top of page

The Ordnance Department


The Ordnance Department, unlike other federal departments, had to train their officers to do the job properly. With the shortage of staff, the Ordnance Department had to turn to line officers, who were not trained for ordnance and who reported to their commanders in the field, to deliver reports of armaments.4 The huge number of new recruits requiring arms added to the Department’s already large responsibility, forcing the Department to outsource for both supply of arms and arms' parts and for its workforce.

To help the Ordnance Department keep track of all the Union's arms in use, lieutenants or captains in every company of each regiment needed to keep a record of their supplies.  Monthly updates were given to the Ordnance Department.  Those messages included the types and counts of the guns used. The officers would sometimes rate the condition of the weapons. Those weapons then were divided into “serviceable” or “unserviceable” categories, noting the number in each category. Along with arms, the officers listed how many rounds of ammunition and other necessities accompanied the soldiers’ arms. Monthly Ordnance reports listed the company letter, the number of serviceable and unserviceable arms, each gun’s caliber, and the number of guns “on hand,” the number of “deficient” arms (or the number of guns needed to outfit the remaining troops without arms). Those monthly reports are one way the Ordnance Department knew if they needed to procure any more arms and the number needed by each regiment. Likewise, it let them keep track of what kind of gun was particularly durable (continuously marked "serviceable" in the monthly reports) or those prone to breaking (repeatedly marked "unserviceable").

1 Robert V. Bruce, Lincoln and the Tools of War (Indianapolis/New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1956), 32.

2 Carl L. Davis, Arming the Union:  Small Arms in the Civil War (Port Washington, New York: Kennikat Press, Inc., 1973), 15.

3 Davis, Arming the Union, 15-16.

4 Paul A. C. Koistinen, Beating Plowshares Into Swords:  The Political Economy of American Warfare, 1606¬1865 (Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 1996), 159.

And its Shortage of Officers

The Ordnance


"Report of Ordnance Stores of the 3rd Tennessee Cavalry."  Found in Collection Group 21, Adjutant General's Office Records, 1796-1900.

Closely examine this report through the Tennessee State Library & Archives

At the outbreak of the Civil War, the Ordnance Department underwent great changes in its leadership, losing officers who were loyal to the Southern states or Union-loyalists who took command positions on the field. The Ordnance Department’s leadership did not grow at a rapid pace and failed to match the Department’s increased wartime duties. In 1862, the Ordnance Department had 44 listed officers, and around a year later they only had 45 officers.2 Congress did not allow the Ordnance Department to increase its numbers enough to do their job independently and effectively. No matter how the Chief of Ordnance tried to arrange the Department’s officers at numerous arsenals and depots, there just simply were not enough staff for the job.3

bottom of page