Pride Comes Before the Fall: 10 Fascinating Details About Confederate States of America You Don't Know
Pride Comes Before the Fall: 10 Fascinating Details About Confederate States of America You Don’t Know

Pride Comes Before the Fall: 10 Fascinating Details About Confederate States of America You Don’t Know

Larry Holzwarth - December 6, 2017

Pride Comes Before the Fall: 10 Fascinating Details About Confederate States of America You Don’t Know
Cover page of a patent for Lyman’s Disintegrating Process for textile making, Confederate States Patent Office. Wofford College

Patent Office

As an independent nation with its own government and laws, the Confederate States of America soon acquired much of the bureaucracy of modern governments, including a Post Office, Mint, (by taking over former US Mints) and Patent Office. Rufus Rhodes, a former official of the United States Patent Office from Mississippi, served as the only Commissioner of the Confederate Patent Office. During its first year in existence – 1861 – the office issued 57 patents, in contrast with the over three thousand issued by the US Patent Office.

Over a third of the patents issued during the first year were for improvements to firearms or other weapons of war, although other patents for farm implements, a steam driven plow, textile machines, and other inventions were issued. The patent office suffered from a lack of working space (it was located on the third floor of the Mechanic’s Institute in Richmond) and reference materials, as well as a budget which precluded the acquisition of books and technical literature essential to its work.

Over the course of its existence the Confederate Patent Office would issue 266 patents. The design and manufacture of the armor plate which covered the former USS Merrimack leading to its becoming the CSS Virginia was patented by its designer, and contested by its builder. Both were awarded patents for their work on the ship.

Review of the surviving records of the Confederate Patent Office reveals how some of the privations of war affected the South as the war went on. By 1863, shortages of leather led to the application of no fewer than four patents for wooden soled shoes.

The Confederate Patent Office issued one of the first patents which was developed around submarine technology, for the CSS H L Hunley. The prevalence of the Union blockade led to numerous patents being applied for based on new methods of destroying Union ships, including mines, electric torpedoes, and delayed fuses. The Confederate Patent Office and its records were officially destroyed after the fall of Richmond, but further research into many of the innovations found there continued under the auspices of the US Navy after the war.

Pride Comes Before the Fall: 10 Fascinating Details About Confederate States of America You Don’t Know
Confederate Cavalry Leader John Singleton Mosby survived the war despite being in the thick of the fighting in Northern Virginia. Wikimedia

The Confederate States Army

Officially the Confederate States Army was founded as a volunteer force by the Provisional Confederate Congress, with control of its operations in the hands of Provisional President Jefferson Davis in February 1861. The loss of records during and following the war make it difficult to estimate the total number who served in it, some believe that somewhere between 500,000 and 1.5 million while others propose 750,000 to 1,000,000 as more realistic numbers. In addition, an untold number of slaves were forced into service to build encampments, fortifications, roads, and other support needed for military operations.

The Confederate Army’s organization was based on that of the United States Army, unsurprisingly since many senior Confederate officers had served in the US Army at some point. The Army was made up of infantry, cavalry, and artillery and the basic unit of command was a company, theoretically made up of one hundred soldiers. Ten companies made a regiment. As the war went on and casualties were absorbed while replacements were scarce, most regiments sank to less than half their optimal size.

There were several field armies, which in the South were normally named for the region of their operation, as opposed to the Northern custom of naming them for major rivers. Robert E Lee commanded the largest Confederate Army, called the Army of Northern Virginia.

Regiments were raised, trained and supplied by the individual states and bore the name of their state and their regimental number, for example 4th Virginia. Eventually over 1,000 regiments were raised by the Confederate states for the army, in comparison the Union raised over 2,000.

In the early years of the war the Confederate Armies were successful in combat in the East, mostly in Virginia and Maryland, and less so in the west. Casualties were enormously high for both sides. Despite the long-lived legend of the Confederate’s esprit d’corps, by 1864 Jefferson Davis estimated that there were over 100,000 men then labeled as deserters in the South, having seen enough of war and the growing strength of the Union armies.

Pride Comes Before the Fall: 10 Fascinating Details About Confederate States of America You Don’t Know
Captain Raphael Semmes captured 65 US ships without ever entering a Confederate port. Aboard CSS Alabama near Cape Town. Wikimedia

Confederate States Navy

Although it lasted but a short time (1861-1865) and won no major victories against the Union Navy which disrupted the Union blockade, the Confederate States Navy achieved a reputation for daring, innovation, and professionalism. At its high point it counted over 100 ships, most of which operated in American coastal waters and rivers.

It produced one of the first ironclad warships, which sank one US wooden ship, ran another aground, and would have done more damage if not for the timely arrival of a suitable opponent for its new technology. It produced the first submarine which sank an enemy vessel in combat, although it sank itself in the process, killing its crew. The Navy was supplemented by the use of privateers – contracted commerce raiders to capture or destroy enemy ships – which operated mainly out of the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, despite Lincoln’s pronouncement that captured privateers would be treated as pirates (they weren’t).

In conjunction with the Navy the Confederate government operated the Confederate States Lighthouse Board, which worked with the Navy but was officially part of the Treasury Department. It was tasked with maintaining operational safe navigation beacons along the coast. It also formed the Confederate States Marine Corps, which adopted many of the traditions of the United States Marine Corps.

The Navy’s greatest success and certainly its greatest fame – other than the ironclad Virginia – came from its commerce raiders, CSS Alabama and CSS Shenandoah. Alabama was built in Birkenhead, England and completed a raiding cruise under Captain Raphael Semmes in which it captured or destroyed 65 Union ships. Although a commissioned ship of the Confederate Navy it never in its career entered a Confederate port. It was caught and destroyed by USS Kearsgarge.

CSS Shenandoah was built in the Clyde in Scotland and transferred to the Confederate Navy while at sea before undertaking a voyage to the Indian and Pacific Oceans to destroy Union commercial ships and whalers. In late June 1865 its Captain, James Waddell, learned of Lee’s surrender from a captured crew, later in August he learned that the war was over from the crew of a British ship. Waddell took his ship to Liverpool, surrendering there on November 6 1865, the last surrender of a Confederate unit of the Civil War. Like Alabama, Shenandoah never entered a Confederate port during its service in the Confederate States Navy.