FORT UNION
Historic Resource Study
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CHAPTER NINE:
MILITARY SUPPLY & THE ECONOMY: QUARTERMASTER, COMMISSARY, AND ORDNANCE DEPARTMENTS (continued)

     Shoemaker requested funds to complete the construction of the enclosing wall and quarters at the arsenal in 1870. This was approved and construction was completed on the quarters and the wall was partially done. During that year the arsenal received fire extinguishers, adding to the protection of the buildings and stores. Shoemaker continued to take an interest in horse equipment and designed an improvement of the McClellan curb bit which was patented and became known as the Shoemaker bit, which was widely used. A summary of operations at the arsenal during the fiscal year ending June 30, 1870, included the fabrication of 128 Sharps Carbine cartridge boxes and the repair of artillery pieces, small arms, and other equipment. Shoemaker had developed a method of repairing rawhide cavalry saddles wherein a leather cover was placed on top of the rawhide, making a superior saddle. A total 366 saddles had been repaired and covered during the year. [204] One of the recipients at Fort Union, Private Matthews, Company L, Eighth Cavalry, declared that the leather-covered saddles were "very nice." [205]

     In September Shoemaker received notice that, because of insufficient funds, all hired employees at the arsenal were to be released immediately. Since the enlisted detachment was practically non-existent, most workers were hired citizens. Shoemaker's requests to keep some of what he considered to be the best workmen in New Mexico were not approved. Not one to be easily confounded, Shoemaker requested by telegraph that he be permitted to open a recruiting station at the arsenal to fill the ranks of the detachment. When that was approved he enlisted most of the recent employees, thereby keeping his work force. His detachment was filled to the authorized capacity of thirteen and the work at the arsenal continued. The only position Shoemaker was unable to fill was that of sergeant of ordnance. He remedied that the following year with the enlistment of former Sergeant Joseph Horn. [206]

     The construction work at the arsenal was continued in 1871 on the commander's office, clerk's office, outhouses, and the remainder of the enclosing wall. Another weapon improvement reached New Mexico the same year, affecting both infantry and cavalry regiments stationed there. The 1868 model Springfield breech-loading .50-caliber musket, considered the standard weapon at the time for infantrymen, was sent to the Fort Union Arsenal from the Fort Leavenworth Arsenal. A total of 1,000 of the modified muskets were issued to the Fifteenth Infantry in the district, replacing the 1866 models with which they were armed. The 1866 models which were turned in were sent to the Fort Leavenworth Arsenal. For the Eighth Cavalry in the district, 1,000 altered Sharps Carbines (.50-caliber) were sent. They arrived at the arsenal without swivel bars, without which they were "useless for Cavalry." The cost of repairing them at Fort Union Arsenal was considered prohibitive and, besides, there was no armorer there at the time. Shoemaker requested that the faulty weapons be replaced with complete ones. [207] No record was found to indicate when the Eighth Cavalry received the new weapons.

     In 1872 construction work at the arsenal was completed and a well was drilled to supply water for the facility. Until that time all water had been hauled by wagon from the spring approximately one-half mile away. Good water was found at a depth of seventy feet. A horsepower force pump was installed. The detachment at the arsenal continued to perform the usual duties and repaired and covered several hundred saddles. [208] Several years later, at the request of Stephen B. Elkins, New Mexico Territory delegate to the House of Representatives, the cost of the buildings at Fort Union Arsenal was reported to be $46,500. Colonel Daniel W. Flagler, in an inspection report in 1880, gave the cost as $47,000. [209]

     Tragedy struck at the arsenal when one of the enlisted men was murdered while performing his duties. Corporal James Tarpy, who had served there for several years as a messenger between the arsenal and Fort Union and had carried the mail for the arsenal, was shot in the back by a deserter on the afternoon of November 13, 1872, while returning from the post to the arsenal. It was Shoemaker's opinion that the assassin wanted Tarpy's horse, but the wounded man managed to ride to the arsenal before he fell off and died. Tarpy's remains were buried in the post cemetery. The guilty party and an accomplice were captured and placed in the guardhouse at Fort Union. Shoemaker stated it was the only casualty suffered in his department during his twenty-one years at Fort Union. A few days later the prisoners were turned over to the sheriff of Mora County. Soon after they left the military reservation a mob overwhelmed the sheriff's posse and lynched the prisoners. [210]

     The work of the arsenal continued without interruption during the next several years. A major activity remained the repair and covering of saddles. Repairs to facilities were made as required and the operations of the facility functioned smoothly. The enlisted detachment was fixed at fourteen men (one sergeant, two corporals, six first class privates, and five second class privates) and the number of civilian employees averaged three to four. As the railroads built toward New Mexico transportation costs for the arsenal and the time of delivery were reduced, just as for the other supply departments. Another change of weapons occurred in 1874 when the Eighth Cavalry was supplied with Colt Pistols altered for .45-caliber metallic cartridges and 1873 Springfield Carbines (.45-caliber). [211] The infantry regiments serving in New Mexico were soon supplied with 1873 Springfield Rifles (also .45-caliber) and the same pistols. These remained the standard weapons so long as Fort Union was an active post.

     In 1875 the duty of supplying horse equipment to cavalry regiments was transferred from the ordnance to the quartermaster department, where it had been prior to 1856. The ordnance department had been assigned the handling of cavalry horse equipment because it had responsibility for artillery horse equipment. The reasons for transferring it back to the quartermaster department were economy and convenience. Each post had a quartermaster whereas there were few ordnance depots or arsenals. It was less expensive to supply cavalrymen at the post where they were stationed than to secure those items from a distant arsenal. The cavalry horse equipment at Fort Union Arsenal was transferred to the quartermaster at the Fort Union Depot in 1877. [212]

     The economic effects of the ordnance depot and arsenal were, as noted above, considerably less that those of the quartermaster and commissary departments. Nevertheless the ordnance department did employ a few civilian laborers and contract for a few supplies. In 1877 there were three civilian employees: clerk ($4.37 per day), blacksmith ($4.25 per day), and saddler ($3.00). In 1878 the arsenal let four contracts: William B. Tipton of Tiptonville held the contract for hay and corn; John Pendaries, Rincon, pine lumber; Abe Berg, La Junta, lime; and Elafio Duran, La Cueva, charcoal. The total expenditures were approximately $4,000 per year. [213]

     Conflicts of jurisdiction occasionally flared up between Shoemaker and another department or the post commander. Shoemaker never hesitated to administer the ordnance depot as though it were independent from the post. He was not always successful. In 1856 Colonel Fauntleroy, commanding the post, discovered that the ordnance detachment had taken "a number of the logs 'intended for the erection of a Dragon stable at this Post' . . . without his consent or authority." Shoemaker was directed to "have these logs returned to the place from whence they were taken without delay." Shoemaker argued that he had received permission from Lieutenant John T. Mercer, First Dragoons, who was in charge of building the dragoon stable. Fauntleroy angrily informed Shoemaker, through his adjutant, that excuse was "by no means satisfactory" and declared he would not "acknowledge the right, for you to pull and carry off considerable portions of the stable already built." Shoemaker was warned that Fauntleroy "will expect that the logs be returned and the building put in the same shape it was before the trespass was committed upon it without further correspondence." [214] The logs were returned. Why they were taken in the first place was never explained. One possibility was that Captain McFerran, new commander at the quartermaster subdepot at Fort Union, stopped supplying firewood for the ordnance depot. The ordnance detachment, forced to find its own supply, may have appropriated the logs for that purpose.

     Shoemaker preferred to have the last word in any exchange, however, and several days later he requested that Fauntleroy return to the ordnance department the two pieces of artillery that stood by the flag staff at the post. Fauntleroy immediately complied and dampened Shoemaker's victory with his reply. The post adjutant conveyed his commander's message: "he directs me to say in reply, that you are at liberty to remove whenever you may see fit, the two guns near the flag-staff, which were found in that position on his assuming command of this post." [215] That was not the end of their conflicts, however. Both men were stubborn and continued to butt heads.

     In June 1856 Fauntleroy returned to Fort Union from a temporary absence for court-martial duty to discover that Shoemaker had achieved another triumph in the growing battle of jurisdictional disputes. For some time past the quartermaster department had been hauling by wagon the daily water supply from the spring near Wolf Creek to the ordnance depot. Captain McFerran, subdepot and post quartermaster, informed Shoemaker that he did not have sufficient employees to continue that practice. Shoemaker requested, without consulting the post commander, approval of Brigadier General Garland to have the extra-duty men at the post who hauled water for the garrison also to haul water for the ordnance depot. Garland had approved. Fauntleroy was incensed that Shoemaker had not made the request to him, but Shoemaker, of course, considered himself independent of the post commander and directly under the department commander. [216]

     Fauntleroy declared there was no military precedent which would require the soldiers of one post to haul water for another post. Shoemaker should not be permitted to have it both ways; that is, be independent from the post at Fort Union in all ways except for delivery of water. Fauntleroy was annoyed that the ordnance detachment never furnished any men for fatigue or police details, never furnished any hospital attendants although they used the post hospital, and were exempt from all such duties at Fort Union. He argued that, if the two places were distinct as Shoemaker and the department commander maintained, the garrison at the post should not be required to haul the water. Fauntleroy requested that the dispute be submitted to the commanding general of the army for settlement. [217] There was no evidence that Garland considered changing the order or forwarded the appeal. The soldiers at the post hauled water to the ordnance depot.

     Fauntleroy, determined to retaliate, decided that, since the ordnance depot was considered to be separate from the post and the new post chaplain and schoolteacher (Rev. William Stoddert who arrived at Fort Union on June 12, 1856) was required to serve only the post to which he was appointed, Shoemaker's children and any other children at the ordnance depot would not be permitted to attend the post school. This was the first time a school was established at the fort. Shoemaker, naturally, refused to accept Fauntleroy's decision and appealed directly to Department Commander Garland for permission to send children from the ordnance depot to Rev. Stoddert's school. Garland again approved Shoemaker's request, noting that the Fort Union post council of administration, rather than Fauntleroy, should supervise the post school. Fauntleroy pointed out that the post council "had the power to make regulations touching the point in controversy, but did not." He protested Garland's judgment on the issue, as best he could, and again requested that the matter be sent to the commanding general of the army. [218]

     As a parting shot, Fauntleroy pointed out what he considered to be the absurdity of the situation.

     "But is it just at any rate that the school should be thus subjected, as the Ordnance does not contribute in any manner to the support of the post fund, by which the expenses of the school are to a considerable extent met and paid. The Mil. Storekeeper does not allow his flour to be baked at the post bakery, nor are the enlisted men at the Ordnance taken into consideration in taxing the Sutler as the Depot is separate." [219]

     The children from the ordnance depot attended the post school. Fauntleroy was undoubtedly relieved to relinquish command of Fort Union on June 29, 1856, leaving Shoemaker to be the thorn in the side of his successors. The two would clash again when Fauntleroy was department commander, 1859-1861.

     Despite Shoemaker's general popularity with most of the officers who served at Fort Union, there had to be a few who despised him. Fauntleroy was undoubtedly one of them. The feeling was probably mutual. It was, perhaps, understandable why Shoemaker extended his leave of absence from the department (the only one in his long tenure in New Mexico) during 1859 and 1860 while Fauntleroy was department commander. Fauntleroy, for his part, tried to prevent Shoemaker's resumption of command at the ordnance depot and then rejected Shoemaker's proposals for a new arsenal. They may well have been each other's greatest nemesis, to the credit of neither. Shoemaker did not always win his engagements but seldom was he totally defeated in "Shoemaker's domain." Sometimes he lost.

Fort Union Arsenal, depot, third post, earthwork
Fort Union Arsenal in foreground, about 1879, with depot (left), third post (center), and remains of earthwork (right) in background. The arsenal occupied the site of the first Fort Union. Courtesy Arizona Pioneers Historical Society.

     In January 1857 Shoemaker permitted his son, Edward Shoemaker, to set up a store at the ordnance depot to trade with enlisted men. The new post sutler, George M. Alexander, immediately complained to Post Commander W. W. Loring that this violated his rights as a sutler. Loring, perhaps learning from Fauntleroy's experiences, sent the complaint to Brigadier General Garland for decision, with a brief statement: "It is important, situated as we are that we should have a sutler and that he should be supported in his just rights." On the other hand, he noted, "the ordnance are few in number and cannot require much." Loring went out of his way to get along with Shoemaker, declaring "I have not interfered so far with the Ordnance, and shall not if I can help it, but will leave the matter to the Commanding Officer of the Department." [220] Department Commander Garland ruled in favor of the sutler and issued directions "that the unauthorized sutler's store be immediately closed." Even though the ordnance depot was not a part of the post, Garland declared, "the Ordnance depot at Fort Union is embraced within the limits of that post, and is considered separate only as regards its interior management." [221] Clearly, the line between the post and ordnance depot, just as between the post and quartermaster depot, was fuzzy. Edward Shoemaker attempted similar efforts under later department commanders, but always with the same result.

     Captain Shoemaker was usually successful when defending the independence of the arsenal. In 1866 he successfully fended off an effort by District Commander Carleton to exert control over the arsenal. Carleton directed that all contracts made and funds expended at the arsenal were to be approved by him. Shoemaker argued that he was responsible only to the chief of ordnance in Washington, D.C., and appealed to Chief of Ordnance Alexander B. Dyer to seek an opinion from the commanding general of the army. He did and Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant upheld Shoemaker, declaring that the commander of the arsenal "will not be interfered with by district commander in the proper discharge of his duties." [222] Shoemaker never accepted being "interfered with."

     In 1879 Colonel James Belger, quartermaster department, became commander of the Fort Union Depot. Although it had been the practice for years for the depot to deliver firewood to the arsenal, Belger decided that the men from the arsenal should come to the depot and haul their own firewood from the wood yard to the arsenal. Never one to back down, Shoemaker protested. When Belger refused to budge, Shoemaker appealed to the secretary of war to settle the dispute. His request was forwarded through the ordnance department and the quartermaster department. Quartermaster General Meigs determined that the quartermaster department "should deliver the wood at the barracks of the detachment." The secretary of war concurred and the quartermaster department was compelled to accede to Shoemaker's request. The firewood was delivered to the arsenal. Belger escaped further confrontation with Shoemaker by retiring during the time of the appeal. [223]

     Shoemaker found it impossible to recruit men for the arsenal detachment in New Mexico in 1879. He requested that one of the arsenals in the East enlist two men (one with rough carpentry skills and the other a laborer) to serve at the Fort Union Arsenal. The Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois enlisted one carpenter and one laborer and sent them to New Mexico. They arrived on October 10, Shoemaker reported, "presenting a good appearance." In this way the authorized strength of the ordnance detachment at Fort Union was kept filled. [224]

     The Hotchkiss magazine gun, a 2-pounder, 1.65-caliber, rapid-fire steel rifle, was a technological step in the development of more mobile artillery weapons with swift-firing capabilities and long range. The only reference to this weapon in the records of the Fort Union Arsenal was a request (accompanied by a check for $20) from Captain George Shorkley, Fifteenth Infantry, in 1880 to purchase a Hotchkiss gun. Shoemaker sent the request to the ordnance department to inquire if the weapon could be sold to an individual and, if so, at what price. The chief of ordnance declared "the Hotchkiss magazine arm will not be sold to officers for their personal use." Shoemaker informed Shorkley and returned his check. That did not end the matter. Shorkley informed Shoemaker that he already had a Hotchkiss gun which he had modified so it could be used by a left-handed man and had made other changes "disqualifying it for service use." He simply wanted to pay for what he already had. The chief of ordnance reiterated that the gun could not be sold to an individual and ordered that it "be returned to the custody of the United States." [225] Whether a Hotchkiss gun was ever sent to the Fort Union Arsenal was not determined.

     The routine life at the arsenal continued with only minor changes. Shoemaker reported that the arsenal had a library of some thirty technical publications relating to ordnance information. In July 1880 the arsenal and post were cut off from all railroad and mail communications for a week because of floods which destroyed railroad bridges and embankments. In 1881 the civilian saddler was relieved from duty because the stockpile of repaired and covered saddles was sufficient for the department for some time. In his place Shoemaker hired a storekeeper and packer to assist with the ordnance stores because the enlisted man who had done that work had been discharged. In 1881 another development in ordnance technology arrived at Fort Union in the form of the Gatling gun, forerunner of the machine gun. The first Gatling guns had been sent to the arsenal in the mid-1870s, but they were soon sent to the northern plains following George A. Custer's defeat in 1876. Apparently only one Gatling gun was ever issued to troops from the arsenal, and that was to troops operating in Colorado. At least one was kept at the post after the depot was closed. In 1885 Lieutenant Thomas J. Clay, Tenth Infantry, acting ordnance officer at Fort Union, received approval for the use of 546 rounds of ammunition "in experimental firing with the Gatling gun in the fourth quarter 1884." Another invention, more useful to individual soldiers, was the woven cartridge belt which replaced the cumbersome cartridge boxes. [226]

     By 1880 Shoemaker again found that the loss of enlisted men in the ordnance detachment could not be filled by his own recruitment efforts. He lamented the loss of almost half his force, some of whom had "lived here with me for ten & fifteen years." He appealed to Colonel Daniel W. Flagler, commandant of the Rock Island Arsenal and who had recruited men for Shoemaker's command before, to enlist for service at Fort Union "as many as four first rate men suitable for the place." Flagler agreed to do as asked, after securing approval of the ordnance department, and promised the "men will be sent as soon as they can be enlisted." The chief of ordnance, when granting the request, directed Flagler to make an inspection of Fort Union Arsenal. [227]

     Colonel Flagler immediately traveled to New Mexico, conducted a thorough inspection, and filed a fairly detailed report on the arsenal (unfortunately his plat of the arsenal filed with the report has not been located). Excerpts from Flagler's report, the only known description of the entire complex at the peak of its occupation, are printed in Appendix O. He found the entire complex "in excellent order and condition" and praised Shoemaker "for the great ability, economy and efficiency exercised by him in the construction and care of the Arsenal, and in its administration, and in supplying of troops and the administration of the affairs of the Ordnance Department in the Territory of New Mexico during the past 30 years." At the same time, from the perspective of military needs in the Southwest and the efficient operation of the ordnance department, Flagler recognized that the necessity of maintaining an arsenal in New Mexico was limited and the time was near when Fort Union Arsenal would be obsolete. The fact that the arsenal was several miles from a railroad was deleterious. The constant expansion of railroads, he understood clearly, foreshadowed the demise of posts and arsenals such as Fort Union. He recommended waiting a year or two, during which time the railroad network would continue to expand, before making any decision on the future of the arsenal. [228]

     Flagler recommended the disposal of large quantities of obsolete and unserviceable materials at the arsenal. Those that could be broken up and used in the manufacture of new items should be shipped to Rock Island Arsenal. Stores that were "worthless," not worth the cost of transportation, were to be used or destroyed at the arsenal. The inventory at Fort Union Arsenal should continue with an abundant quantity of items required by troops in the region. The chief of ordnance approved Flagler's suggestions. Shoemaker and his command shipped 373,109 pounds of obsolete items, seventeen rail carloads, to Rock Island before the end of the year (at an estimated cost of $13,000). While cleaning out the storehouses, Shoemaker noted, they found "a very large bulk of old stores that have been accumulating for many years, some of them since the close of the Mexican War, as I issued them to the troops under the late Genl. S. W. Kearny for the conquest of this Territory in 1846." [229]

Company G, Sixth Cavalry
Company G, Sixth Cavalry, occupied the former arsenal in 1888. Some of the men of that troop are shown with part of the old arsenal. Neils Larsen is seventh from left, with white tie. Larsen Collection, Fort Union National Monument.

     Shoemaker, who had been in New Mexico since before Fort Union was founded, also realized that the need for the arsenal would soon expire. With more than forty years in the service, he chose to retire on June 30, 1882, at the age of seventy-three. He was succeeded in command by Lieutenant William F. Rice, Twenty-Third Infantry, who served temporarily until Lieutenant Andrew H. Russell, ordnance department, arrived to oversee the closing of the arsenal. [230] One of Shoemaker's last acts was to provide the use of a field gun from the arsenal for the town of Las Vegas to fire a national salute during its July 4 celebration. It was an indication of how far things had come during his tenure at Fort Union. Instead of sending weapons to defend citizens in the area, he was helping them celebrate the freedom that the army had brought to the nation as well as the region. [231] Shoemaker was permitted to live in the house he had occupied at Fort Union, serving as caretaker of the abandoned arsenal, where he survived until 1886. [232]

     The Fort Union Arsenal was closed shortly after Shoemaker retired. In fact, just three days after he stepped down, orders were issued closing the arsenal and establishing a new depot at Fort Lowell, Arizona. That was warranted because most of the shipments of arms and ammunition during the previous year had gone to Arizona Territory. The ordnance and ordnance stores at Fort Union were distributed between the Lowell Ordnance Depot and the Rock Island Arsenal. The buildings and grounds of the Fort Union Arsenal were turned over to the quartermaster department for the use of the army. It took several months for Lieutenant Russell to transfer the stores and close the arsenal. A public auction was conducted to dispose of some items and some (including a large safe weighing 3,500 pounds and built into the house where it stood) were transferred to the quartermaster department at Fort Union. The employees and detachment of soldiers at Fort Union Arsenal were transferred to the new ordnance depot in Arizona, except for a blacksmith who chose not to go, one soldier who was transferred to the Rock Island Arsenal, and four soldiers who were discharged. Russell followed the stores to Fort Lowell where he was to establish the new ordnance depot. The facilities at Fort Lowell were grossly inadequate, however, and the depot was canceled. On March 27, 1883, the order establishing the ordnance depot at Fort Lowell was revoked and all the stores remaining at Fort Union Arsenal were ordered sent to Rock Island Arsenal. [233] The transportation to haul everything from the arsenal to the railroad was provided by Dr. William Sparks. [234]

     Lieutenant Russell, in one of his letters from Fort Union to Colonel James M. Whittemore (on staff at the ordnance department at Washington, D.C., and the brother of Captain Edward W. Whittemore, who was commanding officer at Fort Union on several occasions during the late 1870s and early 1880s and in 1890-1891), relayed information about the former commander of the arsenal:

     "Captain Shoemaker is active as ever, but it is a sad thing for him to see all his precious stores pass from under his eyes, and the idea of having Ordnance buildings turned over to the Q. M. Dept. and the line of the army goes quite against his grain. He is very much pleased, however, at having his house left to him; and he is very grateful to the Chief of Ordnance for his kind action." [235]

     Shoemaker died at his home at Fort Union on September 16, 1886. He had arrived at Fort Union in 1851 and was present during thirty-five of its forty-year history. It was an uncommon record of tenure at one location (one the longest known of any military officer or enlisted man in the entire history of the army) in an era when the post commanders served an average of only a few months. [236] Shoemaker experienced more of what happened at Fort Union than any other being and had been friends with most of the officers and their families stationed at the post. During all that time, except for one extended leave of absence, he was in charge, truly in charge, of the ordnance depot and arsenal, "Shoemaker's domain." His professional career and remarkable life, so interwoven with the story of Fort Union, deserve more attention.

     By the time of his death Shoemaker had been a resident of the area so long that he was widely known. A Las Vegas newspaper announced the passing of Shoemaker and paid him tribute.

     "He was well known to many of our older citizens, but the increasing infirmity of deafness prevented his making many acquaintances in the last few years. He was a great hunter, and passionately fond of dogs and fine horses. Of the latter he always kept the best the country could afford. As a man he was courteous and affable, as an officer firm and faithful. Upright in all his dealings, never was a breath of slander upon his name. He will be buried at Fort Union tomorrow, the funeral taking place from his late residence." [237]

     The death of Shoemaker was the end of an era, and the post at Fort Union soon followed him and the arsenal as part of history. The ordnance depot and arsenal, along with the commissary and quartermaster departments and depot, provided the essential supplies to permit the army at Fort Union and in the region to accomplish its missions. Those departments had fulfilled their responsibilities to the soldiers and, at the same time, had produced far-reaching and immeasurable effects on the economy and society of New Mexico. From the perspective of a century later it was impossible to determine whether the army performed its most enduring contribution as the protector of travelers and settlers or as the precursor of Anglo-American development of the region. In either case the outcome, whether interpreted to be admirable or adverse, was overpowering and irreversible. The story of military supply and the economy was unquestionably an important chapter in the history of the Southwest, the frontier army, and Fort Union. Not everything done by and for the army produced such ramifications outside the military structure. The soldiers at the post were affected by other military departments and rules and regulations. The contributions and significance of the medical department and the story of military discipline and justice will complete the study of Fort Union and the frontier army in the Southwest.

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