The Bilharz, Hall, & Co. factory site is located on the east side of North Main Street, a short distance north of the Pittsylvania County Courthouse (see map). It is marked with a Virginia Civil War Trails designation and an explanatory marker, thanks to dedicated research by historians Herman Melton and Will Melton.
The text of this explanatory sign is listed below.
Bilhartz, Hall & Co.: Gunmakers for the Confederacy
When the Civil War erupted, the South seriously lacked sufficient quantity of modern weaponry. The Confederate government attempted to correct this deficiency by purchasing arms overseas. While this “cotton for cannon” trade resulted in the importation of thousands of revolvers and muskets through the blockade, the Confederacy also sought to remedy the lack of arms by home manufacture. Numerous arsenals and private firms were established to arm Confederate soldiers adequately. The site 150 feet in front of you was the location of one of these manufacturers, Bilhartz [usually spelled Bilharz], Hall & Co.
The Bilhartz, Hall & Co. was established in 1862 by Candidus Bilhartz, George Hall, and Coleman D. Bennett. Bilhartz, a native of Baden, Germany, and resident of Pittsylvania County since 1858, was a pre-war harness maker, machinist, and distiller. He served as the factory's mechanical genius while George Hall managed the firm, and C. D. Bennett financed the operation as silent partner. At the height of production in late 1863, Bilhartz, Hall & Co. employed 38 workers.
The firm produced two carbine types for the Confederacy. The first model, known as the “rising breech” carbine, was an innovative design. Only 100 of these breech-loading carbines were produced from 1862 to 1863. Bilhartz, Hall & Co. also manufactured 400 .58 caliber muzzle-loading carbines for the Confederacy. These weapons appear similar to the U.S. Model 1855 Springfield carbine. In addition to firearms, the firm provided carbine stocks for the Richmond Armory. Bilhartz, Hall & Co. was paid $1.00 each for “650 short stocks” and “1095 long stocks” for carbines. The stocks were delivered in May 1863.
Bilhartz, Hall & Co. carbine production was not a success, and the company ceased operations in 1864. The firm, nevertheless, left a legacy of ingenuity in its production of the rising breech carbine. Somehow small factories like Pittsylvania's Bilhartz, Hall & Co. were able to initiate the manufacture of weaponry for the Confederacy in a vain effort to match the North's amazing industrial output.
The firm first began the production of a unique design known as the “rising breech” carbine. The weapons' distinctive feature is its curved bow, which acts as a loading lever and trigger guard. The breechblock rises vertically when the lever is lowered allowing the .54 caliber paper cartridge to be inserted. When the lever is closed, a triunion action causes the breechblock to return to its position of alignment with the bore of the barrel. Two types of rising breech carbines were produced, and the primary difference between the models was the latching mechanism for the lever. Each carbine was 40 inches in length and marked P and CS. The barrel was rifled with three broad, shallow lands and grooves. By September 16, 1862 the Bilhartz, Hall & Co. had sold 100 rising breech carbines to the Confederate Ordinance Department at the price of $45.00 each.
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Copyright © 2005 Patricia B. Mitchell.