Josiah Gorgas

Josiah Gorgas (1818-1883), American soldier and educator, served as chief of ordnance of the Confederate Army.

Josiah Gorgas was born in Running Pumps, Pa., on July 1, 1818. The 10 Gorgas children had to work to help the family, and Josiah eventually became an apprentice on a newspaper in Lyons, N.Y. While there he won appointment to the U.S. Military Academy, from which he graduated in 1841.

Commissioned a second lieutenant in the ordnance (military supplies) service, Gorgas went abroad to survey European arsenals. He was assigned to the Watervliet, N.Y., arsenal when the war with Mexico began, and in January 1847 he joined Gen. Winfield Scott's Veracruz expedition. Gorgas participated in the siege of Veracruz and commanded the ordnance depot established there. After the Mexican War, Gorgas had routine assignments to various arsenals around the country. In 1855 he was promoted to captain.

When the Civil War began, Gorgas accepted a commission in the Confederate Army. This decision—which long estranged him from his family—undoubtedly was brought about by lengthy service in the South and by his marriage, in 1853, to Amelia Gayle, daughter of a former governor of Alabama.

Assuming his duties as chief of ordnance in the Confederacy, Gorgas found that the resources of his bureau were alarmingly small. Since manufacturing facilities were virtually nonexistent in the South, Gorgas sent an agent to purchase munitions in foreign markets and organized a program of battlefield scavenging to augment Southern supplies of guns, ammunition, and powder.

Gorgas's success with the Ordnance Bureau was phenomenal. He expanded arsenals, built new ones, established one of the most effective powder works in the world at Augusta, Ga., built a Central Laboratory at Macon, and expanded foreign trading with bureau-owned blockade-runners. Through his efforts the Niter and Mining Bureau was established to find and exploit mineral resources; he helped organize the Bureau of Foreign Supplies to increase the efficiency of blockade-running. A colonel through most of the war, he was promoted to brigadier general on Nov. 19, 1864.

After the war Gorgas tried unsuccessfully to run an ironworks at Brierfield, Ala. In July 1869 he assumed the post of headmaster of the junior department of the University of the South at Sewanee, Tenn. In 1872 he was appointed vice-chancellor of the university. His stormy tenure ended in 1878, when he was appointed president of the University of Alabama. He held this position for a year until illness compelled him to accept the less demanding post of university librarian. Gorgas died on May 15, 1883, in Tuscaloosa, Ala.


Further Reading on Josiah Gorgas

Frank E. Vandiver edited The Civil War Diary of General Josiah Gorgas (1947) and wrote Ploughshare into Swords: Josiah Gorgas and Confederate Ordnance (1952).

Additional Biography Sources

Vandiver, Frank Everson, Ploughshares into swords: Josiah Gorgas and Confederate ordnance, College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 1994.