Reviewing the Possible Use of Wilson’s Book Confederate Industry


Spring 2015

Kevin “Tiny” Dawson

Wilson, Harold S., Confederate Industry: Manufacturers and Quartermasters in the Civil War. University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, 2002.


For this essay, I choose to write about one of my secondary sources, which was suggested to me by my adviser Dr. Paul Quigley. The book is Harold S. Wilson’s book titled Confederate Industry: Manufacturers and Quartermasters in the Civil War. I feel that after reading through this book, it will be paramount to my research and several of the sources that Wilson utilizes within this work have already led me to sources which I previously had not considered in my research on my topic.

In Wilson’s book, he examines the state and central government manufacturers necessary for the foundation of the Confederate Central Supply Depot System. He also explores the various entrepreneurs and businessmen that went about setting up the necessary facilities, mills, armories, etc. to supply a burgeoning military. His research into both American and foreign/import primary records, help to paint a picture of a very resourceful supply system, With the help of foreign blockade runners, ships designed to bring in much needed military supplies for the South, running through the Union naval blockade of Southern ports, and taking out valuable export raw materials, Confederate supplies were fairly plentiful even late in the war. Wilson is able to examine several different sources, ranging from mill records, Confederate States Quartermaster general records, foreign export records, ship manifests, etc. to show how the supply system operated during the war. His writing style is very engaging and his arguments are thoroughly researched, however, there are more questions that he leaves for future researchers.

The reception of this book in scholarly circles, has been well received, as it has been reviewed and found worthy of the research and time put forth by Wilson. His final work left room for future researchers to take his research and delve deeper to flesh out the lingering questions that were left after the publication. I found several reviews, both scholarly/academic and popular ones that all agreed that the book was very well written, yet some of the more scholarly reviews wanted more, which is why I wrote that there was room to research other aspects of his original work. Wilson’s intended audience, in my humble opinion was to be for both scholarly and popular readers, as was evident in his writing style. He did not seem to want to write down for a popular audience, yet he did not write in such a haughty tone that it was a turn off for hem either. The scholarly audience was also targeted in such a way that the desire for well researched evidence was met.

As for the use of his book in more recent works, I found several instances where Wilson was cited in reviews of other books as well. In several of the other secondary sources that I have investigated, I have found Wilson’s book referenced several times, which shows me that his research bears merit. I plan to mine his sources to see what primary sources, as well as other secondary sources will be available for use to me, as I move forward in researching my thesis. I want to see if any of his primary sources give any evidence of actual issue records of items to units, i.e. jackets, trousers, shoes, leather gear/accoutrements, weapons, ammunition, as well as the evidence of when foreign items began to make an appearance on the scene for Southern armies. I think that the author’s interpretation of the sources and the way that he presents his findings support what I am trying to prove. I feel that with closer scrutiny of the source materials, along with more recent secondary sources and their analysis’, I will be able to prove that as the war progressed, more and better equipment and uniforms were being provided to the soldiers, making them into a more competent fighting force. One thing that cannot be denied however, is that regardless whether the men were getting the needed uniforms, weapons, and gear, there was still a major shortage of food for the fighting men, which led to the description of them being lean and lanky. The lack of food and not the lack of fighting supplies was more of a detriment to the Southern fighting men than any uniform or leather gear shortage.

In short, I firmly believe that Wilson’s book, along with his sources will provide me with several leads for future digging and reading. I feel that his down to earth style of writing may have been what actually drew me into his writing, even after Dr. Quigley recommended the book to me. I am glad that he did so, as I have found this book to be very helpful, even after just reading through the work. I look forward to be able to get further into the reading and source material, as I wait for other books, articles, and manuscripts that I have requested through ILL and ordered off of the internet to arrive. I am getting more and more antsy to get into this project, as it has been a project that I have been thinking about for some time.

2 thoughts on “Reviewing the Possible Use of Wilson’s Book Confederate Industry”

  1. This does sound like it would be useful in your work, Tiny. I’m not familiar with your area of focus, but it would seem that an equally compelling book propagating the belief that the Confederate Army was ill-equipped would be just as essential to your research. What to you think?

  2. Glad this was useful! I’d love to hear more about the primary sources that this book steered you toward. The quartermaster reports could be extremely valuable. Have you gotten to look at any of those reports yet? A good next step might be to locate them, figure out how many there are, what kind of information they contain, and what you could use them for. That will help you define a more sharply-focused research question, and make sure your question fits with the primary sources available.

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