On this day in 1862, the following bit of local business news was published in the Southern Watchman:
Ferdinand and Francis Cook were brothers who had a contract to produce 30,000 Enfield rifles "complete with sabre-bayonet, sheath and frog" for the Confederate military in 1862. However, they had to flee New Orleans when the city came under occupation by the United States military, and escaped with "most of their armory machinery and a schooner of iron and steel."
Like many other refugees during the war, the Cooks came to Athens, seeking an out-of-the-way place in which to re-establish their business. They purchased 63 acres of land with access to water power, and began building their factory. The armory was estimated to be worth over $600,000.00 after just six months of operation. Their first inspection was in January, 1863, by General Benjamin Huger, and a follow-up visit in March, 1863, noted that their guns were "the finest I have seen of Southern manufacture."
The armory made infantry rifles, artillery rifles, and muskatoons; horseshoes for the cavalry; bayonets; and non-military agricultural items such as sorgham mills. Though hopes had been high for the manufacture of 100 guns per day, the reality was that the war had caused a severe labor shortage, and over time, also brought about shortages in basic necessities such as food and clothing. The armory suspended production in July, 1864, when the Confederate government fell behind on payments. They produced only about 4,000 weapons for the Confederate military.
The workers at the armory formed the 23rd Battalion, Georgia, Local Defense, also known as the Athens Battalion, the Enfield Rifle Battalion, or Captain Cook's Battalion. They were a separate force from the Athens Home Guard, Mitchell's Thunderbolts, though some residents were members of both, such as John Gilleland and Jack O'Farrell. They were called into action for the Battle of Griswoldville, Georgia, in November, 1864.
Ferdinand Cook was killed less than a month later during a battle in Hardeeville, South Carolina. Francis Cook tried to keep the armory running, but the war came to an end, and the armory campus was sold for $18,000.00 to Athens Manufacturing Company in 1870. It would later be known in Athens as "the Check Factory," and in 1897 would become the first factory in Georgia to run on electricity. It is now the location of the University of Georgia Physical Plant, Information Technology Outreach Services, Marine Extension Services, and Small Business Development Center.
- Southern Watchman, Aug. 1861 - Aug. 1865 on Microfilm in the Heritage collection.
- Transition to an Industrial South by Michael John Gagnon in the Heritage and general collections.
- Chicopee Mill History by Olivia Bloomfield Carlisle in the Heritage collection.
- Confederate Athens by Kenneth Coleman in the Heritage and general collections.
- Athens, 1861-1865: As Seen Through Letters in the University of Georgia Libraries by Kenneth Coleman in the Heritage and general collections.
- Annals of Athens, 1801-1901 by Augustus Longstreet Hull via Internet Archive.
- Fields of Gray: The Battle of Griswoldville by Gary Livingston in the Heritage and general collections.
- Griswoldville by William Harris Bragg in the Heritage and general collections.
- The Cambridge Illustrated History of Warfare, edited by Geoffrey Parker in the Reference and general collections.
- Weapons of the Civil War by William C. Davis in the Heritage collection.
- Weapons of the Civil War by Ian V. Hogg in the general collection.
- Arms and Equipment of the Civil War by Jack Coggins in the Heritage collection.
- Confederate Service Records for the 23rd Georgia Battalion in Fold3 History and Genealogy Archive via GALILEO. (Fold3 is the new name for Footnote.)
- Confederate Citizen Files in Fold3 History and Genealogy Archive via GALILEO. (Fold3 is the new name for Footnote.)
- British Pattern 1853 Enfield Rifle on the Smithsonian Institution Civil War website.
- 1864 Cook and Brother Carbine Rifle on the Smithsonian Institution Civil War website.