Tredegar Ironworks: A Civil War Icon Preserved at Richmond National Battlefield Park

Structure remains of the Tredegar Ironworks and a tribute to President Lincoln can be found in downtown Richmond, Virginia, at the Richmond National Battlefield Park. Alan Pitt photos.

When the Confederate Army needed artillery, ammunition, or other weaponry, it turned to the Tredegar Ironworks in the heart of Richmond, Virginia. While many of the original buildings were lost to war and time, some remain. One, in fact, serves as a visitor center at the Richmond National Battlefield Park.

Indeed, Tredegar Ironworks is the Central Office for the Richmond National Battlefield unit. The unit is comprised of a series of 13 separate sites, including the Cold Harbor, Gaines Mill and Malvern Hill National Battlefield sites from the Seven Days Battles/Peninsula Campaign of 1862. Also included are sites from the Overland Campaign of 1864-65, which led to the eventual end of our nation’s most tragic war. All can be visited through an 80-mile suggested tour route supplied on maps available at all manned NPS sites within the unit.

While Tredegar itself was not the scene of any military engagements, its significance as the most prolific weaponry supplier to the South caused it to be included within the unit. The fleeing confederates intentionally burned bridges and warehouses within the city as it fell on April 3rd of 1865, but an overnight change in the winds caused most of commercial district to be burned to the ground.

Tredegar was spared the great conflagration through the luck of a location upwind, and the savvy of Ironworks owner Joseph Reid Anderson, who had the foresight to post 350 of his own armed guards outside the complex to thwart any attempts of arson. Tredegar’s viability after the war was key to Richmond’s ability to rise from the ashes, and it continued to be a weapons manufacturer for the United States through both World Wars. Ironically, most the foundry was destroyed by fire in 1952.

The Park Service's main office and visitors center reside in a three-story structure that was once the Pattern Makers Shop. Outside the main entrance is a life-size statue of Abraham Lincoln and his son Tad, who visited Richmond together on Tad’s birthday on April 4th, 1865. Created by sculptor David Frech and dedicated in 2003, the statue is surrounded by a curved rock wall that bears the inscription, “To Bind Up the Nations Wounds,” a passage from President Lincoln’s second inaugural address.

The main entrance on the middle floor brings visitors into the bookstore and main interpretive area, where rangers give hands-on loading and firing demonstrations for the many canons on display, as well as guided tours.

The upper story contains a self-guided museum featuring battlefield and home-front artifacts, an interpretive exhibit with narrative from both soldiers and citizens of the era, and static and scale models of the Ironworks over the years. The ground level floor houses a small theater and several exhibits featuring canon and munitions of the era.

Also located on the property is the privately operated American Civil War Center Museum, located in the former Gun Foundry Building. Machinery and structures that survived the 1952 fire are preserved on the grounds surrounding the museums.

Established as a National Battlefield Park in 1936, the site today sits amongst modern high-rise buildings and highway overpasses, but still invokes images of a bygone era that so changed our nation.

The grounds as a whole are marked with pieces of machinery and structure that survived the fire of 1952. Nearby, the revitalized Haxall Canal Basin and Canal Walk Area invite visitors to stroll to nearby Belle Isle, once home to the most feared Confederate Prisoner of War Camp in the south. Now part of the Richmond James River Park System, the island features hiking and mountain bike trails, Class 3-5 whitewater rapids for outdoor enthusiasts, as well as historical markers at various key sites.

Comments

Nice article, dapster. Makes me want to go back to Richmond and take a closer look. I'm very interested in the American Civil War Center Museum. You only mentioned it in passing, so I have to ask; is it worth a special trip?

Bob,

Thank you so very much for your kind words on my first-time-ever article! It was enjoyable to create, to say the least, and Kurt was kind enough to allow me to do so for NPT!

I must admit that I mentioned the privately operated American Civil War Center Museum in passing because I did not tour the entire facility, since it was not part of the NPS unit per se. (Plus admission costs $8.00, which I lacked on that particular day, along with ample time...)

The lobby proper was all that I viewed, and it did contain several exhibits. The website eludes to quite a bit more to see, and their flagship exhibit of the Restored Gun Foundry sounds quite intriguing!

http://www.tredegar.org/

Since I encourage any tourism to our city, I would say of course you should make the trip! Even if this part proved to be a let down, there's so much Civil War Era History to explore in the Richmond area that you would certainly not leave disappointed.

A tour of nearby Belle Isle and Hollywood Cemetery alone would make such a trip worthwhile. (Sorry for the shameless plug...)

Thanks again!

dap

Richmond is definitely on my list, dap. I want to check out Tredegar (including that museum) for myself, but mostly I want to explore Richmond. At one time or another I've visited nearly all the battlefields in your area, but it's been a looooooong time since I've been in your fair city. I suppose it must have changed a good bit since 1964?

I toured this lovely ironworks when I was there in 2006. Amazing. Finding it was an adventure in of itself as well. I saw so many amazing older buildings (I'm a huge fan of architecture) my excitement at finding this place was bumped up a notch at wanting to just stop and check these buildings out. I didn't tour the museum since I too lacked the expense of admission at the time. But being able to walk around the grounds and be where they were during the war was intense, for me anyway. I could hear the clanging of the machines and smell the heat of the fires while they were making the ammunitions and whatever else they made there. Truly amazing.

If you'd like to see before-and-after photos of Tregedar Ironworks --in its heyday and then lying in ruins, that is -- visit http://web.ukonline.co.uk/b.gardner/tredegar/trediron.htm.

This coming March is a great time to visit Richmond. Both the NPS and The American Civil War Center are co-sponsoring, along w/ Dominion and the University of Richmond, a conference entitled "Lincoln and the South." For details and/or to register, visit this site.

I suppose it must have changed a good bit since 1964?

To say the least! It's changed dramatically since the 1990's, so for you it would almost be like you'd never even been here before. The extensive renovations to the riverfront area alone would be worth the trip.

Sounds like you're overdue, so why not come on down and set a spell?...

dap

I'll surely visit Richmond before too long, but not to "set a spell." My wife insists that I need to do at least 10,000 steps a day if I'm to have any hope of getting rid of this paunch.