The Report of the “Wizard of Weaponry”
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This report is the result of two years of travel and study of European artillery and small arms development. Sponsored by the Ordnance Division of the War Department, it exerted a great influence on American weapon design and construction during the Civil War. ALFRED MORDECAI. [JUDAICA].
Book, Military Commission to Europe in 1855-1856. Washington, D.C.: Bowman, 1860, 232 pp., 9 ½ x 11 ¾ in. With foldout plates and engravings of cannon, ordinance, maps. Scattered foxing, rebound. Deaccessioned from Yale University.
Alfred Mordecai (1804-1887) entered West Point at age 15 (where he was the only Jew on campus) and graduated first in his class in 1823. He taught at the Military Academy, supervised construction of coastal fortifications, and eventually became assistant to the Army Chief of Engineers. When he was promoted to captain in 1832, he joined the Ordnance department, where he would serve 29 years. Mordecai commanded the Washington arsenal in 1833, then the Frankford Arsenal in Philadelphia, in 1836, and finally the Watervliet Arsenal in New York in 1857.
He was promoted to Major in 1854. “Sealing his reputation as America’s finest ballistician,” wrote Alexander Rose, “he published the influential tracts, “The Ordnance Manual,” “Report of Experiments on Gunpowder,” “Second Report of Experiments on Gunpowder,” and “Artillery for the United States Land Service.”” His most important work however, was this book, Military Commission to Europe in 1855-1856. The report was the result of Secretary of War Jefferson Davis’s concern that the United States was falling behind technologically in armaments, so he sent a group of commissioners to Europe. They visited England, France, Prussia, Poland, Russia, Austria, and the Ottoman Empire. His subsequent report, wrote Rose, was a “landmark of military literature” and greatly influenced the fighting of the Civil War.
At the outset of the war, however, Mordecai was torn between his southern roots (his family had been in North Carolina for generations) and his loyalty to the U.S. Army. Moreover, if he remained with Union forces, he would have been in charge of the weapons used against his family and southern neighbors. Instead, he resigned his commission.
Alexander Rose, “Alfred Mordecai: The Wizard of Weaponry.”
“Alfred Mordecai (1804-1887)”