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Q. I’ve always been told that my ancestor worked at the “Richmond Ironworks” during the Civil War. But his son was born in Tallassee, Ala., in early 1865. Can you help solve this mystery?
A. It might be that your ancestor worked not at the famous Tredegar Ironworks in Richmond, Va., but at the Richmond Carbine Factory in the nearby Richmond Arsenal. In June 1864, as Union forces threatened Richmond, then-Col. Josiah Gorgas, later brigadier general, and chief of the Confederate Bureau of Ordnance, ordered the rifle factory and 144 civilian workers relocated to Tallassee, Ala.
Setting up in a cotton mill built in 1844 and powered by the Tallapoosa River, the Confederate Carbine Works at the Tallassee Armory began manufacturing the Tallassee Cavalry Carbine. The war ended before the factory could reach its goal of producing 6,000 carbines a year. The only Confederate armory not destroyed during the Civil War, the Tallassee Armory is today a national historic site; it’s currently under renovation.
Your ancestor’s experience could have been similar to that of Zedick Hooper Wilson (1840-1917), who enlisted in Company A of the 25th Virginia Infantry Battalion, which was known as the Richmond City Battalion. In April 1864, Wilson was detailed to work at the Richmond Carbine Factory, and then accompanied the factory to its more secure location in Alabama. He spent the rest of his service in Tallassee and was ultimately mustered out in Athens, Ga.
A group of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the Tallassee Armory Guards, today works to preserve the heritage of those who helped guard the armory (and who may have also helped make the rifles). It holds regular re-enactments of the battles for the armory. For information about those events, see TallasseeArmoryGuards.org.
The Library of Virginia has a collection of contracts and other paperwork from the Richmond Arsenal that may be helpful in learning more about the arms factory and those who worked there (search the catalog on the keywords Richmond Arsenal contract book).
From the May 2011 issue of Family Tree Magazine.