Cannons and Columns: The Phoenix Iron Company and the Civil War

By Laurel Wilson ’19

Anyone who has visited a Civil War battlefield is familiar with the sight of artillery pieces dotting the landscape, marking the places where artillery units were positioned on the field. Gettysburg National Military Park has one of the largest and most diverse collections of these now silent sentinels, ranging from bronze Napoleons to breech-loading Whitworth rifled guns. One of the most common types of cannon found at Gettysburg is the 3-inch Ordnance rifle. The Ordnance rifle is interesting for a number of reasons, not least of which are its connections to Phoenix Iron Company of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania.

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A 3-inch Ordnance rifle at Gettysburg National Military Park. Photo by Hal Jespersen via Wikimedia Commons.

John Griffen was superintendent of Safe Harbor Iron Works, which was a subsidiary of Phoenix Iron Company. He designed the first “Griffen Gun” in 1854, which would later evolve into the 3-inch Ordnance rifle. Girffen’s production method for creating wrought iron cannon tubes resulted in extremely strong and durable artillery pieces. His method, which was improved upon and perfected by Samuel Reeves of Phoenix Iron Company, was able to overcome the problems associated with the brittleness of iron, a feat that other manufacturers of iron cannon tubes at the time were unable to replicate. Continue reading “Cannons and Columns: The Phoenix Iron Company and the Civil War”

An End to Slavery in the Confederacy: One of the Civil War’s Greatest "What-Ifs"

By Jeff Lauck ’18

A few weeks ago one of our readers posted a comment on one of our blog posts asking for a “best guess” as to when slavery would have ended in the South had the Confederacy been successful in winning its independence. There is, of course, no easy answer to this question, as counter-factual history is just that: not factual. However, the question is an important one that deserves attention and at the very least can be used to explore some ways in which slavery can be contextualized in the Civil War era.

The Confederacy was founded on the idea of preserving the institution of slavery. The short-lived nation’s need for slavery was economic as well as social. Economically, the South depended on an agrarian economy driven chiefly by cotton production. Cotton, a very labor-intensive crop, required large labor forces to produce. Consequently, profit margins depended on decreasing the cost of labor. Therefore, cotton’s profitability–and thus the economy of the South–benefited immensely from slavery. A change in the workforce would have severely disrupted the status quo. Poor Southerners, who may not have owned slaves, also saw the economic trickle-down effects of slavery: wealthy planters required food, tools, and other goods to keep the system of slavery running, and of these supplies would be supplied by yeomen farmers and craftsmen. As a result, many white Southerners who were neither wealthy nor owned slaves were also economically invested in the institution of slavery.

 When discussing the institution of slavery from a wide angle lens, it is easy to forget it's human toll. Images like these remind us of the inhumanity of the practice of human bondage. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
When discussing the institution of slavery from a wide angle lens, it is easy to forget its human toll. Images like these remind us of the inhumanity of the practice of human bondage. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Continue reading “An End to Slavery in the Confederacy: One of the Civil War’s Greatest "What-Ifs"”

Beyond the Battlefield: The Park That Once Was Stevens’s Furnace

By Kevin Lavery ’16

If you’re a frequent reader of the Compiler, it comes as no news to you that the Gettysburg area is historic for more than just its battlefield. From a pre-war African American community to the World War I tank camp commanded by a young Dwight Eisenhower, Gettysburg has a rich and vibrant history that the time-frozen battlefield, however majestic in its own right, all too often obscures. One of my favorite places in the region, however, is a state park located just fourteen miles west of town. Nestled amidst the ridges of South Mountain, Caledonia State Park stands on land once part of the Caledonia Furnace complex owned by the famed congressman Thaddeus Stevens.

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Evidence abounds of Caledonia’s industrial origins. Photograph by the author.

In the last two years, I have tried whenever possible to get out to the park, which serves as a gateway to some of my favorite hiking trails. The Appalachian Trail runs right through Caledonia, and just north of the park there is a vast network of trails that wind their way through the neighboring Michaux State Forest. Not only is it an excellent park for recreation, but it has a long and storied past that I’ve had the opportunity to explore for the Compiler, redoubling my appreciation for the scenic place. Continue reading “Beyond the Battlefield: The Park That Once Was Stevens’s Furnace”