Tredegar Iron Works


The Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond, Virginia, was the biggest ironworks in the Confederacy during the American Civil War, and a significant factor in the decision to make Richmond its capital.

Tredegar supplied about half the artillery used by the Confederate States Army, as well as the iron plating for CSS Virginia, the first Confederate ironclad warship, which fought in the historic Battle of Hampton Roads in March 1862. The works avoided destruction by troops during the evacuation of the city, and continued production through the mid-20th century.

Richmond Civil War ruins

By 1860, the Tredegar Iron Works was the largest of its kind in the South, a fact that played a significant role in the decision to relocate the capital of the Confederacy from Montgomery, Alabama, to Richmond in May 1861. Tredegar supplied high-quality munitions to the Confederacy during the war.

Its wartime production included the iron plating for the first Confederate ironclad warship, the CSS Virginia which fought in the historic Battle of Hampton Roads in March 1862; credit for approximately 1,100 artillery pieces during the war, about half of the South's total domestic production of artillery during the war years of 1861–1865, including the development and production of Brooke rifles; large rifled cannons intended for the nascent CSA Navy and an answer to the rifled, armor piercing, Dahlgren Guns favored by the Union. One Brook Rifle was even used as a rail-mounted siege cannon. The company also manufactured railroad steam locomotives in the same period.

As a result of his difficulties competing with Northern industries due to his higher labor and raw material costs, Anderson was a strong supporter of southern secession and became a Brigadier General in the Confederate Army as the war broke out. He was wounded at Glendale during the Seven Days Battles of the Peninsula Campaign in 1862 and served in the Ordnance Department for the duration of the Civil War.

As the war continued with more and more men conscripted into the Confederate armies, Tredegar experienced a lack of skilled laborers. Scarce supplies of metal also hurt the company's manufacturing abilities during the war, and as the conflict progressed it was noticed that Tredegar's products were beginning to lose quality as well as quantity. Even in the summer of 1861, soon after the beginning of the Civil War, metal was so scarce that the iron works failed to produce a single piece of artillery for an entire month.

By 1864, Tredegar was producing nine different types of projectiles for the Confederacy, compounded by the many types of foreign built and captured weapons. Then in June 1864, Hunter's cavalry destroyed the company's best gun iron furnaces, drastically reducing ordinance production by July and August when existing stockpiles ran out. Thus it cast 128 weapons during the first six months of 1864, but only 85 pieces during the last half of the year, and most of those guns were of questionable quality. Worse yet, Anderson noted that because of the depreciated Confederate currency and the government's failure to pay invoices (the Niter and Mining Bureau alone owed the firm $300,000, plus the Ordinance Department had not paid its account since October 4 and the navy and Railroad Bureau were also deeply in arrears). Thus, in December Tredegar on many occasions requested the government take over its blast furnace (and the problem of acquiring and provisioning slaves), but even after extensive negotiations (and a 2-week shutdown for repairs in early January, the company's financial distress only grew, with over $1 million in outstanding bills by February 1, 1865, and Anderson had to borrow $100,000 to meet its first payroll for the month. During the evacuation of Richmond by the Confederates on the night of April 2–3, 1865, the retreating troops were under orders to burn munitions dumps and industrial warehouses that would have been valuable to the North. The Tredegar battalion defended the works despite widespread looting in the nearby warehouse district. However, despite Gorgas' order not to destroy ordinance facilities, the mob set fire to the arsenal, causing an explosion that shattered nearly every window. Nonetheless, facing resistance at the plant itself, the mob retreated to the town center. As a result, the Tredegar Iron Works is one of few Civil War-era buildings that survived the burning of Richmond.

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