Saturday, August 20, 2011

20 August 1862: Cook Brothers to Build Armory

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.

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