasons was that he wanted to meet with Colonel Craig and work out as many agreements as possible on the new construction that Shoemaker was going to be undertaking at Fort Union. [29]

Shoemaker was constantly on the lookout for ways to improve the structures he had, and for ways to improve construction on the buildings he was planning to build. He sought to add to his depot a "man that understands making & burning brick." Shoemaker hoped to construct a number of his new buildings out of brick. [30] Apparently the approval for the construction of a new arsenal in New Mexico had been approved by that time, because Shoemaker referred to his new construction as that for the arsenal. He wanted to hire a carpenter and a brickmaker, but stated that he would not expend any work or money on the site for the new arsenal until the title to the property was settled. [31]

Shoemaker had been gone from Fort Union and his depot for about eight months when he returned after a trip of 28 days across the plains. While in St. Louis on his way home from Pennsylvania and Washington, he made certain that a shipment of stores that he ordered were loaded and headed west. Also, he hired some master workmen and two laborers for his detachment. While Shoemaker was away, however, a power play had occurred that temporarily altered the chain of command for the ordnance depot. Problems had arisen in 1859 when a new commander, in Shoemaker's view, was having trouble understanding that the ordnance depot did not fall under his command and was not there to fulfill his needs exclusively. [32] The problems continued during Shoemaker's absence.

Upon returning in the spring of 1860, Shoemaker was under orders stating that he was directed to remain in command of the ordnance depot at Fort Union until relieved by orders from headquarters, the Department of New Mexico, or from the secretary of war. He complained to the ordnance department that the commander at Fort Union believed that he was in charge of all of the ordnance for the territory; in addition, plans for the new arsenal—contrary to ones he had worked out with the ordnance department in Washington—were proceeding without his recommendations. [33] In his absence, the department was in the process of acquiring land for an arsenal on the Rio Mora. Shoemaker was reinstated to his position of Military Storekeeper in charge of the ordnance depot on June 16, 1860. [34] The fort commander's plans were halted.

Delays in the New Arsenal. On June 22, 1860 the supplies that Shoemaker had loaded in St. Louis arrived, and he was busy making preliminary arrangements for constructing new buildings at Fort Union. [35] About one month later, Shoemaker was requesting that someone from the ordnance department who possessed full powers in such matters come out and do the final choice on the site for the new arsenal. [36] Also, Shoemaker did have plans drawn up for the new arsenal buildings, but he kept no copies of them and ordered additional ones from the ordnance department in Washington. [37] His carpenter needed them to begin fabricating doors and windows.

The choice of site apparently remained up in the air for some time. At the end of August, 1860, Colonel Craig at the Ordnance Department in Washington wrote to Shoemaker and told him to not procure any building materials for construction. [38] Despite that order, Shoemaker busied himself by continuing with preparations for construction. He had his detachment fabricate 12,000 bricks as an "experiment." He noted in his correspondence that the use of larger kilns would substantially reduce the cost. [39] Shoemaker's next letter to Colonel Craig again mentioned the success of the brick-making operation, but he noted that he and his crew had kept at the 12,000 brick limit—it was the smallest kiln that could be burned. Shoemaker also mentioned that the laborer working with the bricks was busy repairing chimneys and ovens with the brick in the old depot. The laborer also burned lime for his operation. Shoemaker summarized to his boss: "At any rate, your instructions and wishes in regard to the most rigid economy in expenditures under my control will be strictly observed." [40]

By the fall of 1860, the ordnance depot still occupied the old buildings of the first fort. A great deal of Shoemaker's appropriation went to the employment of workers in the building trades. Although he laid off the civilian bricklayer and builder, he retained a plasterer and "mud worker engaged on the old houses." He planned on keeping them only through October. Also, he kept his framing carpenter employed, working on window frames and the like, so that he would have a stockpile ready to use in construction when the site for the new arsenal was determined. He acknowledged the necessity of building a mule stable. Also, he noted that the incessant repairs of the old buildings of the first fort was "unavoidable, and the latter work will continue to be a large item in our monthly reports, so long as we are compelled to occupy these old and decayed huts." [41]

By December of 1860, Shoemaker's new arsenal construction was still not underway. The secretary of war had not decided on a site for the arsenal, so Shoemaker remained very concerned that he would have to spend additional funds on the deteriorated buildings of his original ordnance depot group. He noted that, with the exception of one storehouse and magazine built of adobe in 1859, all of his buildings were threatening human safety, and they chanced exposing his ordnance stores to ruin. The buildings were in danger of falling down or being blown down by storms. [42]

Following the outbreak of civil war, Shoemaker reported a shortage of ammunition. The shortage was so bad that one company commander had to issue orders to not fire even one cartridge unless in battle. [43] Shoemaker still anticipated construction of his new arsenal despite the war. In his annual estimate of stores, he submitted a request for some of the usual items needed in an arsenal: 400 yards of cotton cloth, 400 yards of flannel, iron spikes, 100 large padlocks, 100 feet of hickory, 100 feet of oak, brushes, and mule shoes. He also requested 1,000 8x10 sheets of window glass. Construction remained on his brain, and he had been gearing up for his new arsenal for years. [44] He was not about to quit despite the war.

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Last Updated: 13-Feb-2006