The machinery of war consists of guns, ammo, cannons, locomotives, and other metal-based goods. The Union had quite a few foundries, forges, and mills already producing much of this material. In the South, however, there weren’t many manufacturing facilities. They had to buy some things from Great Britain and Europe, but there was one plant that really benefited from the Civil War.
The Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond, VA had been in business since 1836. It was originally created in order to take advantage of the railroad boom that was happening in the United States at that time. Some unfortunate things happened, such as a downturn in the economy, and the business never really started to take off until 1841. They did a lot of work for the federal government and managed to keep production costs down by using slave labor. By the outbreak of the Civil War the Tredegar Iron Works was the leading iron producer in the United States.
The majority of their work, prior to the War, was made up of rail stock and locomotives. Once the war started they branched out in what they were producing. They made most of the munitions for the Confederacy, plus they were the ones who supplied the iron plating for the CSS Virginia. Tredegar supplied the Confederacy with rifles, cannons, and continued producing locomotives.
While the War created a need for the supplies that Tredegar was producing, the war also created a shortage in skilled labor needed to produce those same supplies. Another bad side effect of the war was the difficulty in being able to get the iron at a decent price, and also the quality of the iron was massively reduced.
After the war ended the owner of the Iron Works petitioned for a pardon, which was granted, and was back in business before the end of 1865. Tredegar had secured overseas interests prior to the war so it wasn’t very long before they were back up and running at full steam. The Panic of 1873 hit, and hit the foundry quite hard. They weren’t able to afford the changes needed to transition to steel, which was the up-and-coming thing, so they lost their national prominence.
Tredegar Iron Works stayed in business through the first half of the 20th century, supplying the government with products for both World War I and World War II. However, in 1957 the current owner sold the property to the Ethyl Corporation, which effectively closed the Tredegar Iron Works.
You can now visit the original buildings used during the War in Richmond, VA. It is now run by the National Parks Service as “The American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar.” It tells the story of the Civil War that shaped our nation. Though the company is no longer producing iron castings, it does continue to add a certain significance to the story of our country.