The Richmond Carbine factory was moved from Richmond, Virginia, to Tallassee, Alabama, in the summer of 1864. Col. Josiah Gorgas, Chief of the Confederate Ordinance Bureau, selected Tallassee because it was an out-of-the-way, secure location. The factory was situated in the original Tallassee Textile Mill that was built in 1844, now known as the Confederate Armory.
In July of 1864, Union Maj. Gen. Lovell H. Rousseau swept across Alabama with 2,500 raiders armed with Spencer Repeating Carbines. The Calvary’s mission was to burn and destroy railroad bridges, buildings and supplies. On July 18, Rousseau sent Maj. Baird, the commander of the 5th Iowa, along with a detachment of the 4th Tennessee Union Cavalry, to Chehaw Station with the task of destroying railroads, bridges and mills along the way.
Upon arrival, Baird was met with resistance by a unit of the Tuskegee Home Guard and a skirmish ensued, now known as the Battle of Chehaw Station. A train carrying a battalion of 16- and 17-year-old cadets from the University of Alabama, who had been training in Selma, soon joined the Confederate forces. The cadets joined the fray using old muzzle-loading muskets and a small cannon.
As the battle intensified, a group of mounted militia from Tuskegee clad in brown linen appeared to reinforce the cadets and the home guard. The arrival of the militia prompted Baird to order the withdrawal of his troops. Rousseau reported to Gen. Sherman that about 40 Confederates were dead, while Union losses were small. As a result of the Confederate forces’ actions, the Yankees never reached Tallassee or the Carbine Factory.
Maj. Taylor at the Confederate Armory reported that by early 1865, approximately 500 Tallassee Carbines had been produced. In March of 1865, Union Maj. Gen. James H. Wilson advanced to raid Alabama with 13,000 troops. Concerned for the safety of the carbines in Tallassee, orders came to remove the rifles and all manufacturing equipment and ship them to Macon, Georgia. As this was taking place, Wilson’s troops were cutting a devastating swath through central Alabama, beginning in Selma where they encountered Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest – but not before destroying the Selma arsenal and shipbuilding facility.
The Union troops then moved on to Montgomery and continued on a route to Columbus, Georgia, with orders to destroy some mills and bridges on the Tallapoosa River. On April 15, Wilson reached Cowles Station, just south of Tallassee along the Western Railroad of Alabama.
One account in Virginia Noble Golden’s, A History of Tallassee, states that upon reaching Cowles Station, the officer in charge asked a local black man to guide him to Tallassee. The guide told the commander that they would have to cross the river to the far west side of Cowles Ferry. The commander’s outdated map showed Tallassee on the east side of the river, so the Union commander, thinking the black man was lying to mislead him, ordered him shot.
The Union troops continued up the east side of the Tallapoosa River until they reached the small railroad community of Franklin, Alabama, where they were met by what was reported as a superior force of Confederate militia. In addition, this skirmish delayed Wilson, allowing Forrest’s Cavalry, who were pursuing the Yankees, to arrive on the scene. Wilson and his men chose to retreat and marched on to Columbus, Georgia; and then, continued to Macon.
These two battles saved the Tallassee Armory from being destroyed, and that is why the annual Tallassee re-enactment is coined the Battles for the Armory.
It is assumed that the Tallassee carbines were shipped via rail to Macon, Georgia. There are several stories about what happened to the carbines, since only 12 are known to have survived and are in museums at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.; Chickamauga and Columbus, Georgia museums; and in Confederate Memorial Park in Alabama. Some believe that the Union had taken Macon by the time the carbines arrived there, and the Yankees had orders to destroy any ordinance the Confederates could make war with, so they were burned or thrown into the Ocmulgee River. The dozen that survived were likely taken as souvenirs by Union officers.
The 22nd Battles for the Armory re-enactment will take place Nov. 9-10, with a battle re-enactment at 2 p.m. each day. Throughout the weekend, visitors are welcome to visit camps, talk with re-enactors and purchase items from both modern and 1860s-styled vendors. A Ladies Tea will be held Saturday, Nov. 9, at 10 a.m., and visitors are welcomed in period dress only. Saturday evening at 7 p.m., there will be a period ball, and once again attendees are required to wear period dress. Both events are free to the public, but admission to the battle is $5; children under 5 years old are admitted for free. A free tour of the Tallassee Carbine Factory is available during the weekend by calling 334-201-4756.
Sharon Fox is the curator at the Elmore County Museum in Wetumpka.