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Old South Military Antiques

Published, Newly Discovered Confederate Canteen
Item #: OS-7607


  Note the large "M"

  Note the ghost on the belt

  Japanned sling loops

  Brass straps!


  "1st Mass."

  Raised mouth

  Centerfold Military Antiques Collector

  Great Magazine!

  Rufus J. Hughes

The makers of the knives purchased by the Milledgeville Arsenal included cutlers, textile manufactures, gunsmiths and blacksmiths. Not a cooper (canteen maker) among them. However, one of the fifteen knife suppliers, R.J. Hughes did provide at least 50,000 canteen straps to the Confederate Government. This is important because a Confederate wood drum canteen has been discovered with its original strap, which has a similar, but unique iron clasp as that found on the R.J. Hughes knife and belt that he manufactured for the Milledgeville, Georgia Arsenal.

The wooden canteen is also one of a kind. The canteens body consists of two turned wooden faces, joined by staves. This is common enough, but what is very unusual is that the bands are made of copper, rather than the iron band typically used. Among the other unusual features are the japanned tin loops, which are each pinned to the band by small nails. Most Confederate wood drum canteens came with round spouts, but today nearly all are missing the spout because they had been inserted, or sometime screwed into a 3/16th inch stave, which did not give it much support. In this case a mouthpiece 1 9/16 by 1 ¾ inches, by 11/16th of an inch tall was nailed on from the inside of the stave, making it totally secure. Into this was inserted a lathe turned wooden spout. The resultant canteen is easily the highest quality Confederate wood drum canteen that I have encountered in more than forty years of collecting.

The canteen’s strap is also a one of a kind. It is made of very coarsely woven cotton webbing and

And fastened with a cast iron, oval buckle that was coated with black japan. Even the strap was coated with the japan. Naturally much of the japan has come off of the exposed areas of the strap, but the less exposed areas and where the strap overlaps is still black.

Since the knives were provided with "belts and clasps” and we know that R. J. Hughes provided Knives, belts and clasps to the Milledgeville Arsenal, and that R. J. Hughes made canteen straps, the fact that the clasp on this knife, and the clasp on this canteen are apparently from the same maker, we can reasonably deduce that R. J. Hughes made or supplied both.

Rufus Hughes partnered with numerous other manufacturers to make accoutrements, bridles and cotton webbing. Operating as R. J. Hughes & Co., Hughes and Pendergrass and Hughes, Pendergrass & Snow (R.J.s wife was a Snow) in Monroe, Georgia, the firm was likely the western South’s largest provider of cotton webb (this is the spelling used in the original contracts) and webb bridle reins, canteen straps, and shoulder belts.

It appears that Hughes and Pendergrass were primarily makers of webbing, but they had the necessary government contacts to acquire contracts, so they partnered with others such as bridle, cartridge box, belt, and canteens makers. It appears that the additional party to the contracts supplied the manufacturing labor and additional materials such as, leather, buckles, canteens and Hughes, Pendergrass and Snow supplied the webbing and the contracts.

Rufus Hughes was in numerous manufacturing enterprises to supply the Confederate Government. For example: On the "23rd day of December 1862 between major M. H. Wright, CSA for and in behalf of the Confederate States of America of the first part and E. A. Smith, R.J. Hughes, A. F. Nunnally & W. N. Pendergrass, trading and doing business under the firms and style of Smith, Hughes & Co of Monroe, Walton Co. Geo. of the second part” to furnish the Confederacy "boxed and delivered on the cars at Social Circle Geo. Five hundred sets of Infantry accoutrements Complete consisting of cartridge box, and cartridge box belt, cap box waist belt and bayonet scabbards to be made according to the example furnished & to be delivered by the 1st of March, 1863” The contract goes on to say that the Confederacy will accept up to 3000 additional sets delivered at the same time and price. On March 7th, 1863, only six days after the original contract was due, and presumably filled, Hughes, Pendergrass and Tillman contracted for the 3,000 additional sets of infantry accoutrements, to include a cartridge box with cotton web sling, one percussion cap box, one bayonet scabbard and one waist belt. Tillman must have been the supplier for the leather accoutrements, with Hughes and Pendergrass supplying the straps and slings of webbing.

We know that R.J. Hughes submitted knives with belts to the Arsenal at Milledgeville and we know that he often partnered with other craftsmen to produce a complete item to sell the Confederate Government. Certainly, he personally did not make them, but no record of a partnership is extant, so it is possible that they were made in his own carriage shops. It is also possible that he partnered with another craftsman to make them. In all of his surviving contracts he partnered with craftsmen that could add to his own product, rather than simply hiring them to make an entire product.

On October 25th, 1864, T.M. Bradford, M.S.K. submitted his annual report of the Ordnance and Ordnance Stores in the Arsenal and Magazine at Milledgeville. On that date the Arsenal held 3,856 knives and 1,600 belts. The following month, on November 24th, 1864, General W.T. Sherman’s men entered Milledgeville and seized the Arsenal. Captain Nelson, and the 89th Ohio Volunteer Regiment among them. The 89th had joined General Rosecrans forces in Tennessee, after the battle of Stone River. The Battle of Stones River, also known as the Second Battle of Murfreesboro, was a battle fought from December 31, 1862, to January 2, 1863.

The regiment went on to fight in the battle of Chickamauga, where most the regiment was forced to surrender to the victorious Confederates. The remnant of the 89th, joined Sherman's advance on Atlanta, fighting in all the battles. It burned its way across Georgia with Sherman, before entering Milledgeville. The Arsenal was ordered destroyed, but prior to the destruction of the material, the soldiers and slaves alike were encouraged to take what they wanted and as the note tells us Captain Isaac C. Nelson 89th Ohio Volunteer Infantry took this knife and belt.

Federal Colonel William Hawley boasted of his men’s work of destruction which included, "One powder magazine, blown up; railroad depot and surrounding buildings, burned; 2,300 muskets, smooth bore, calibre 69, burned; 300 sets accoutrements, burned; 10,000 rounds ammunition, calibre 69, burned; 5,000 lances, burned; 1,500 cutlasses, burned; 15 boxes United States standard weights and measures, burned; 16 hogsheads salt, thrown into the river; 170 boxes fixed ammunition, and 200 kegs powder. Turned over all that was valuable to Major Reynolds, and threw the balance into the river. About 1,500 pounds tobacco were distributed among the troops. A large quantity of cotton–say 1,800 bales–was disposed of by General Sherman, manner not made known to me. One large three-story building in the square, near the State House, was burned, together with a large number of miscellaneous articles, as parts of harnesses and saddles, a repair shop, with all the necessary tools for repairing all kinds of materials, etc.”

Afterwards the 89th looted it way up through the Carolinas and on to Richmond. Moving to Washington, it took part in the Grand Review. Afterward, the regiment traveled to Ohio, where it mustered out, June 13, 1865.

It is not known where the Confederate wooden drum canteen with the presumed R. J, Hughes strap intact turned up, but it could not have been taken at the same time that the knife and belt was taken for two reasons. One, because the M.S.K. report of October makes no mention of canteens in the Arsenal, and two, because the captor of the canteen stamped "1st Mass”. into one of the canteen’s outer bands. The 1st Massachusetts Infantry served the entire War in the Eastern Theatre. The 1st Massachusetts Regiment arrived in Washington on the evening of June 17, 1861 and never got closer to Georgia than the Virginia Peninsula before mustering out on May 25th, 1864. The canteen traveled from Georgia to Virginia, the canteen’s capturer never went to Georgia.

The note, the belt, the canteen strap and the documented history taken together, strongly suggests a couple of things, one, that Rufus J. Hughes is the maker of what is designated a Type I Georgia Arsenal D Guard and two, what the Hughes, Pendergrass & Snow belts, webbing and straps looked like. History is unraveled a little piece at a time. Modern historians owe a debt of gratitude to Captain Isaac Nelson for taking the time to record the history of his capture.

The canteen's aesthetic appeal is unsurpassed.