Location: NC Hwy 11 in Kenansville
Marker Text: Established in Wilmington by Louis Froelich in 1861. Moved here in 1863. Produced sabers, lances, bayonets, cutlasses and accessories until 1864.
In April 1861, Louis Froelich, a 40-year-old German immigrant, arrived in North Carolina from New York, and began work as the foreman of the Loeb and Swarzman North Carolina Button Factory in Wilmington. For several months Froelich oversaw the production of uniform buttons for the Confederacy, before entering into business with “Colonel” B. Estvan, a Hungarian who claimed to have fought in the 1848 Hungarian Revolution.
The two men formed the “C.S.A. Arms Factory,” that opened in November, offering to make swords, bayonets, lances, and bowie knives. On November 9, Confederate vice president Alexander H. Stephens visited the factory and “made a spirited address” while holding a sword and lance. He promised to carry the weapons to other parts of the Confederacy to show others what “the Old North State was doing.”
In the winter of 1862 Estvan was exposed as a fraud, never having served in any army as an officer. The man, whose real name was Raussey, fled to England where he wrote a book detailing his exploits as a Confederate colonel.
Froelich attempted to rebuild his firm’s finances and reputation. In March 1862 he built a “thirty-six shot repeating weapon” mounted on a one-horse wagon that had a “bullet-proof shield of sheet iron in the form of a triangle to defend the man and the horse.” Froelich took the weapon, resembling an early tank, to Richmond for a demonstration, but the Confederate authorities thought the machine too cost prohibitive.
By the summer of 1862, Froelich’s operation ran quite smoothly, focusing on the production of swords and other edged weapons. However, a yellow fever epidemic that July killed most of his workers, and a fire the following February destroyed the main building. Shortly afterwards, Froelich moved his remaining operations to Kenansville.
Three months later, a Federal expedition from New Bern led by the 3rd New York Cavalry burned the factory to the ground. The commander of the expedition, Major General John G. Foster, stated that his force destroyed an armory “which contained 2,500 sabers and large quantities of saber-bayonets, bowie knives, and other small arms, a steam engine and implements for manufacturing arms.” In addition, a saddle and knapsack manufactory were destroyed and “a large Confederate flag and several cavalry guidons were also found.”
Froelich rebounded from disaster, and by November 1863 the factory was again operational. The last known work Froelich provided to the Confederate authorities was a shipment of knapsacks in June 1864. From April 1861 until March 1864, the “C. S. A. Arms Factory” provided the Confederacy with 18 sets of surgical instruments, 800 gross of military buttons, 3,700 lance spears, 6,500 saber bayonets, 11,700 cavalry sabers, 2,700 officers sabers, 600 navy cutlasses, 800 artillery cutlasses, 1,700 sets of infantry accoutrements, 300 saber belts and 300 knapsacks.
Froelich remained in Kenansville after war, but traded his mechanical skills for those of a horticulturalist. In 1869 he exhibited his farm products, including a wide selection of scuppernong wines, at the Cape Fear Agricultural Society’s Fair. He also placed on exhibit his seashell and butterfly collections. Froelich later moved to Enfield in Halifax County, where he died in 1873 at the age of 56.
Today, Kenansville foot officer’s swords are considered some of the most rare and valuable Confederate artifacts. The most prized have “C. S. A.” as a hand guard, a characteristic unique to Froelich swords, of which only a few dozen are known to remain. They typically sell at auction for over $15,000.
* From the Office of Archives and History. (For more information, go to www.ncmarkers.com.)