With its relative safety and convenient proximity to significant resources including iron, timber, labor, railroad lines and year round water transportation, the little cotton town of Selma Alabama grew during the war to become a great center of Confederate manufacture and business.
The Selma Arsenal began operation sometime in the Spring of 1862 initially with machinery evacuated from the old U.S. Arsenal at Mt. Vernon, Ala. However, it quickly grew in importance and size with personnel and machinery from private foundries and the Government ordnance facilities evacuated from New Orleans, Memphis, Baton Rouge and the Columbus, Miss. (Briarfield) Arsenal. In a short period of time, the Selma Arsenal was built up from simple cotton sheds into some twenty-four machine shops, rail car shops, iron mills, foundries, cotton and wool factories and harness shops generally located in one area on the western edge of town along the Alabama River. In addition, a Confederate Powder Works and the Nitre Works manufactured artillery and small arms ammunition and powder on the site. In all, the arsenal facilities covered some 5 acres and may have employed up to 3,000 hands by 1865. Selma also contained a great Naval Works and foundry covering 50 acres, one hundred buildings and employing some 3,000 additional hands. Large amounts of local iron ore mined then blasted at several nearby furnaces was sent to the Selma Arsenal and to the Naval Yard to be manufactured into plating for Confederate ironclad ships. At its zenith, there may have been as many as 10,000 Confederate job-holders in Selma.
In general, the Selma Arsenal served the troops in Alabama, Mississippi and West Tennessee. During its tenure, it manufactured, repaired and/or stored for distribution cast artillery field pieces, small arms, all types of ammunition, siege guns, carriages, caissons, horse equipment, infantry accoutrements, percussion caps, friction primers, gun powder, shot and shell, knapsacks, clothing, shovels, pikes, wagon axles and gear, harness, trace chains, canteens and even horseshoes. The Selma Arsenal, Powder Mill and Laboratory, Nitre Works, Naval Works, Quartermaster Depot, railroad shops, several foundries, warehouses, government offices and many private dwellings and property were completely destroyed by Gen. James H. Wilson’s Raiders on April 6, 1865. Little remains today of the arsenal or Naval Works. The arsenal grounds on the lower part of town next to the river is today covered in houses many of which date back to the 19 century. Up river, only a single building stands as the lone reminder of the huge Naval Works.