Richmond Arsenal

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Richmond Arsenal (1861-1865) - A Confederate arsenal established in 1861 at the beginning of the U.S. Civil War by Confederate Major Josiah Gorgas on Byrd Island in Richmond, Virginia. Initially established as a state arsenal until the CSA was organized. Destroyed during the fall of Richmond in April 1865. Also known as the Virginia Manufactory of Arms.

Richmond Arsenal Ruins, Munitions Scattered Around
Richmond Arsenal Ruins Interior
Richmond Arsenal Ruins c1865, Brown's Island in Background

Richmond Arsenal History

Richmond Arsenal (in red) with Brown's Island to the South and Tredegar Iron Works to the West

Confederate Cannon on a Field Carriage with Ammunition Display at Tredegar Museum

Initially established by the State of Virginia on the site of the old Virginia Manufactory of Arms with arms making machinery to come from England. The U.S. Civil War began before the machinery could be delivered and the machinery was taken from the captured Union Harper's Ferry Arsenal and installed in the old State Armoury building at the Richmond Arsenal.

The Arsenal was transferred to the CSA in June 1861 and by October 1861 it was producing "Richmond Rifles". At the outset of the war the arsenal commander of the Frankford Arsenal, Captain Josiah Gorgas, Ordnance Department, resigned his commission on 21 Mar 1861 and fled to Confederate Richmond with a significant supply of Federal rifles and ammunition. Gorgas, who had served in every U.S. arsenal, became the Chief of Ordnance for the Confederacy with the rank of Major and ultimately was promoted to Brigadier General. His tenacity and ingenuity kept the CSA arsenal system and specifically Richmond Arsenal operating throughout the war. He created the CSA arms industry from scratch in short order with two of the major arsenals, Bellona Arsenal and Richmond Arsenal in the Richmond area and a huge powder mill near the Augusta Arsenal.

Each CSA arsenal had an associated manufacturing facility and in the case of the Richmond Arsenal the major supplier was the Tredegar Iron Works next door. The Confederate States Laboratory Department that produced munitions was located on Brown's Island just south of the arsenal. The laboratory employed 300-600 young women daily in munitions production. In addition to the guns produced at the arsenal an extremely efficient process was developed for producing percussion caps that enabled them to produce 300,000 caps a day with a team of only eight people. The finished arms and munitions were issued from the arsenal.

Confederate States Laboratory Department Branches 1863
  1. Manufacture of percussion caps, friction primers, fuzes, signal lights and rockets, war rockets
  2. Manufacture of chemicals
  3. Manufacture of small arm cartridges;
  4. Fixing and packing artillery ammunition: red boxes for case shot, black boxes for shells, olive boxes for shot and canister
  5. Sea-coast defence ammunition
  6. Pistol and breechloading ammunition
Source: Richmond Dispatch, 5 Jan 1863, p. 1
Parrott Cannon on Display at Tredegar Museum

There were a number of accidents at the arsenal and laboratory but the most serious occurred on Friday the 13th, 1863 when a building housing Laboratory Department 6 exploded, killing 45 and injuring 23, mostly young women. The accident occurred while a worker was disassembling a friction primer too forcefully, it exploded igniting loose powder on the same table triggering a much larger explosion. The laboratory buildings were quickly rebuilt and resumed production.

The Union capture of nearby Petersburg on 2 Apr 1865 triggered the evacuation of Richmond and the next day a fire raged through the city destroying one third of it and the arsenal. Much of the nearby Tredegar Iron Works was spared because the owner employed a large number of guards to ward off any arsonists.

Current Status

No remains of the arsenal but surviving portions of the nearby Tredegar Iron Works are on display including period cannons and ammunitions displays. Historic Tredegar is operated by the private not-for-profit American Civil War Center in partnership with the Richmond National Battlefield Park in downtown Richmond.

Location: Near 500 Tredegar Street, Richmond, Virginia.

Maps & Images

Lat: 37.5360106 Long: -77.44304



Visited: Area 29 Mar 2012

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