Monday, January 11, 2016

Georgia Salt Manufacturing Company

Henry Holcombe Tucker was lawyer, Baptist minister, and educator -- president of Mercer University and chancellor of the University of Georgia. He was born in 1819, and died in 1889. He attended the University of Pennsylvania and Columbian College, and was president of a large salt manufacturing company during the Civil War. He was considered by those who knew him to be an entertaining companion, profound theologian, and a well-informed man on all subjects. We have no known shared ancestors. He was also one of the first people in the State of Georgia to foresee a potential for a salt famine during the Civil War.

Salt had been made since ancient times by boiling brine, or saltwater. The first salt mine was not sunk until 1869. One of the major saltworks during the Civil War was located in Saltville, Virginia, which is a town in Washington and Smyth counties, located near large inland salt marshes.

Typical inland salt marsh; photograph by Gary P. Fleming; courtesy of the
Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Large furnaces, or boiling facilities were located in Saltville and the principal salt states of the South produced 2,365,000 bushels of salt during the Civil War. It sounds like a lot of salt, but it simply wasn't enough. Insufficient production and the Union blockade of Southern ports made salt and other basic foods extremely expensive. As the war went on, the Union army attacked salt production wherever it found them, from Virginia to Texas. Speculation was rife and several salt manufacturing companies were created during the war, including the Georgia Salt Manufacturing Company, Henry Holcombe Tucker's company. The company was incorporated in 1862:

Georgia General Assembly, House of Representatives Journal

Monday, November 24, 1862

Mr. Bigham, of Troup, ...reported a bill to incorporate a mining company known and designated as the Georgia Salt Manufacturing Company....

By 1863 the company had a contract with the Saltville, Virginia, furnaces for salt, which was to be sent to Georgia. However, the war had so disrupted transportation that it required special legislation and legislative negotiations with railroad companies to get the salt moving.

Boiling brine at the saltworks in Saltville, Virginia, during the Civil War;
image courtesy of VirginiaPlaces

(No. 55)

Report of the Joint Committee on Transportation

Resolved, That the Governor is hereby requested to appoint a commissioner to repair to Richmond with plenary powers, to confer with the President and other officers of the Confederate Government upon subjects touching the providing of supplies for Rail Roads and the regulation of transportation thereon.


Your Committee are informed that there are now at Saltville, Virginia, awaiting shipment to Georgia, as much as 40,000 bushels of salt, the product of the furnaces erected and worked under the contract made by the Hon. John W. Lewis, under the direction of the Planter's Salt Company and the Georgia Salt Company, and that the manufacture of salt for supply in Georgia is daily progressing at that place. The Governor has set apart a train to be sent from Western and Atlantic R. Road to Saltville, to transport the salt to Georgia and carry needful supplies for their furnaces. As the rate of daily production is large, say 1,500 bushels per day, further arrangements so soon as practicable will probably be found necessary. We are informed that some negotiations are pending with intermediate R. Roads, on the subject of transportation. Without proposing to act disrespectfully to the committee on salt supply, we unanimously recommend the following resolutions:

Resolved, That we approve the action of the Governor, in relation to sending a special train, with a good engine and cars to Saltville, for the transportation of salt made under the contract of John W. Lewis and the Planters' Salt Manufacturing Company, and the Georgia Salt Company for supply to Georgia and of taking useful supplies to the furnace making the same. He is further authorized and requested to make all such contracts and arrangement with R. R. companies, as he may deem proper to facilitate transportation and to procure and send other engine, train or trains, as he may deem the exigencies of the work demand, having due regard for other calls for transportation.

Henry Holcombe Tucker wrote several letters to Georgia Governor, Joseph E. Brown, during the Civil War. He was involved with a hospital association, recommended several men to appointed positions, and had strong feelings about taxes. In 1864 he wrote another letter to the governor and was pretty fired up about the Army taking his salt company employees away to serve in the war.

Henry Tucker's letter to Governor Joseph E. Brown regarding
his salt company employees

April 16, 1863

Penfield, Georgia, January 23, 1864

To His Excellency Joseph E. Brown:

A few days ago Your Excellency was pleased to give me a note to the Secretary of War, requesting exemption from military service of the employees of the Salt Company.

Since then all said employees have been enrolled in State service. I am satisfied that the officer had no right to enroll them. I fear we shall be perpetually annoyed if not actually broken up by the interference of petty officials unless we have some prompt means of getting rid of them.

I therefore beg that Your Excellency will order a paper of exemption from State service to be prepared for each of my men and forward the same to me by mail. The following are the names: William A. Overton, Walter A. Overton, Thomas R. Thornton, Barnet Phillips, William A. Beagley, J. J. West, H. F. Mitchell, and ________ Lunsford [?].

I will see that the blank in Lunsford's name is properly filled. Not presuming to dictate, but simply to same time and trouble I have written some papers enclosed herewith, which if Your Excellency will sign, all will be right.

I have the honor to be Your Humble Servant

H. H. Tucker

Present, Georgia Salt Manufacturing Company

I have been unable to discover to date what happened to the company after the war, but this has surely been one of the more interesting side "journeys" I've taken as a family historian. Reading History of Salt by Mark Kurlansky several years ago certainly helped guide my research.

Clashing with the Governor 1860s Style

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