The Richmond Arsenal was established with the Confederate government’s move to Richmond from Montgomery Alabama in May 1861. On June 2nd, Josiah Gorgas arrived in Richmond and sought to find locations for Confederate ordnance establishments and his headquarters. The James River front proved to be a natural location, for clustered in a surprisingly small area between the river and the Kenawaha Canal was the two story brick Virginia State Armory, Byrd Island and Brown’s Island at the foot of 7th Street and of course, the great Tredegar Iron Works, all of which would be converted to Confederate ordnance making facilities. In a short time Gorgas had obtained possession of several buildings in the area largely along 7th and Cary Streets between the Canal and the James River. For headquarters, he set up office in the Virginia Armory, the arsenal was established in old tobacco warehouses on Byrd Island, the Laboratory on Brown Island, the Ordnance Depot and Store was by the river on South 7th Street between Cary and Canal and, the Artillery Work Shops and Store also on 7th street south of Canal. Their locations put them virtually adjacent to the precious iron supplies at Richmond’s great Tredegar Iron Works and other nearby commercial manufacturing facilities.
Gorgas had considerable trouble at first with various Southern State officials including that of the Virginia State Ordnance Department, in converting local facilities and gaining control of certain arms making machinery to the Confederate War Department but, in time these issues were resolved. Like all Southern ordnance facilities, throughout the war Richmond’s arsenal and armory experienced difficulties with labor, resource supply, transportation and communication however, the proximity of the eastern theater’s front lines and as the War Department headquarters, some advantages for Richmond were obvious. Foreign supply to the Confederacy was managed from Gorgas’ Richmond offices which proved to be indispensable to supplying the entire Southern war effort. Still, over _ of all of the Ordnance Department’s imported arms, equipment, materials and other supplies ended up in Richmond.
In general, over the course of the four year struggle a herculean effort was undertaken to organize and build up the widely scattered commercial manufacturing establishments of the South’s agrarian economy into some semblance of an effective military industrial complex. But, they proved remarkably successful. That story cannot be given its proper justice in the short space allotted here but it may be said without embellishment that the South could not have made its mark in the annals of the American military fighting man without the contributions of Richmond’s Ordnance facilities. It is believed that fully one-half of all Confederate issues were made from Richmond and those production numbers alone are impressive indeed.
From July 1st, 1861 until January 1st, 1865 the following was produced at Richmond ordnance facilities: The Confederate Armory primarily produced the 1855 rifled musket pattern and muzzle loading cavalry carbines as well as Confederate “knock offs” of the Sharp’s Carbine. Including captured and imported arms, the armory was able to make or repair and issue over 323,231 infantry arms, 34,067 cavalry arms and, 44,877 swords and sabres. With the help of the Tredegar Iron Works and other smaller foundries the armory was also able to repair or manufacture some 341 Columbiads and siege guns and over 1,300 field artillery pieces. The Artillery Work Shops produced at least 1,375 gun carriages; 875 caissons; 152 forges and 6,852 sets of artillery harness (See Clarksville Virginia Ordnance Harness Shops). The Laboratory was responsible for supplying ammunition including over 1,456,190 friction primers; 1,110966 fuzes; 17,423 port fires; 3,985 rockets; 72,413,854 small arms cartridges; 146,901,250 percussion caps and over 921,441 rounds of field, siege and sea-coast ammunition. The arsenal proved remarkably efficient too. Their production surpassed 375,510 sets of infantry and cavalry accoutrements; 180,181 knapsacks; 328,977 canteens and straps; 115,087 gun and carbine slings; 69, 418 cavalry saddles; 85,139 cavalry bridles; 75,611 cavalry halters; 35,464 saddle blankets; 59,624 pairs of spurs; 42,285 horse brushes and 56903 curry combs.
Today, little physical evidence of their incredible effort remains to be found in Richmond. The Ordnance depot, armory, arsenal, laboratory and all their facilities were completely destroyed in the fiery conflagration that accompanied the Confederate evacuation of Richmond in April 1865. What little survived was later salvaged for scrap and other construction. However, portions of the adjacent Tredegar complex remained in business until the 1960’s surviving the fire, Reconstruction, several economic panics, two World Wars and almost 140 years to become today, the headquarters for the National Park Service Richmond Battlefield.
Horse Equipment: Until early 1862, all arsenal horse equipment manufacturing had been done at the Artillery Work Shops in Richmond but that spring this production was moved to the newly established Ordnance Harness Shops at Clarksville in south central Virginia (see Clarksville). Under the direct supervision of the Richmond Arsenal, all equipment produced at Clarksville was shipped to Richmond for issuing to the Army of Northern Virginia.
Great numbers of cavalry trooper’s and officer’s equipments were manufactured at Clarksville until early spring 1863 when Supt. of Armories at the Richmond Arsenal, Major W.S. Downer, began seeking outside contracts with commercial suppliers for the majority of his trooper’s equipment. At that time, saddle trees, mountings and other needs were routinely shipped from Clarksville to Richmond for dispersal to commercial “finishing” contractors. However, by early 1864 the pressures of resource shortages, transportation and labor had combined to greatly hinder the capabilities of outside producers. Hence Clarksville once again, with assistance from a handful of suppliers, became the main source of all horse equipment until the end of the war. Throughout the war the lion’s share of finished horse equipment and manufacturing resources that was imported by the Bureau from abroad went to the Richmond Arsenal.
The Clarksville Ordnance harness Shops was the only source of artillery harness and saddlery for the Richmond Arsenal and subsequently the Army of Northern Virginia.