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