Confederate re-enactors revived history Saturday at the dedication of the Civil War Trails marker designating the Bilharz, Hall Gun Works Factory.
Pittsylvania County's first Civil War Trails marker was dedicated Saturday commemorating the Bilharz, Hall & Company Gun Works which made rifles for the Confederacy from 1862 until 1864.
The marker is located in the Chatham Welcome Center on Main Street and is denoted by blue and white signage.
The marker explains that the South lacked sufficient modern weaponry for its troops. The Confederate government purchased arms from countries overseas in a “cotton for cannons” trade, offering tobacco and cotton for weapons.
But even though thousands of revolvers and muskets were filtered through the blockade, it was determined that the best remedy would be to manufacture weapons locally. Bilharz, Hall & Company became one of many arsenals and private industries which produced arms.
It was established in 1862 by Candidus Bilharz, George Hall, and Coleman D. Bennett. Bilharz was a pre-war harness maker, machinist, and distiller. He was the mechanical genius.
Hall managed the firm and C. D. Bennett financed the operation. At the height of production in late 1863, the company employed 38 workers.
The site of the factory was at the southeast corner of the Masonic Lodge property on Main Street in Chatham, a few hundred feet from the marker.
The factory produced two carbine types — one a muzzle loader and the other a rising breech, although neither gained favor with Confederate troops.
Between 500 and 600 carbines or rifles were manufactured. In addition, the factory produced thousands of wooden gun stocks that were installed on guns produced in other factories across the Confederacy. At least nine of the guns are known to exist today.
Herman Melton chaired the Civil War Trails project for the Pittsylvania Historical Society along with committee members R. V. Overbey, Jr., Langhorne Jones, and Lindy Conner.
Unveiling the Civil War Trails marker in Chatham were (L to R) Pittsylvania Board of Supervisors Chairman Fred Ingram, Pittsylvania Historical Society president Fuller Motley, Chatham Mayor Elton Pruitt and Chatham First president Janet Turner.
Historical Society president J. Fuller Motley welcomed those in attendance Saturday and expressed gratitude to the committee which completed the project.
Guest speaker was John Quarstein, director of the Virginia War Museum in Newport News.
“The South needed factories like this and it is a tribute to the people who stood forth to be counted in defense of their own,” said Qarstein.
The Civil War Trails network combines 300 Civil War sites in Virginia that takes visitors to all kinds of places. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has named the Civil War Trails map as the number one successful effort in preservation of significant historic sites in the United States.
Obtaining the marker was initiated by the Pittsylvania County Chamber of Commerce, which secured the aid of the Historical Society in gathering information needed to request designation. It should be instrumental in attracting tourists to the area.
Financial supporters of the project were the Pittsylvania Historical Society, Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors, Chatham First, Chatham Lions Club, and the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
Many descendants of the former workers attended Saturday's dedication ceremony and will receive a certificate noting their ancestor's role in this historical landmark.
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