Selma, Alabama was a sleepy little cotton town at the beginning of the Civil War but soon rose to become the manufacturing powerhouse of the entire Confederacy. From the time of the creation of the Confederate Arsenal there in early 1862, Selma’s importance continued to grow. By the end of the war it manufactured nearly every item that could be used by the Confederate Army.
During the last half of the war the town of Selma had manufactured nearly half the cannons and two-thirds of the ammunition used by the Confederacy. At the close of the war Selma was the only Confederate source of ammunition other than the Tredager Iron Works in Richmond. Selma produced many varied items such as Swords, Cannons, Rifles, Gunpowder, Ammunition, Percussion Caps, Canteens, Knapsacks, Clothing, Horse Harnesses, Chain, and Ironclads amongst many other essential items. Along with the Arsenal, Selma also hosted a Naval Works and Nitre processing facility.
Selma was selected as the site of this immense manufacturing center because of its position far from enemy lines and its location in the center of the Confederacy. Natural resources around Selma were plentiful with nearby production of Coal, Iron, Sulfur, Nitre, Cotton, Wood, Livestock, Grain, and Spring water. The Alabama River provided the town with a year round deep water port which allowed for an convenient method in which to ship its wares.
The first arsenal was first equipped for manufacture with machinery removed from the former U.S. Arsenal at Vernon, Alabama. As the war dragged on more machinery was brought in from evacuated facilities throughout the Confederacy. By the war’s end Selma manufacturing facilities had grown to cover 50 acres and provided jobs of around 10,000 residents all in the manufacture of essential war supplies. A few of these workers were skilled German craftsman but the vast majority were slaves, women and children.
Upon Selma’s capture on the same day that Richmond was being evacuated General Edward Winslow was ordered to destroy everything of value in the city. He passed down a detailed list of items destroyed in the limited amount of time he had.
Selma Arsenal – Consisting of twenty-four buildings, containing an immense amount of war material and machinery for manufacturing the same. Very little of the machinery had been removed, although much of it was packed and ready for shipment to Macon and Columbus, Georgia. Among other articles here destroyed were fifteen siege guns and ten heavy carriages, ten field pieces, with sixty field carriages, ten caissons, sixty thousand rounds artillery ammunition, one million rounds of small arms ammunition, three million feet of lumber, ten thousand bushels coal, three hundred barrels resin, and three large engines and boilers.
Government Naval Foundry – Consisting of five large buildings, containing three fine engines, thirteen boilers, twenty-nine siege guns, unfinished, and all the machinery necessary to manufacture on a large scale naval and siege guns.
Selma Iron Works – Consisting of five buildings, with five large engines and furnaces, and complete machinery.
Pierces Foundry, Nos 1 and 2 – Each of these contained an engine, extensive machinery, and a large lot of tools.
Nitre Works – These works consist of eighteen buildings, five furnaces, sixteen leaches, and ninety banks. Powder Mills and Magazine – Consisting of seven buildings, six thousand rounds of artillery ammunition, and seventy thousand rounds of small arms ammunition, together with fourteen thousand pounds powder.
Washington Works – Small iron works, with one engine.
Tennessee Iron Works – Containing two engines.
Phelan and McBride’s Machine Shop, with two engines.
Horse Shoe Manufactory – Containing one engine; about eight thousand pounds of horseshoes from this establishment were used by our army.
Selma Shovel Factory – This factory contained one steam engine, eight forges, and complete machinery for manufacturing shovels, railroad spikes, and iron axletrees for army wagons.
On the Alabama and Mississippi Railroad – One roundhouse, one stationary engine, and much standing machinery, together with twenty box and two passenger cars.
On the Tennessee Railroad – One roundhouse, with machinery, five locomotives, one machine, nineteen box and fifty platform cars.
In the Fortifications – One thirty-pound Parrot gun, four ten-pound guns, eleven field pieces, ten caissons, two forges, and five hundred rounds of fixed ammunition.
Today, nothing of the arsenal remains as the area is now a residential community of early 20th century cottages called Arsenal Way.