Endor's Role in the Confederate Railroad Industry
One theme that presents itself at multiple moments in Wiesner’s research is the connections between the Endor Iron Company and the Confederate railroad industry. These ties highlight Endor’s importance within the wider Confederate war effort even during the seven months in which the furnace operated under the Downer Group. Many Civil War historians such as Robert C. Black III argue that the railroads were the lifeline of the Confederate war machine. For the Union, the war was primarily an amphibious operation. They used naval blockades to stop trade at every Southern port and penetrated deep inland using the South’s vast system of rivers and tributaries. For the Confederacy however, their defense rested on the ability to transport troops and supplies over land; thus they relied on their infrastructure or railroads to serve this purpose. They held out on the hope that their armies would be able to move faster than the Union’s. Unfortunately the railroads in the South were inadequate for the amount of material and men they needed to move. The Confederacy possessed only 9,000 miles of railroad while the Union had 20,000, and their rail connections between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mississippi River outnumbered the South’s four to one. (Black 1961, 232) North Carolina fared better than other states in the Confederacy; it had over 900 miles of track. Unfortunately the state primarily had lines running east to west connecting the port cities of Beaufort and Wilmington to the interior for economic purposes. The Civil War forced these lines to be used as north-south lines for the war effort, a role for which they were not designed. (Price 1961, 298)
The Confederacy desperately needed to lay new track and replace old track, and according to Wiesner, the Endor Iron Company was in the position to capitalize on this. He argues that Endor was the probable site where rolling mill machinery was relocated during the siege of Atlanta and the subsequent destruction of the Schofield & Markham mill. A rolling mill uses rollers to bend and stretch iron into different shapes. During this time period, the primary function of rolling mills was to produce rails for railroads. If Wiesner is correct, and the rolling mill machinery did make its way to Endor in 1864, it would have been the only functioning rolling mill in the South during the closing years of the war when it was most critical for the Confederate government to replace its dilapidated railroad infrastructure. (Wiesner 2007, 89) During the siege of Atlanta, Confederate forces set fire to ammunition stored in railroad cars to keep them out of Union hands. The cars began exploding, catching the adjacent mill on fire and burning it to the ground. When pictures were taken of the rubble the day after, none of the rolling mill machinery was present, meaning that it had been moved before the siege. Wiesner argues that the machinery must have ended up at Endor. He supports this claim by showing the disparity between the amount of money paid for Endor by the Downer Group and the amount paid by Lockville Mining & Manufacturing. The Downer Group paid the McRaes $101,000 for the furnace and their land holdings then sold it seven months later for $391,000. (Wiesner 2007, 80) According to Wiesner, the increase in price must be due to the presence of new machinery at the site. Furthermore, he points to the deed given to Lockville in 1864 which lists rolling mill machinery as an asset. (Wiesner 2007, 80)
Wiesner further claims that the machinery could have come from no where else but Atlanta. It could not have originated from Great Britain as the naval blockade made shipping large machines virtually impossible. Furthermore, no other factory in the South was equipped to build rolling machinery other than Tredegar. According to Wiesner, during the time in which the machinery would have to have been produced, the Union was snowed in outside of Richmond near Confederate forces defending the city. Therefore, Tredegar’s first priority would be to produce shot and other war implements rather than spend time making rolling machinery. (Wiesner 2007, 80) Considering the situation it is highly unlikely that the Confederacy produced rolling machinery at Tredegar during this time. Wiesner claims the only explanation is that the machinery from the rolling mill in Atlanta was dismantled and shipped away sometime in the spring. It then must have traveled by railroad to North Carolina where it was set up at Endor. (Wiesner 2007, 82) The rationale behind this would have been that the Confederacy saw Atlanta as a significant strategic target; thus when Union armies began closing in, the government evacuated the essential rolling mill machinery to a safer location. As stated earlier, the location of Endor was secluded from the war and therefore relatively much safer than Atlanta. Also the immediate access to the State’s extensive yet dilapidated railroad system provided transportation as well as a market for freshly rolled rails.
The ledger does mention the existence of a rolling mill under the portion recorded by Lockville, but does not offer definitive evidence that the mill was established under the Downer Group. Using the evidence provided by Wiesner, it does seem likely that the machinery came at least in part from Atlanta; however, the ledger does not allow this claim to advance beyond the realm of speculation. If it is true that a rolling mill was established at Endor in 1864 from pieces evacuated from Atlanta, the value of the site would have increased, but due to the disadvantages of the site, production would still be low and not profitable. That realization could have been a reason why the Downer Group chose to flip the property after only seven months. Wiesner states that Lockville was eager to establish a rolling mill in North Carolina, so Downer and his colleagues may have decided to seize the opportunity to cut loose a veritable money pit of an iron works. (Wiesner 2007, 80)
Nevertheless, upon its assimilation into the Lockville Mining and Manufacturing Company, Endor had rolling equipment installed at the site. The presence of this equipment immediately made Lockville a big name in the Deep River Valley. Had the furnace been as successful as planned, the ability to roll rails would have made Endor into an important and lucrative business within the region; however, much like the rest of the story of Endor, the greatest ambitions could not make up for the fact that the furnace was an operational failure. It was destined to only be able to produce locally for small scale iron workers.