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 and 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 is not correct, and it is possible that they used the census records for brother Theodore to establish that age. In 1834, the rest of the family, including his 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 a real knowledge and skill with the engineering and manufacturing of heavy industrial equipment, foundry work, castings, and military armaments; the top-quality workmanship that Novelty Iron Works was known for in New York. While he was employed at Novelty Iron Works Ferdinand visited New Orleans in the early part of the 1840s, functioning 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 had 1861 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 established 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 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 firm produced about 2,200 long arms 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. The Cooks then moved on to Athens, GA and established their new factory there. With the many finished parts on hand they were able to assemble completed arms prior to the factory really being up and running. As a result the Alabama contract 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” (rifle & bayonet, 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 the 23rd Georgia Local Defense Battalion and Ferdinand 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 by a Federal sharpshooter on December 11. 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 Cavalry Carbine was based upon the British made Enfield Pattern 1856 Cavalry Carbine. The Cook carbines followed the general profile of the British made guns, and were similar in size, barrel length and caliber. Both had 21” barrels and nominal overall lengths around 37”. The British carbine was .577 caliber (25 bore) and the Cook carbine was nominally .58 caliber. Like the British made carbines, 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. Like the British carbine the Cook variant included a captive, swivel ramrod and had a sling bar and ring mounted on the flat, opposite the lock. Both guns included brass furniture for the buttplate, triggerguard and nosecap, but unlike the British guns whose barrel bands were iron, the Cook bands were of brass, as were the side nail cups (lock screw escutcheons) and sling ring and bar. The Cook cavalry carbine also included sling swivels on the upper barrel band and in the toe of the carbine’s stock. Another primary difference was that most of the Cook carbines utilized a fixed rear sight rather than adjustable leaf sight. The Cook produced carbines underwent some evolutionary changes from their initial production in New Orleans, through the end of their production in Athens. According to Murphy & Madaus, only two New Orleans made Cook cavalry carbines are known. These guns appear to have been stocked almost to the muzzle as were the English made guns. The guns produced in Athens take on the appearance of scaled down Artillery Carbines, with the stock terminating about 5” from the muzzle. This may well have been a decision to allow shorter pieced of wood to be used for carbine stocks, reserving longer pieces for rifles and muskets. A good supply of properly seasoned wood for gunstocks was a problem that would plague the Confederacy for most of the war. The New Orleans made carbines also 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 carbine is quite similar to the New Orleans produced guns, but with the shorter stock as noted, and 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. The barrels were typically marked in three lines COOK & BROTHER / ATHENS GA / (Date) and with the serial number of the carbine. The serial numbers appeared on the majority of the carbines components, such as the nose cap, under the triggerguard, on the rear surface of the barrel bands, and on the head of the lock and tang screws. 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 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 mating marks. Early Athens carbines also had alphanumeric mating marks inside the locks, although these generally had no relationship to those found under the barrel. Some Cook carbines 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. As the production of Cook carbines continued in Athens, additional changes were made, both to save time and money and quite possibly due to practicality. The sling bar and ring was eliminated from the brass lock screw escutcheons, and this may have been a practical change, as the brass bar was not likely to hold up for long in the field. Its elimination also conserved brass. The swivels for the ramrod were also eliminated, and again this was probably both practical and for conservation. As early as the fall of 1862 Confederate cavalry General J.E.B. Stuart had complained about the awkwardness of the P-1856 Enfield Cavalry Carbine’s swivel ramrod, noting that he and his men preferred the regular ramrod of the artillery carbine. Many extant examples of Confederate marked P-1856 carbines are found without their iron rod swivels, which were either removed intentionally in the field or broke during use. The Cook carbine’s brass swivels were quite probably too weak to survive significant use, and again their elimination was both practical and a saving of precious brass. It appears that the regular sling swivels were also eliminated on the last of the Cook carbines, saving time, materials and some cost. The later Athens production Cook carbines also show fewer markings than the earlier ones, with the barrel marking eliminated in some cases, along with the serial number from some parts and mating marks inside the locks. Essentially as the war progressed and things became more dire for the Confederacy, the Cook carbines became simpler and more stripped down versions of their original New Orleans incarnation.
This very late production Cook & Brother Cavalry Carbine is in VERY GOOD condition for a Confederate used and produced arm, and is sort of the Confederate version of a Japanese “Last Ditch” long arm. The gun has a truly wonderful Cook & Brother lock with very clear markings and a lovely, smooth plum brown patina. The lock is marked in a long line, forward of the hammer: COOK & BROTHER ATHENS GA 7735 over the date 1864. This is very close to the end of production as the highest known Cook & Brother serial number is around 7755. The barrel is not marked with the Cook & Brother marking nor does it have the serial number on the outside. However it does retains the typical Cook & Brother PROVED mark at the left breech. A Cook carbine (#6758) is noted in Murphy & Madaus without the Cook barrel mark as well, and it appears that by the mid-6,000 serial number range nearly all of the production saving techniques mentioned above were in use on the Cook carbines. This carbine is only serial numbered on the lock, underneath the barrel, under the nosecap and on the 3 screw heads that are usually numbered. The barrel, lock, nosecap, breech tang screw and rear lock screw all have the matching number 7735. The front lock screw is an original Cook screw that appears to be numbered 4318, but the mark is not very clear and difficult to read. The Athens production, one-piece brass triggerguard is not numbered and neither are the barrel bands. Carbine #7655, offered by Damon Mills some time in the past also lacks serial numbers on these parts, and shows abbreviated markings in other locations as well. The bottom of the barrel has the alphanumeric mark A / 97 and the same mark is present on the bottom of the breech plug tang, but this latter mark is partially obscured because the breech plug appears to have been forced out of the carbine at some time, partially deforming the very bottom of the V shaped shoulder at its rear. There are no mating or assembly marks present inside the lock, and this in not uncommon on late production Cook carbines, as Murphy & Madaus note example #6401 without interior lock marks, and #7655 did not have them either. The parts that were omitted from this carbine during its production are the ramrod swivel and stud, the carbine sling bar and ring, and the sling swivels. While #7655 still retained the sling swivels, they were apparently eliminated on the last of the production Cook carbines, as this one not only has no swivels but also shows no indications of ever having them. None of the other parts mentioned were present on #7655 either. As noted the carbine is in about VERY GOOD condition for a last ditch Confederate made and used carbine that shows significant real world use. The barrel is mostly smooth with the signature twist of the iron barrel being plainly visible. The barrel shows a significant flaw on the obverse, near the muzzle, which indicates how poorly made these last guns really were. The barrel has a mixed plum brown and gray patina and may have been browned originally, with traces of that browned finish contributing to the nice chocolate patina that covers most of the twisted iron barrel. The barrel is mostly smooth forward of the rear sight, but shows moderate pitting from the breech area to the rear of the back sight. The bolster also shows moderate pitting, all of which is typical of the wear caused by the caustic flash of mercuric percussion caps. The bore of the musketoon is in about GOOD+ condition and shows strong visible 3-groove rifling for its entire length. The bore also shows moderate pitting along its entire length with areas of more significant wear and pitting present in scattered patches. The extremely well marked lock has a mostly smooth plum patina and only some minor pinpricking and light flecks of surface oxidation. The lock is mechanically excellent and functions crisply and correctly on all positions. The hammer nose shows some dings and damage, commensurate with the level of pitting around the breech and bolster. The correct, original, late production, Enfield style, iron front sight is in place on the top of the barrel near the muzzle, and the correct original fixed rear sight is in place forward of the breech. The brass furniture has a lovely, untouched mustard and umber patina, and shows streaks of reddish coloration typical of high copper content Confederate made brass. The brass in these carbines was derived locally, often from the melting of church bells and other items of bronze or brass. All of the brass furniture shows rough finishing of sandcast parts; particularly on the unfinished reverse sides of the buttplate and triggerguard. The one-piece triggerguard is unmarked, which is standard for late production Cook carbines, and is cracked through the first screw hole immediately behind the triggerguard. The nosecap, as previously noted is correctly numbered 7735. The brass buttplate is slightly proud of the stock toe, as it was designed to be on the British carbines. This helped to reduce cracks in this area. The brass lock screw escutcheons show clear signs of the cutting off of the sling bar and rough filing the areas to be flat. These tool marks are under the umber patina and are most certainly factory work. The original ramrod is missing and an old Austrian Lorenz ramrod has been substituted. The Austrian rod is crusty and rusty and has had its swell turned down in order to make it fit the ramrod channel. It is not clear when this rod was altered fit the gun, but it is 20 5/8” in overall length, exactly perfect for the carbine and the swell was turned down long ago, with years of accumulated oxidation over all of the rammer’s surfaces. If this was not done during the period of use, it is a wonderful example of the type of stopgap alterations that took place to keep arms functioning in the field during the waning days of the Confederacy. The stock of the carbine is in about VERY GOOD condition as well. The stock is solid and complete, full length and without any repairs. The stock shows the usual flaws typical of deep-south produced gunstocks, especially late in the war. The stock was clearly made of inadequately seasoned wood, and shows some shrinkage and a number of minor grain drying cracks. These are mostly non-structural, and the majority emanated from the butt, under the buttplate and radiate into the buttstock. They all appear solid and secure, but are mentioned for accuracy. Another drying crack, not visible from the exterior runs through the middle of the lock mortise into the barrel channel, but again it remains stable and doe not appear to a major structural issue. The stock was probably very lightly sanded long ago, as some of the dings and mars seem a little on the smooth side, and a thin coat of old varnish appears on the stock as well. None of this really detracts from the overall appearance, and the stock remains very attractive with a deep reddish brown color and enough bumps, dings and wear to make it clear that the stock saw as much service as the barrel and the rest of the gun. In fact there is some minor “burn out” wood loss around the bolster, which would be expected on the stock of a gun that shows so much flash pitting at the breech. A set of period initials are present on the obverse buttstock but I can not make them out.
Overall this is really very nice, essentially complete and original example of a scarce and desirable Cook & Brother Cavalry Carbine. The research by Murphy & Madaus places the overall production of Cook & Brother long arms around 7,000 (maybe as many as 8,000 based on serial extant numbers), the majority of which were rifles and the unknown balance of which were the cavalry carbines and artillery musketoons. These guns do not appear on the market very often and they are usually prized possessions in Civil War carbine collections and in Confederate long arm collections. This was one of the very last of the guns made by Cook & Brother, and deserves a special place in an advanced collection of Civil War arms.
Provenance: Damon Mills, Bob King Collection, J. Faught Collection of southern carbines & musketoons.