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A furnace built by the Noble Brothers during the Civil War as a means to increase the Confederate War demand for more cannons and Caissons. Following the year 1864, the furnace was knocked out by Union troops only to be rebuilt and put back into production in 1867. However, following a series of structural collapses, the furnace was blown out from the duress of production and was finally shutdown in 1874.

  • A modern photo of the furnace taken in autumn.
  • A plaque of the site that explains the Furnaces' significance.
  • A photo of the furnace that was taken some time in spring.
  • A photo of the furnace that exemplifies the enormity of the structure.

Cornwall Furnace

            Throughout its’ bloody history, the American Civil War was a conflict that demanded timing and an abundance of materials from both sides. In order for either side to get an advantage against one another, the resources which they utilized helped dictate the outcome on the battlefield. In terms of the advantages of the Confederate forces, they did not have as much in terms of industry as their northern counterparts. However, they did utilize resources such as the Cornwall Furnace in order to create the materials needed to put them on equal terms with the Union. While the Cornwall furnace was only one resource utilized by the Confederacy, it stands out as an integral piece of history that helped play a large role in the war itself.

            The saga of the Cornwall Furnace began with its owners the Noble brothers from Rome Georgia. Operating under their company, the Noble brothers and company founded by their father, the brothers had been in the business of metal works since 1855. The Noble brothers themselves had been descended from a long line of Iron workers and miners, they were introduced to the business by their father James Noble Sr. Mr. Noble Sr. was born to a copper and tin mine owner in Cromwell England 1805. In 1826, he married his wife Jennifer Ward and afterward left England for the United States. Upon their arrival to America, the Nobles settled in the community of Reading, Pennsylvania and established a foundry and machine shop. Throughout their time at Reading, the Nobles had 12 children comprising of six boys and six girls out of an original number of 14 children that lived to adulthood. After his works were destroyed by a fire he moved his family and business further south towards the larger markets. “The larger market for his foundry products had always been in Tennessee and North Carolina.”[1]Relocating in Rome Georgia, Mr. Noble re-opened his foundry in 1855 by establishing its base and machine shops in Rome and then shipped his machinery by sea to the buyers of their products. Which comprised of a great variety of machinery and castings that included boilers, engines for steamboats, and a twenty-five ton locomotive built south of the city of Richmond, Virginia.

Because of their connections in Rome, the Nobles were able to incorporate the use of a large capacity rolling mill that helped their business make an even larger variety of merchant bar iron for a much larger production scale. “The Nobles also in connection with their Rome enterprise, a large capacity rolling mill, making all classes of merchant bar iron and supplying the market in a wide territory.”[2] During the same time, America itself underwent a series of political turning points that were brought up by the topic of slavery. Because of the tensions that arose from the debate regarding slavery’s expansion to the western United States, Congress enacted the Missouri Compromise of 1820 which established a legal boundary between states that allowed or prohibited slavery along the North latitude 36-30 degree line. While this was widely criticized by both parties it was helpful in keeping the Union together for a period of thirty years until the Kansas Nebraska Act of 1854 repealed it with the establishment of the two states of Kansas and Nebraska as slave states through popular sovereignty despite being above the compromise line. While it appeared that both sides were expecting the coming of war between the North and the South, the South was not as industrially equipped to handle such an undertaking. Since the Confederates lacked the industrialized weapons of their northern adversaries, they began to fall behind because the supplies they did have proved to be inadequate for keeping the Confederacy stable during the first year of the war. Despite the success of the Noble Brothers, business in Rome Georgia, they were notable to produce a sufficient supply of pig iron for the pressing demands of the Ordinance department in Richmond. In response, the Nobles were forced to utilize financial aid from the Confederate government to build a blast furnace more suitable for production on a larger scale.

In the second year of the war in 1862, the Noble brothers began to create the furnace itself with the aid provided to them by the Confederate government. The furnace was chosen to be situated five miles west of Cedar Bluff on the Chattooga River. In order to construct the massive blast furnace, a large amount of labor went into its’ construction which included a number of skilled artisans as well as a hundred enslaved African Americans who were hired by the Nobles. The reason behind this large number of people to work on the furnace was due in part to the need for a canal and tunnel for a supply of water needed to power the furnace as well as the local grist and flour mill. The Nobles built the machinery needed for the furnace and then delivered the machines over to the furnace in Cedar Bluff through a boat down the Coosa River. The plant’s output was contracted for by the Nitre and Mining Bureau of the Confederate states after which went to the foundry of the Noble brothers in Rome, Georgia. Named after the Noble’s native county in England, the furnace finally went into production by the latter half of the year 1862. During its period of production, the furnace produced from 5 to 8 tons of war materials that included cannons, carriages and caissons. The materials utilized by the furnace included red hematite from the Dirtseller Mountain three miles away from the furnace. While the furnace was useful in terms of producing more weapons and vehicles for the Confederacy, the furnace’s usefulness was overall very limited. In the spring of 1864, the Union forces under Sherman began a deep incursion into the Confederate territories and began to besiege into the city of Atlanta alongside his comrade General Blair. In the summer of 1864, General Blair began to march through Cherokee County, he and his unit discovered the Cornwall Furnace and had it destroyed.

Following its’ destruction by the Union forces under General Blair as well as the conclusion of the war, the Noble brothers were determined to rebuild it. To that end, they sought out the assistance of Colonel Rattray of their hometown of Rome Georgia, whom they had met back in 1864 to help them raise capital for reconstruction. Following up on their request for help, the Nobles entered into a partnership with three men from Illinois in which they managed to rebuild the furnace as well as the plant they owned in Rome, Georgia and by the year 1867 was able to go into blast as a cold blast charcoal furnace. Despite the partnership between the Nobles and their Northern partners, their existed a large amount of friction between the two groups as a result of the northern partners selling $15,000 interest to another partner of the Nobles, Colonel Wade S. Cothran, President of the Bank of Rome. By 1868, the plant had been blown out as a result of the friction between the two partners. While repairs were made to the plant, the furnace itself blew out the following year of 1869 following another growing amount of friction between the two partnerships and six months after an $30 daily increase of expenses without exceeding five tons of material, the plant was in debt up to $30,000. To make matters worse, in the following year 1870 the furnace collapsed as a result of the intense heat caused by a thousand bushels of stacked charcoal leftover from production. To pay for repairs, the Cornwall Company of Richmond Virginia. For a whole year, the furnace lay out of commission until it was rebuilt in 1874. However this run was not to last as it was blown off for good in the year 1875 along with the plant.

While the furnace was no longer able to help the Noble brothers produce manufactured needs on a large scale with the destruction of both the furnace as well as  the Nobles’ factory, their contributions to the south helped them and the Confederacy maintain their presence during the trying years of the Civil War. In addition to this, the Cornwall Furnace was utilized to give the South an good chance to keep the Confederates in the war despite their lack of resources.  

[1] The Story of Coal and Iron in Alabama, Ethel Armes, pg.184.

[2] Ibid, pg.185.

Armes, Ethel, The Story of Coal and Iron in Alabama, (Auspices of the Chamber of Commerce, Birmingham Alabama, 1910). Civil War Preservation Trust, Civil War Sites: the Official Guide to the Civil War Discovery Trail, (Morris Book Publishing, Guilford, CT, 2003). “Cornwall Furnace”, Cherokee County Historical Society, accessed April 24th, 2015, Woodward II, Joseph, H and James R Bennett, Alabama Blast Furnaces, (Woodward Iron Company, Woodward, AL, 2007).