Confederate Cook & Brother New Orleans Production Alabama Contract Rifle Saber Bayonet
- Product Code: EWB-2552-SOLD
- Availability: Out Of Stock
The Confederate long arms produced by the firm of Cook & Brother are some of the best made and most sought after guns produced in the south during the American Civil War. Thanks to the research done by the late Dr. John Murphy & Howard Michael Madaus that is presented in their two volume set Confederate Rifles & Muskets and Confederate Carbines & Musketoons, we know quite a bit about the company and its contracts and have a reasonable estimate regarding their total production of long arms.
Ferdinand W.C. Cook was born on July 23, 1823 Harry Cook and Ann Bradwin Wright Cook. He was baptized William Charles Ferdinand Cook in St. Mary’s Church, Islington, London. At the age of 9, Ferdinand emigrated to America with his father and older brothers Henry (18) and Theodore (16), on board the ship Ontario. The ship arrived in New York City on April 17, 1833, about 3-months shy of Ferdinand’s tenth birthday. Murphy & Madaus note that Ferdinand Cook was 16 when he reached America, but this does not appear to be correct, and it is possible that they used the census records for his brother Theodore to establish that age. In 1834, the rest of the family, including Ferdinand’s mother Ann and brothers Arthur (15), Francis (13) and Frederick (5) immigrated to America as well and joined the Cook family in New York. It was in New York that Ferdinand, Francis and Frederick received their training in metal work and engineering, as all three worked for the "Novelty Iron Works" (formerly Stillman & Co), which was a large and well-established engineering and industrial manufacturing company in the city. Along with their education, this on-the-job training gave all of them real knowledge and skill regarding the engineering and manufacturing of heavy industrial equipment, foundry work, castings, and military armaments. The training could not have come from a better company, as the Novelty Iron Works was known top-quality workmanship in New York and throughout the growing United States. While he was employed at Novelty Iron Works, Ferdinand visited New Orleans in the early part of the 1840s. There he functioned as a sales agent for the customers of the company in that region. These were mostly businesses in the sugar and cotton industry. The allure of New Orleans must have been great, as Ferdinand moved there in 1845 and in 1849 married a local woman, Mary Jane Wilcox. In 1852 Ferdinand’s younger brother Frederick joined him in New Orleans and by 1855 his brother Francis had as well.
The threesome established the Belleville Iron Works in Algiers, LA where they concentrated on manufacturing large-scale industrial machinery and agricultural equipment. This type of industrial engineering and manufacturing was practically unknown in the south, which had relied for decades upon northern manufactures for their machinery. The Cooks even dabbled in the manufacture of small arms and artillery, and as early as May of 1856 they had corresponded with US Secretary of War Jefferson Davis about the possibility of establishing a national foundry for the manufacture of canon and arms in New Orleans. While he was making his own business successful, Ferdinand remained a sales agent for the Novelty Iron Works, but by 1861 he had resigned from that position. Brothers Ferdinand and Francis also spun off their small arms portion of the Bellville Works sometime in late 1860 or early 1861, establishing the Nashua Iron Company for the production of arms. This company was headquartered on Canal Street in New Orleans proper, across the Mississippi River from their Algiers factory. According to the Cooks, the firm was established to prove “that rifles could be made here as well as in Yankee land or in Europe.”
Not very long after establishing this new manufactory, the name was changed to Cook & Brother and would remain so through the rest of the war. Initially the firm concentrated on the manufacture of Enfield pattern “short rifles” based upon the English Patten 1856 rifle, with saber bayonets. Early orders included rifles and bayonets for the “Sunflower Guards” (Company I, 21st Mississippi Volunteer Infantry) and for the state of Alabama, which ordered 1,000 Cook rifles with bayonets. While the company clearly focused on producing “Enfield pattern” rifles and bayonets, it also manufactured more than 2,000 additional saber bayonets (many for shotguns and some for civilian rifles) and a small number of carbines and musketoons (also based on “Enfield” patterns) before the Federal capture of New Orleans forced the Cook brothers to relocated further south. It is believed that the firm produced about 2,200 long arms while in New Orleans, most of which were rifles, with a much smaller number of carbines and musketoons produced as well, prior to their forced evacuation in April of 1862.
The Cooks took as much machinery, finished parts and raw materials as they could and escaped by river to Vicksburg, MS and then traveled via wagon to Selma, AL. From Selma the Cooks moved on to Athens, GA and established a new factory there. With the many previously finished parts on hand they were able to assemble completed arms prior to the factory really being up and running. As a result, the original Alabama state contract for rifles was completed by mid-August 1862 and at about the same time the Confederate Ordnance Department entered into an agreement with Cook & Brother to deliver “50,000 stand of arms” (rifles & bayonets, complete) at the rate of $25 each. The new manufactory was up and running by early 1863, but in addition to making rifles and bayonets there was new emphasis on producing carbines and musketoons. The musketoon had a 24” barrel and was based upon the English Enfield Pattern 1853 Artillery Carbine and the carbine had a 21” barrel and was based upon the English Enfield Pattern 1856 Cavalry Carbine. It is generally believed that the Cook & Brother carbines and musketoons produced in New Orleans were numbered in a separate serial number range from the rifles. However, it appears that once the operation was moved to Athens, all of the long arms were serial numbered in the same range, and somewhat randomly, with rifle, carbine and musketoon numbers mixed together.
The new factory was apparently quite impressive and according to Confederate Chief of Ordnance Josiah Gorgas, "the establishment of the works reflects much credit upon their senior partner, and he has exhibited a much better appreciation of the requirements of an Armory than any other person who has attempted a like enterprise in the Confederacy." Further kudos were provided by Confederate Colonel James H. Burton, who was initially the superintendent of the Richmond Armory but was soon made the overall supervisor of all CS armories. During an 1864 inspection of the premises, Burton noted that the Cook & Brother Armory was "the best fitted up and regulated private armory I have yet inspected in the C. States."
Ferdinand Cook was clearly somewhat leery that the company might be forced to move again due to Yankee thrusts into the south and to that end he established a local militia company comprised of some of his workers and other Athens locals to serve as a defense force. The group was officially designated the 23rd Georgia Local Defense Battalion, and Ferdinand Cook served as its major. The battalion was engaged during the defense of Griswoldville, GA in November of 1864 and during the fighting around Hardeeville, SC the following month. Major Ferdinand Cook was killed in action by a Federal sharpshooter on December 11, 1864. As is well known, the surrender at Appomattox signed the death knell for the Confederate south, both militarily and financially.
In March of 1867, US Federal Marshalls seized the defunct Cook & Brother factory to sell it as former enemy property. Francis L. Cook managed to stave off the confiscation through a series of legal battles, but after managing to retain title to his property he was forced to sell the manufactory at a sheriff’s sale to pay his debts. The buyer, Athens Manufacturing Company, subsequently used the factory as a cotton mill.
As previously noted, the Cook & Brother Rifle was based upon the British made Enfield Pattern 1856 “Short Rifle”. The Cook rifle followed the general profile of the British made guns, and were similar in size, barrel length and caliber. Both had 33” barrels and nominal overall lengths around 48”. The British rifle was .577 caliber (25 bore) and the Cook rifle was nominally .58 caliber. Like the British made rifles, the Cook was rifled with three lands and grooves. The barrels of the Cook & Brother carbines were made from iron bars that were heated and twisted around a steel mandrel, unlike British barrels that were either hammer forged iron or eventually made of cast steel. This twisting process produced a distinct grain pattern, similar to the “Damascus” steel pattern of fine 19th century shotguns, but without the striking appearance and designs. Some Cook barrels were browned, and those were probably quite attractive with the twisted pattern, while those left in the bright were much less attractive, although they still typically show the distinctive twisted grain in the metal. Like the British rifle, the Cook variant used a jag-head ramrod, threaded at the end for implements to be used in cleaning and extracting unfired bullets. While the English Pattern 1856 rifle was iron mounted, the Cook rifle utilized cheaper and easier to manufacture brass furniture for the buttplate, triggerguard and nosecap. The Cook rifle even used brass for the barrel bands and sling swivels, unlike the British guns whose barrel bands were iron. The side nail cups (lock screw escutcheons) were iron on the British P-1856 rifle but were brass on the Cook variant. Another primary difference between the rifles was that the Cook utilized a fixed rear sight on most of their guns rather than the adjustable leaf sight found on the British made guns.
The Cook rifles were originally designed to accept a saber bayonet like their English counterparts, and initially mounted a keyed lug on the barrel, near the muzzle of the purposes of affixing the saber bayonet. These lugs only appear on the earliest production Cook rifles and were eventually supplanted by a removable bayonet adapter ring, which the bayonet lug was mounted on. The lug had a unique inverted trapezoidal shape, with the wide end of the trapezoid on the outer side and the trapezoid tapering towards the mounting ring.
The Cook produced rifles underwent some minor evolutionary changes from their initial production in New Orleans, through the end of their production in Athens. The afore mentioned evolution of the bayonet lug is a good example of one of those changes. While these changes are more plentiful and apparent in the Cook produced carbines, there were some changes in the rifles. Most obviously, the New Orleans made rifles have different lock and barrel markings than that later Athens production guns, with a different style of flag stamped to the rear of the hammer and New Orleans rather than Athens as their production location. The prototypical Athens produced rifle is quite similar to the New Orleans produced guns, with a new lock marking that read: COOK & BROTHER ATHENS GA (Serial Number) over the date 1863 or 1864. The Confederate First National Flag stamped at the rear of the lock plate is slightly different on the Athens made guns as well, showing a distinct “wrinkle” in it, as though it were waving in the wind. The barrels were typically marked in three lines COOK & BROTHER / ATHENS GA (Date) / (Serial Number). The serial numbers appeared on the majority of the components of the rifle, such as the nose cap, the triggerguard, on the rear surface of the barrel bands, and on the heads of the lock and tang screws. The number would also appear on the saber bayonet that had been fit to the gun.
The guns produced in New Orleans had a two-piece triggerguard that was similar to US made arms of the era and different from the Enfield pattern guns. The Athens made guns typically had a one-piece triggerguard much more closely patterned after the English ones. The bottoms of the barrels and the breech plugs were both stamped with matching alphanumeric or simply numeric mating marks. Early Athens rifles also had alphanumeric mating marks inside the locks, although these generally had no relationship to those found under the barrel or the serial numbers. Some Cook long arms bear the “FWC” cartouche of Ferdinand Cook, but these are quite rare, and the mark is rarely visible either due to wear of not having been stamped in the first place.
The saber bayonets produced for the majority of the Cook & Brother rifles were also based upon their British Pattern 1856 Enfield Rifle counterpart. While the British saber bayonets were produced with an iron hilt and were mounted with press checkered leather grip scales, the Cook made exampled used a sand cast, one-piece brass hilt and grip. The British bayonets used a nominally 22” long semi-Yataghan shaped blade, which the Cool & Brother rifle bayonets emulated. Interestingly, most of the saber bayonets produced for use on shotguns by Cook & Brother used a straight, spear-point blade. The grip had grooves cast into it to improve the grip surface and an integral muzzle ring with a rudimentary “cock’s comb” finial on the top. The lower part of the cross guard terminated in a rudimentary flat disc finish. The pommel cap had a rudimentary bird’s head profile and the bayonets designed for use with the adapter rings were cut for a trapezoidal bayonet lug. A spring bayonet lug catch was attached to the grip with a screw on the obverse and was operated with a push-button stud on the reverse. This allowed the bayonet to lock on the lug and to be release from the lug as well. A serial number was stamped on the obverse of the crossguard that matched the bayonet to the rifle that it had been fit to.
Offered here is a rare New Orleans production period Cook & Brother Rifle Saber Bayonet that is serial numbered 1177. This very early number places the bayonet in the period of New Orleans production and also designates the bayonet as having been part of the Alabama rifle contract, which were guns that fell roughly in the 800-1,800 serial number range. Other than the serial number, there are no markings on the bayonet. The bayonet measures 26 13/16” in overall length, with a nominally 22” (21 15/16”) semi-Yataghan blade that is 1 3/16” wide and .32” thick at the spine, near the hilt. The blade has a fuller that is nominally 14” long and about 5/8” wide at the widest point. The sandcast brass hilt measures 4 13/16” long and is cast with 20 grooves in the grip. The crossguard is 3 5/8” in length with a muzzle ring that has an internal diameter of .785” that is topped by a cock’s comb finial and a lower guard that terminates in a nominally 7/16” diameter rudimentary flat, disc-shaped final. The rear of the hilt is cut for a trapezoidal bayonet lug of the type used on the Cook & Brother saber bayonet adapter rings. The mortise cut is nominally .4” wide at the base and about .21” wide at the apex. The mortise in the top rear of the grip is cut for a length of 1 3/8”.
The bayonet remains in VERY GOOD condition and the only real condition issue worth noting is that the bayonet’s blade has been nickel plated at some point in time. It was not uncommon for the arms displayed in Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) Halls to be painted, often gold, or plated. The added finish not only made the items more “attractive” on the war, but also preserved them in many cases. The blade retains about 90%+ of this added nickel finish with some scattered flaking and loss, primarily along the edge of the blade. The areas of exposed metal on the blade show a moderately oxidized brown patina. It is quite likely that a professional plating company could remove this nickel plating chemically without damaging the blade, if the new owner would like to do that. For the time being, I am satisfied to allow the plating to remain and to protect the blade. However, the bright polish of the nickel did make it difficult to photograph the bayonet. The blade is full-length, shows no significant damage and retains its original edge that is free of any notable dings or chips and also shows no signs of sharpening. The sand cast hilt shows the expected crudeness and flaws expected and typically encountered on the bayonets produced by Cook & Brother. There are some traces of nickel on the front edges of the guard, but no nickel on the majority of the hilt. In addition to the casting flaws, irregularities and impressed sand residue marks, the hilt shows some minor tool and filing marks and some minor dings and handling marks. The hilt has an attractive, uncleaned, rich golden mustard patina and is very attractive. The original spring catch is in place in the hilt and remains fully functional. The catch and the release stud have a mottled, moderately oxidized brownish-gray patina.
Overall this is a very nice, solid and complete example of a scarce New Orleans Production Cook & Brother Rifle Saber Bayonet. The numbering of the bayonet places it in the range of the Alabama contract rifles, so this was more than likely one of the 1,000 bayonets delivered with those rifles in 1862. The bayonet is 100% correct and original, with the exception of the nickel plating on the blade that was almost certainly applied while the bayonet was on display in a G.A.R. Hall. These early, New Orleans Cook & Brother Rifle Bayonets do not appear on the market very often. This would be a wonderful opportunity to add one of these scarce bayonets to the display of your Cook & Brother Rifle or to a collection of Confederate bayonets and edged weapons. This one is very fairly priced and will probably not last long, so don’t miss your chance to own a rare Cook & Brother Rifle Saber Bayonet.